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What is Telemarketing?

By R. Kayne
Updated May 16, 2024
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Telemarketing is marketing conducted over the telephone. Most telemarketing calls are "cold calls," meaning the recipient of the call has not requested that the telemarketer contact them. Telemarketing is one of the most controversial types of marketing.

The purpose of telemarketing is to make a sale. Sometimes telemarketers have personal information when they call a customer, knowing the person has purchased products similar or related to theirs from other vendors or outlets.

Some older practices of telemarketing inadvertently caused fear. One common type of automated telemarketing program would dial numbers to check for answering machines in order to leave a pre-recorded sales pitch. If a person answered, the program detected a real voice and hung up. Many people were frightened by the unexplained hang-ups, some fearing they were being stalked. It is now illegal for a telemarketer to leave an automated sales pitch on an answering machine.

This hasn't prevented telemarketing hang-ups, however. Autodialers call numbers to identify those that are disconnected or out of order and those answered by fax machine, answering machine, or person. If your home phone gets excessive hang-ups, telemarketers may be the reason. Some organizations are fighting to make this practice illegal, claiming it amounts to harassment.

Public irritation over growing calls from telemarketers prompted the U.S. Congress to take legal action in 1991 in the form of restrictive laws. For example, telemarketing calls are legally forbidden between the hours of 9PM and 8AM. Congress also made it possible for consumers to register with a national do-not-call list, launched in 2001. Furthermore, telemarketers that break restrictive laws can be sued for amounts ranging from US$500-1,500 per occurrence. Informed consumers have taken advantage of this.

One of the most controversial moves by the telemarketing industry is to acquire cheap labor by installing call centers in prisons. A call center is the hub of a telemarketing company, essentially a bank of cubicles with telephones, call lists and scripts. TSRs or telephone service representatives occupy the cubicles and make the calls. In general, the public was not pleased to find that convicted murderers and rapists had been supplied with their names, phone numbers, addresses and, in some cases, more extensive information -- and were calling them at home to sell them products.

Of the telemarketing companies that use inmate labor, most keep it quiet. Unions insist telemarketers are exploiting prison labor to avoid paying a fair wage to free Americans. Telemarketers claim they would have to outsource to countries like India to get cheap labor, and that inmate labor is a cost-effective alternative. Inmates are reportedly paid about US$200 per month for a 40-hour week.

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Discussion Comments

By anon348240 — On Sep 14, 2013

The best thing to say is I am not interested and tell them to put you on their do not call again list, then hang up.

By Natalie Brent — On Aug 17, 2011

breadcrumbs51's approach is actually a practical and a good one. These appointment setters are just trying to make a living and if you're not interested, the best way is to be upfront yet polite.

By anon46811 — On Sep 29, 2009

it's a very good article.

By anon46745 — On Sep 28, 2009

good article.

By anon36962 — On Jul 15, 2009

can you tell me about the goal of telemaketing and its structure.

By jojolnjooper — On Mar 26, 2009

yes, i totally agree with you, breadcrumbs51. once i made the mistake of taking pity on these guys and hearing them out..it was bad. so firm but polite is the only way out. it's sad that they receive so much flak for doing their job...what must it be like to hear so many negative things in one day? I hope the telemarketing-hate situation gets a little better so these guys aren't loathed so much. no one deserves that. these guys, and also the door-to-door marketing people and the leaflet people.

By breadcrumbs51 — On Mar 31, 2008

I always feel bad for telemarketers because they're trying to make a living, just like all of us. But pretending I'm interested just wastes both our time. I just say, "No thank you," politely but quickly and hang up before I can be engaged in a conversation or have to explain why I don't want those calls. Try not to be rude, but be firm and quick, it's better for everyone.

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