Telemarketing today is far more than a nine to five, office-based job that might seem tailor-made for the chatty and sales-oriented among us. In fact, it should be seen as a springboard that allows youngsters, particularly fresh graduates, to conquer their inner fears and build self-confidence before moving on to excel in the next stage of their careers.
Priscilla Tam, president and co-founder of Magazines International, notes that telemarketing is a dynamic business environment which provides a steppingstone for graduates looking to expand their social circle, as they shift from a school setting to being part of the corporate world. As a subscription agent, the company distributes over 20,000 international titles and currently has a local workforce of 230 employees, many of whom are engaged in telemarketing work.
"The main challenge for telemarketers is speaking to strangers," says Ms Tam. "They must know how to convince people to buy products with which they have no physical contact, and be able to get clients to trust someone they have never met." Ms Tam adds that the key skill for telemarketers is to show understanding of a client's needs. This is what secures and retains clients and, more importantly, determines the level of trust that can be achieved.
Telemarketing is regarded as a good first job for young people as it provides training in interpersonal skills and builds confidence. "It teaches you how to jump the psychological barrier of dealing with different people and persuading them to buy from you," Ms Tam explains. In this respect, it offers a great opportunity for anyone keen to form a social or business circle based not just on contacts within their peer group but, instead, with a broad cross-section of people of all ages and backgrounds. Such a range of contacts often provides an ideal starting point for a successful career in business.
In order to prepare employees psychologically for the possibility of not always succeeding, the company organises outward bound classes on a regular basis. The aim is to help staff break through and overcome their "perceived" weaknesses. Ms Tam says she often sees youngsters who are competent and capable of doing a better job, but who lack the confidence to make the most of their inner self. The company, therefore, helps them to see their true strengths and start using them. Training modules in the outward bound courses are specifically designed to help individuals set aside their weaknesses and maximise their strengths.
With 15 years' experience in direct sales and telemarketing, Ms Tam has seen the importance of showing enthusiasm and working to create a good understanding with clients. "If a salesperson can create loyalty, the client will stick with them," she says, adding that client retention is one of the most important features of sales and marketing. "Your efforts and ability are fully rewarded when a client comes back with a repeat order or refers their friends or family to you," she notes
Though telemarketing offers good training in many transferable skills, there is still a high rate of staff turnover. "Sadly, we see many youngsters, who are shortsighted and impatient, giving up before they achieve the returns they can expect," she says.
Ms Tam began her career as a direct marketer for Time magazine before moving on to set up her own company. Since then, by far the most rewarding experience has been in leading a telemarketing team which has achieved the highest circulation rate per agent in Asia.
Recognising that relationship building is a vital skill, Magazines International offers comprehensive training in product knowledge, telephone manner and confidence building exercises. "We always emphasise that a good telephone script is the first step to getting your foot in the door," Ms Tam says. "Your tone and how you convey a message shows whether you are enthusiastic and understand the client's concerns."
To ensure quality, a dedicated team monitors calls to see if the scripts are conveyed appropriately and with a good telephone manner. "The scripts must not just be repeated but adjusted according to the client's responses," Ms Tam explains.
Telemarketing in Hong Kong is growing slower than expected and there is still much room for development. The high rate of mobile phone ownership does, though, mean that products and services, especially those which enjoy good brand recognition, can be readily promoted through telemarketing. Ms Tam is planning for consistent business expansion in Hong Kong and Magazines International is looking for opportunities beyond the print media to market hotel and club memberships, IDD services and wealth management products.
Those entering the field usually start as junior advisers before taking on supervisory duties as the leader of a telemarketing team. Remuneration packages begin around the HK$15,000 level, which is relatively high when compared with many other entry-level positions for graduates. Apart from moving ahead within the field, experienced telemarketers can also consider transferring into areas such as customer service, which require similar interpersonal and client servicing skills.
"If you are a good communicator with an outgoing and expansive personality, then you already possess the basic traits to be a good telemarketer," says Ms Tam.
Springboard for a business career
- Telemarketing seen as a field with further growth potential
in Hong Kong in the coming years
- Ideal for young graduates keen to build a network of contacts
and learn business skills
- Training helps recruits to build confidence and tap into
their abilities and inner strengths
- Transferable skills are learnt which are equally useful
in other areas of business