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Telemarketing (sometimes known as inside sales , [1] or telesales in the UK and Ireland) is a method of direct marketing in which a salesperson solicits prospective customers to buy products or services, either over the phone or through a subsequent face to face or web conferencing appointment scheduled during the call. Telemarketing can also include recorded sales pitches programmed to be played over the phone via automatic dialing.


Telemarketing is defined as contacting, qualifying, and canvassing prospective customers using telecommunications devices such as telephone, fax, and internet. It does not include direct mail marketing. [2]


The term telemarketing was first used extensively in the late 1970s to describe Bell System communications which related to new uses for the outbound WATS and inbound Toll-free services. [3]


The rise of telemarketing can be traced back to the 19th century telephonists, or switchboard operators. Trans-cultural hiring of switchboard operators (mostly women) became especially popular in North America throughout the 20th century, partially due to popularity gained through advertising. [4] :183–184 After the shift from public switched telephone network to computer-based electronic switching system, the job of switchboard operators gradually diminished. However, with the rise of advertising and with the popularity of the telephone use, new jobs, including telemarketing jobs, were created.

Women in telemarketing

Telemarketing, as was the case with telephone operators, is one of the fields known to be occupied mostly by women. [5] The central reason for hiring women operators lay in the fact that women's work was considered a form of cheap labor: female telemarketers earned about one-half to one-quarter of men's wages. [4] :183 It was also highlighted, however, that women were more polite and well mannered than male operators. [4] :183 Moreover, the calming, more delicate nature of a woman's voice was considered to be women's natural quality, although no scientific evidence supports this statement. [6] This naturalization led to normalizing the perception of women as telephone operators and consultants, which is currently reflected in the telemarketing industry.


The two major categories of telemarketing are business-to-business and business-to-consumer.


Telemarketing office Telemarketoffice.jpg
Telemarketing office

Service Styles

  • Call to Action, the implementation of outbound telemarketing to "activate" or elicit an action or response from prospects (i.e., entice prospects to visit a client's website)
  • Appointment Setting, utilizing inbound or outbound telemarketing to create face-to-face or telephone appointments for sales purposes. [7]
  • Database Cleansing, the outbound calling of databases with the particular purpose to clean and prepare data (i.e. removing outdated and incorrect data) and contact details for future telemarketing campaigns.
  • Surveys, the implementation of telemarketing (can be inbound or outbound) with the particular purpose of collecting data and information from specific target markets for qualitative research purposes.
  • Telesales, telemarketing (inbound or outbound) with the specific intention of making an actual sale/transaction over the phone. Often includes the collection of credit card details over the phone for payment purposes, which allows for faster sales cycles and payment confirmation.


Telemarketing may be done from a company office, from a call center, or from home. It may involve a live operator voice broadcasting which is most frequently associated with political messages.

An effective telemarketing campaign often involves two or more calls. The first call (or series of calls) determines the customer's needs. The final call (or series of calls) motivates the customer to make a purchase. Prospective customers are identified by various means, including past purchase history, previous requests for information, credit limit, competition entry forms, and application forms. Names may also be purchased from another company's consumer database or obtained from a telephone directory or another public list. The qualification process is intended to determine which customers are most likely to purchase the product or service.

In business-to-business lead generation scenarios, telemarketing often targets perceived decision-makers who might be good prospects for a business product or service. The telemarketing approach is often combined with outreach via email or social media, typically referred to as a cadence. Calls are usually made by sales development representatives with the goal of this outreach being a subsequent meeting—often with an account executive at the vendor organization.

Charitable organizations, alumni associations, and political parties often use telemarketing to solicit donations. Marketing research companies use telemarketing techniques to survey the prospective or past customers of a client's business in order to assess market acceptance of or satisfaction with a particular product, service, brand, or company. Public opinion polls are conducted in a similar manner.

Telemarketing techniques are also applied to other forms of electronic marketing using e-mail or fax messages, in which case they are frequently considered spam by receivers.

Telemarketing agent sitting in a cubicle. The brightly colored rebuttal sheets are used to answer most questions a customer might have. Telemarketerjohn.jpg
Telemarketing agent sitting in a cubicle. The brightly colored rebuttal sheets are used to answer most questions a customer might have.

