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July 28, 2003 // UPDATED 11:00 am - April 30, 2007
By: Elana Centor
Elana Centor

So much for the 'Do Not Call' list

Telemarketers wriggle right through a loophole and into your phone

In the 1967 classic "The Graduate" a well-intentioned neighbor comes up to recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock (played by Dustin Hoffman) and whispers, "Plastics, my boy, that's the future."

If director Mike Nichols remade that movie today, the neighbor would whisper, "Up-sell and cross-sell, my boy -- that's the future."

Talk to anyone who is anyone in an advertising, marketing or telemarketing firm and "up-sell and cross-sell" is their mantra of the moment. As these industries face 60 million consumers saying "don't call us, we'll call you" via the National Do Not Call Registry, a mantra with a future helps these marketers get up in the morning.

Anyone who thought putting their name on the list (online registration is available at default.aspx) would be the delta of phone calls is in for a rude awakening. A registry loophole allows marketers to reach a good chunk of the rebels: companies can call previous customers.

Up-sell and cross-sell basically means getting existing customers to buy a more deluxe version of a product or service they already have or to purchase a different product from the same company.

Now there's a good chance these 60 million will receive the same number of calls -- if not more. Up to this point, the primary use of telemarketing has been to acquire new customers. Now, one telemarketer told me, it's all about "retooling and reinvesting in existing customers."

In a very small and unscientific survey of local advertising, direct marketing and telemarketing firms, the majority put a positive spin on the potential business implications of the new regulations.

They said: (a) "We're in B2B (business to business) so the 'Do Not Call' rules don't apply to us," (b) "It wasn't part of the marketing mix for our clients," (c) "We've known this was coming for three years, so we started phasing out prospect marketing" or (d) "This will actually have a positive impact on us because with the decrease of overall telemarketing, people will be more accepting to calls from organizations they have relationships with."

This week, AT&T invested a considerable amount of phone time reinvesting in our "relationship." On Monday, AT&T offered to up-sell me to a new flat rate long distance plan. Wednesday was dedicated to cross-selling me to AT&T local service.

Sure, I could complain. People love to hate telemarketers.

"If I go to a dinner party and say 'I'm in the call center business' and ask people how many products or services they have purchased over the phone, not one would say 'yes,'" said Gary Cohen, President of South Minneapolis-based ACI, Automated Communications, Inc., a $30 million-a-year telemarketing firm.

But the numbers tell a different story. According to Cohen, 5 to 20 percent of all people contacted by telemarketers buy something. That, explained Cohen is why there are so many telemarketers -- it works. Cohen said revenues from telemarketing exceed those from direct mail, TV, radio and newspaper advertising combined.

Don't expect them to give up those revenues without a fight.

Do expect to get a call from seemingly every business you have ever done business with.

If you have a good workplace dilemma or just a good story to tell, please contact Elana Centor at You can also leave a message at 822-9205, ext. 102. You can remain confidential, as can your company.