BCC Marketing Services was founded in 1989 with two overriding objectives in mind. Firstly, we wanted to elevate Telesales, Telemarketing and Call Centre services to a new level of credibility and secondly, we wanted to provide specialist creative input which guaranteed the greatest added value for the most cost effective price. These objectives were created some years ago, but they remain the motivating force behind our services today and they contribute to that greater depth of understanding which helps to make us special. James Prince is Managing Director of the company. For more, click James's picture.


"Hair of the dog," he would say.  My old grandfather, that is.  "Or born with a silver spoon, he was."  Never quite got them right.  He knew what he meant, of course—but the rest of us were often left wondering.  It was as though the years had eroded the words, leaving a bare outline of meaning.

And that’s how I came across the proverbial pig in a poke.  He sort of grunted it one day when a neighbour suggested he should put his name down for the local Working Men’s Club annual mystery tour.  “Pig in a poke,” he said dismissively, and it stuck with me.  Occasionally the phrase would resurface.  Provoking gentle memories of a gentle man who always offered a ready smile and sometimes a three penny bit.

It resurfaced again last week when I was asked what I thought a prospective buyer should look for when choosing an outbound telemarketing agency.  So I decided to look it up ... a pig in a poke, I mean.

It appears that a long time ago, when marketers were ill-dressed and lived in hovels, certain unscrupulous members of the fraternity would display lively young suckling pigs in front of piles of sacks—or so called pokes, as they were then called—which were filled with similar products.  The pokes were tightly tied at the neck, not only keeping the animal from escaping but also to facilitate safe carriage.

When opened they were sometimes found to contain not pig but cat—which upon being released immediately jumped out of the poke, giving rise to that other well-known homily about letting cats out of bags.

Now, I know things have changed since then.  Marketers no longer live in hovels, are never ill dressed and certainly can’t be called unscrupulous! Packaging has improved somewhat and is charged for at an exorbitant rate.  Suckling pigs are called Danish bacon.
But buyers still purchase pigs in pokes.  Or to put it another way, customers of telemarketing services often commission work without undertaking even the most elementary checks and they then express surprise and indignation when the end result doesn’t quite live up to their expectations. 

Little wonder that stories abound of ill-conceived projects being placed with ill-prepared agencies to the detriment of both the project and the industry.  Little wonder that that dubious agencies spring up almost overnight and mushroom to the point of destruction, leaving a trail of devastation in their wake—as happened recently.

The provision of good service is a two-way affair and requires as much professionalism on the part of the service user as it does from the service provider.

So what should the informed customer look for when choosing an outbound telemarketing agency? In the first instance, the agency’s premises should be vetted. All too often one hears of so-called telemarketing companies which prove, on later inspection, to be no more than two or three well meaning ladies operating on a part-time basis in their own homes.  Quality control really does suffer when the baby starts to cry.

The discerning potential customer might also question the permeance of the operating staff and seek proof of their length of service.  Reliance on casual, non-permanent staff who are expected to communicate at a drop of a hat has its drawbacks.  Learning curves are not only expensive but can also be seriously counter-productive……..and out-of-work actors are so sensitive.

The level of staff training is also a useful pointer.  A good agent combines skill with personality, and the former needs to be taught.  Twenty minutes on the telemarketing floor simply listening will tell you much about the quality of the communicator and a glance at the company’s training manual will clarify the agency’s approach very quickly.

Potential customers should also note the layout of the floor.  Communicators should ideally be positioned so as to avoid immediate eye contact which in turn usually demands verbal communication, thus detracting from the task in hand.

Check that headsets are used in conjunction with directional mikes which dramatically reduce background noise pick-up.  They not only provide greater freedom, but also tell you that management knows its business.

Critical path talk guide and data capture format construction provides an equally important measurement of the service on offer.  They are central to every campaign and the success or otherwise of a project are heavily dependent on them.

Ask to see copies from previous authors of the talk guides, gaining site into their personal philosophy to ascertain why the guides were constructed as they were.  Pay attention to creativity and critical path flow, and be especially aware of the techniques used to establish that all-important relationship with the call respondent which is so vital if call objectives are to be achieved.

Make sure that talk guides are structured to obtain required information from the lowest level of decision-maker capable of providing it.  Managing Directors get a little annoyed if you use their time to gain information which is more easily obtained elsewhere.  You also run the risk of catching them out, and that won’t help you achieve your marketing targets.

Above all, check that the agency is aware of the importance of precise targeting.  Nothing does the industry more harm than misdirected direct marketing—yet it happens all the time.  Even the simplest list degenerates rapidly and that builds up into a lot of mistargetting before you even realise it.

But degradation isn't the only problem.  Lists are often chosen carelessly or selections made too casually, resulting in a marketing thrust meeting an ill-matched target.  No wonder the general public objects to unsolicited telephone calls, or unwanted mail for that matter.

So if the agency is to be responsible for targeting, make sure they know what they are about.

I could go on until the cows come home, as my grandfather would say.  I could talk about the necessity of checking reporting procedure, the standard of supervision and the relevance of project development.  I could talk about data capture quality and the efficacy of briefing procedures, but time and space forbid.

Suffice to say that if you don’t want to buy a pig in a poke, you have got to get inside the bag.  It’s that simple.  If you don’t, and the project misfires, you will only have yourself to blame.

James Prince,
Managing Director
BCC Marketing Services LTD