Negative perceptions and criticism

Telemarketing has been negatively associated with various scams and frauds, such as pyramid schemes, and with deceptively overpriced products and services. Fraudulent telemarketing companies are frequently referred to as "telemarketing boiler rooms" or simply "boiler rooms". Telemarketing is often criticized as an unethical business practice due to the perception of high-pressure sales techniques during unsolicited calls. Telemarketers marketing telephone companies may participate in telephone slamming, the practice of switching a customer's telephone service without their knowledge or authorization.

Telemarketing calls are often considered an annoyance, especially when they occur during the dinner hour, early in the morning, or late in the evening. Some companies have capitalized on these negative emotions. Since 2007 several forums have sprouted and act as complaint boards where consumers can voice their concerns and criticism. In response some telemarketing companies have filed lawsuits against these portals. [8] [9] [10] The current legal system in the U.S grants such forums a certain degree of protection through "Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C 230" and California's Anti-SLAPP law.

Robotic telemarketing and ringless voicemail

A recent trend in telemarketing is to use robocalls: automated telephone calls that use both computerized autodialers and computer-delivered pre-recorded messages in a sales pitch. Some can simulate a personalized phone call through personalized pre-recorded messages.

Telemarketing has recently been advanced to implement a programmed women's voice as the operator instead of hiring a real woman to perform the task (see example of Samantha West [11] ). This attempt has been shown to be unsuccessful. However, some scholars argue that such technological advancements reinforce commoditization of a woman's speech as a marketable entity and lead to "gendered hierarchy of communication". [4] :186

Others tactics, such as ringless voicemail, can directly deliver a voice message directly to a landline's or cellphone's voicemail. [12] [13] Its original purpose was to provide a nonintrusive method of delivering valuable messages. There has been debate on ringless voicemail causing issues relating to "hijacking" of the voicemail by companies, which would disallow family and friends to access the voicemail. [12]


In some countries telemarketing is subject to regulatory and legislative controls related to consumer privacy and protection.

United States

Telemarketing in the United States of America is restricted at the federal level by the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) (47 U.S.C.   § 227) and the FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule (TSR). The FCC derives regulatory authority from the TCPA, adopted as CFR 64.1200 and the Telemarketing and Consumer Fraud and Abuse Prevention Act, 15 U.S.C. 6101–6108. [14] Many professional associations of telemarketers have codes of ethics and standards that member businesses follow to encourage public confidence.

Some jurisdictions have implemented "Do Not Call" lists through industry organizations or legislation; telemarketers are restricted from initiating contact with participating consumers. Legislative versions often provide for heavy penalties on companies which call individuals on these listings. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has implemented a National Do Not Call Registry in an attempt to reduce intrusive telemarketing nationwide. Telemarketing corporations and trade groups challenged this as a violation of commercial speech rights. [15] However, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the National Do Not Call Registry on February 17, 2004. [16]

Companies that use telemarketing as a sales tool are governed by the United States Federal regulations outlined in the TSR (amended on January 29, 2003 originally issued in 1995) and the TCPA. In addition to these Federal regulations, telemarketers calling nationally must also adhere to separate state regulations. Most states have adapted "do not call" files of their own, of which only some states share with the U.S. Federal Do Not Call registry. Each U.S. state also has its own regulations concerning: permission to record, permission to continue, no rebuttaling statutes, Sunday and Holiday calls; as well as the fines and punishments exacted for violations.

September 1, 2009, FTC regulations banning most robocalls went into effect.

Since many telemarketing calls now originate offshore, beyond the reach of US legal or regulatory agencies, the National Do Not Call Registry is usually ignored, as well as FTC regulations, and every possible number is called in an area code block. Some automated services are sophisticated enough to analyze the audio from the answering party, and if it determines that a human did not respond, will call repeatedly until one does or a limit is reached. This may be coupled with a fake Caller ID display ("spoofing") to mislead the call recipient into answering, or even thinking it is a local number calling. These are not actions of legitimate businesses.

Telemarketing techniques are increasingly used in political campaigns. Because of free-speech issues, the laws governing political phone calls are much less stringent than those applying to commercial messages. Even so, a number of states have barred or restricted political robocalls.

