In direct response, one of the key areas we focus our attention — both in terms of increasing performance and assessing the potential for value leakage — is the inbound sales call center. Why? Because this call center, where creativity is just as important as cost control, presents so many opportunities to impact both the revenue and cost sides of the value equation.

First, put on your marketing hat and we’ll review the revenue side:

In the call center realm, there are a number of tactics that marketers can employ to increase revenue. These tactics include more direct approaches like adding upsells and cross sells, or indirect methods like adding payment incentives, or payments depending on your goals. But first and foremost, you should remember that when you are crafting or revising a compensation program, be careful to align the compensation with your desired result.

Increasing average order value (AOV) is one lever that can be applied; but for those that assume that increasing AOV is a simple and straightforward way to increase revenue and profitability that is not always the case. There may be some speed bumps along the way, including higher cost of goods, increased call center costs, and other costs.

You may also want to evaluate call center pricing and compensation models: some charge per-minute rates, others take a percentage of revenue. And there are other creative models that may be tailored to meet your specific campaign goals, such as increased contribution margin, cash flow or lowest abandonment rates, to name a few.

Regardless of the pricing model, marketers should consider the following tactics to increase revenue:

1. Train your agents to understand your product. Customers appreciate knowledgeable staff, which is why there’s a direct correlation between good agent training and higher sales performance — just as there is between inadequate training and poor performance. If possible, provide products for your agents to use; a strong testimonial, especially from an agent that has established a rapport with the customer, is worth its weight in gold when it comes to tipping the prospect from indecision to making the purchase!

2. Hire agents based on their competencies. The skills required for inbound sales differ from those required for customer service. In fact, we find that only a small percentage of agents have the requisite competencies to perform at the highest levels of both sales and customer service teams. Match the job requirements and the competencies correctly and your average order value and your conversion rates will improve.

3. Make the sales environment more dynamic to avoid agent “fatigue”. A primary goal of call center management is to maximize revenue per call at a given call center over a given time period; sustaining that level of performance requires that managers periodically shake things up so agents don’t get bored or complacent. Best practices include the occasional tuning of existing scripts, testing sales script changes, and generally challenging the steady state. Just make sure you don’t cause more problems by changing scripts too frequently or introducing too many new variables at once.

4. Incentivize sales performance by aligning compensation with outcome and business objectives. Call center managers should incent agents by compensating them on outcomes that align with the advertiser’s profitability or other business goals. Agents should not rush through interactions because they’re encouraged to reduce call time. When an agent takes the time to properly engage with callers and delivers a good experience, the customer is much more likely to buy the advertised product that caught their attention, and will be more receptive to higher-tier offerings that drive cross-sell and up-sell revenue.

5. Implement performance- and skills-based call routing. Delivering the highest call volume percentage to your best agents, those that are most skilled and consistently deliver the best results, ensures that performance remains high. But be keenly aware of excessively high performance, as it can be an indicator of quality problems like straying outside compliance guidelines, adherence to approved scripts, or taking liberties during the sales process in an effort to increase commissions at the customer’s expense.

Now, put on your operations hat:

Probably the most important element of an operations analysis is benchmarking. Call center benchmarks typically include key measurements related to quality, efficiency, service, profitability and personnel. While benchmarking is not the same for everyone, some general rules apply:

1. Evaluate abandonment rates and service levels. Measure calls that aren’t answered in an acceptable time period, or are abandoned because there’s insufficient staffing. These are lost opportunities.

2. In order of importance, the top metrics that impact call center performance in terms of sales effectiveness and efficiency are: media forecast accuracy (while this is not the call center’s responsibility it has a big impact on their performance), followed by abandonment rate; conversion rate; AOV, including contributions from upsell and cross sell activities; revenue per call relative to talk time per order; and telemarketing call center cost per order.

Managing each of these through a disciplined forecasting and measurement process, as well as creation of compensation incentives, agent-training program and sales scripting, not only impact revenue growth but also affect call center cost. Also remember to refresh the product mix. In addition, some functions can be cost-effectively transferred to automated, interactive voice response (IVR) technologies without negatively impacting the customer experience.

3. Accept the realities of call center turnover. The structural turnover rate for inbound commissioned sales agent call centers is somewhere north of 20%, and lower for large call centers. Organizations that understand turnover realities and their impact on a marketer’s sustained or improved campaign performance over time can factor these into their KPIs. One of the most significant methods to mitigate the effect of turnover is the creation of a robust training curriculum and quality loop.

4. Finally, consider leveraging a cloud-based routing infrastructure. This type of infrastructure enables marketers to remotely monitor the performance of various call centers and control the calls each receives based on their relative performance. Many marketers don’t like ceding control to their call centers, so those in growth mode or dealing with large campaigns value the ability to reclaim control.

Further, a cloud-routing solution factors significantly into the critical need for failover processes in the event of a catastrophic event, and therefore, the larger issue of risk mitigation. If an individual call center experiences an outage, a cloud-routing solution will redirect sales calls to a functioning call center on the fly and minimize abandonment. That’s critical for marketers who have pre-paid media plans that are up and running, and demand 100% uptime from their 24/7 sales centers.