The National Do Not Call Registry has helped to substantially curb telemarketing calls to landlines and has also helped with the increasing trend for telemarketers to target mobile phones. As a result, there has been a greater push for mobile applications to help with unwanted calls from telemarketers, like PrivacyStar. These companies have helped to log thousands of complaints to the DNC Registry, since the inception of the registry itself. [17]


Telemarketing in Canada is regulated by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC), an agency of the federal department Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. Canadians can register with the National Do Not Call List (DNCL) to reduce the number of telemarketing calls received. [18] Anyone who has received a telemarketing call which is in violation of one or more of the Unsolicited Telecommunications Rules may file a complaint to the national DNCL. The national DNCL operator then forwards all complaints to the CRTC, which determines whether a complaint warrants further investigation, based on their initial assessment. [19]


Telemarketing in Australia is restricted by the Australian Federal Government and policed by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA). Australian Federal legislation provides for a restriction in calling hours for both Research and Marketing calls. [20]

In 2007 a Do Not Call Register was established for Australian inbound telephone numbers. The register allows a user to register private use telephone numbers. Australian Federal Legislation limits the types of marketing calls that can be made to these registered telephone numbers; however, research calls are allowed. Other exemptions include calls made by charities and political members, parties and candidates [21] however any organisation that is instructed by the recipient of a telemarketing call, not to call that number again, is legally obliged to comply, and must remove the phone number from the organisations calling list(s).

Inbound telemarketing is another major industry. [22] It involves both live operators and IVR—Interactive Voice Response. IVR is also known as audio text or automated call processing. Usually, major television campaigns and advertisers use toll-free telephone number that are answered by IVR service bureaus. Such service bureaus have the technology and call capacity to process the large amounts of simultaneous calls that occur when a toll-free telephone number is advertised on television.


British police, after noting the high rate of pensioners affected, recommended use of do-not-call registry enrollment to enhance "phone security." [23] Specific mention was also made of calls from "overseas companies."


In Finland, call centres employ an estimated 100,000 people, but most work with customer relations in larger companies. 10,000 people are working for companies involved with telemarketing. Telemarketing often is the first job young people get. But it is also a way out or back to the labour market for handicapped, immigrants and pensioners. In Finland, the profession has had a bad reputation because of work-related injuries. The strain on neck, shoulders, eyes and ears can be considerable. Health problems have however been reduced considerably thanks to lightweight headsets, ergonomic working stations and more tasks, like documentation, done automatically by computers. [24]


The ability to cause a French phone number to appear on a Caller ID display, when the call originates outside of France was removed by a law passed in July 2018; implementation was delayed until August 1 of the following year. [25]


See also

Related Research Articles

Call centre Centralised office used for the purpose of receiving or transmitting a large volume of requests by telephone

A call centre or call center is a centralised office used for receiving or transmitting a large volume of enquiries by telephone. An inbound call centre is operated by a company to administer incoming product or service support or information enquiries from consumers. Outbound call centres are operated for telemarketing, for solicitation of charitable or political donations, debt collection, market research, emergency notifications, and urgent/critical needs blood banks. A contact centre, further extension to call centres administers centralised handling of individual communications, including letters, faxes, live support software, social media, instant message, and e-mail.

Caller identification is a telephone service, available in analog and digital telephone systems, including voice over IP (VoIP), that transmits a caller's telephone number to the called party's telephone equipment when the call is being set up. The caller ID service may include the transmission of a name associated with the calling telephone number, in a service called Calling Name Presentation (CNAM). The service was first defined in 1993 in International Telecommunication Union—Telecommunication Standardization Sector (ITU-T) Recommendation Q.731.3.

The National Do Not Call Registry is a database maintained by the United States federal government, listing the telephone numbers of individuals and families who have requested that telemarketers not contact them. Certain callers are required by federal law to respect this request. Separate laws and regulations apply to robocalls in the United States.

A predictive dialer dials a list of telephone numbers and connects answered dials to people making calls, often referred to as agents. Predictive dialers use statistical algorithms to minimize the time that agents spend waiting between conversations, while minimizing the occurrence of someone answering when no agent is available.

Telephone slamming is an illegal telecommunications practice, in which a subscriber's telephone service is changed without their consent. Slamming became a more visible issue after the deregulation of the telecommunications industry in the mid-1980s, especially after several brutal price wars between the major telecommunications companies. The term slamming was coined by Mick Ahearn, who was a consumer marketing manager at AT&T in September 1987. The inspiration for the term came from the ease at which a competitor could switch a customer's service away from AT&T by falsely notifying a telephone company that an AT&T customer had elected to switch to their service. This process gave AT&T's competitors a "slam dunk" method for the unauthorized switching of a customer's long-distance service. The term slamming became an industry standard term for this practice.


Sitel is a privately owned contact center company headquartered in Miami, Florida. It provides outsourced sales, technical support, customer service, and other business processes for large companies. The company has 75,000 employees and $1.7 billion in revenue.

Phone fraud, or more generally communications fraud, is the use of telecommunications products or services with the intention of illegally acquiring money from, or failing to pay, a telecommunication company or its customers.

Direct marketing

Direct marketing is a form of communicating an offer, where organizations communicate directly to a pre-selected customer and supply a method for a direct response. Among practitioners, it is also known as direct response marketing. By contrast, advertising is of a mass-message nature.

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 (TCPA) was passed by the United States Congress in 1991 and signed into law by President George H. W. Bush as Public Law 102-243. It amended the Communications Act of 1934. The TCPA is codified as 47 U.S.C. § 227. The TCPA restricts telephone solicitations and the use of automated telephone equipment. The TCPA limits the use of automatic dialing systems, artificial or prerecorded voice messages, SMS text messages, and fax machines. It also specifies several technical requirements for fax machines, autodialers, and voice messaging systems—principally with provisions requiring identification and contact information of the entity using the device to be contained in the message.

The National Do Not Call List (DNCL) is a list administered by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) that enables Canadian residents to decide whether or not to receive telemarketing calls. It was first announced by the Government of Canada on 13 December 2004.

Cold calling

Cold calling is the solicitation of business from potential customers who have had no prior contact with the salesperson conducting the call. It is an attempt to convince potential customers to purchase either the salesperson's product or service. Generally, it is referred as an over-the-phone process, making it a source of telemarketing, but can also be done in-person by door-to-door salespeople. Though cold calling can be used as a legitimate business tool, scammers can use cold calling as well.

Voice broadcasting is a mass communication technique, begun in the 1990s, that broadcasts telephone messages to hundreds or thousands of call recipients at once. This technology has both commercial and community applications. Voice broadcast users can contact targets almost immediately. When used by government authorities, it may be known as an emergency notification system.

A robocall is a phone call that uses a computerized autodialer to deliver a pre-recorded message, as if from a robot. Robocalls are often associated with political and telemarketing phone campaigns, but can also be used for public-service or emergency announcements. Some robocalls use personalized audio messages to simulate an actual personal phone call. In 2019, the United States Congress passed legislation expanding the regulation of robocalls.

Telemarketing fraud is fraudulent selling conducted over the telephone. The term is also used for telephone fraud not involving selling.

Google Voice

Google Voice is a telephone service that provides call forwarding and voicemail services, voice and text messaging, as well as U.S. and international call termination for Google Account customers in the U.S., and for Google Workspace customers in Canada, Denmark, France, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the UK. The service was launched by Google on March 11, 2009, after the company had acquired the service GrandCentral.

TeleBlock is a software program that automatically screens and blocks outbound calls against available federal, state, wireless, third party, and in-house Do-Not-Call (DNC) lists. Designed for use in telemarketing and outbound call centers, TeleBlock is applied to a subscriber's telephone carrier, provided voice lines, or delivered through their predictive dialing and Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software. The system triggers all predetermined outbound calls to query a proprietary customer specific DNC database in real-time.

Cramming is a form of fraud in which small charges are added to a bill by a third party without the subscriber's consent, approval, authorization or disclosure. These may be disguised as a tax, some other common fee or a bogus service, and may be several dollars or even just a few cents. The crammer's intent is that the subscriber will overlook and ultimately pay these small charges without them knowing what it's all about.

Interruption marketing or outbound marketing is promoting a product through continued advertising, promotions, public relations and sales. It is considered to be an annoying version of the traditional way of doing marketing whereby companies focus on finding customers through advertising.

Voice-based marketing automation (VBMA) refers to software platforms designed for marketing, sales, and support departments to measure, manage, and automate their phone conversations. Marketing departments, sales teams, and support agents use VBMA to initiate, manage, monitor, track, route, record, and report on sales and support phone conversations.

In marketing, contact center telephony is the communication and collaboration system used by businesses to either manage high volumes of inbound queries or outbound telephone calls keeping their workforce or agents productive and in control to serve or acquire customers. This business communication system is an extension of computer telephony integration (CTI).


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