Ramifications of 'Do Not Call' Lists for Small Businesses

By Adam Stone | Posted December 04, 2003

Paul Petersen has read the fine print, and he has got some less-than-happy news for small businesses.

Most people know about the recent "do not call" legislation. That's the government policy whereby consumers can insist that telemarketers no longer ring their phones at random. But the legislation covers a lot more than just telemarketing, and it has big implications even for small firms that have no involvement in bulk phone solicitations.

As senior sales director for FrontRange Solutions' Goldmine product, Peterson typically spends his time discussing the virtues of customer relationship management (CRM) database software for use in things like contact management and sales force management. We asked him to take a break from that and tell us what "do not call" may mean, and what small businesses will need to do to comply with the law.

What impact does this law have on small businesses?

There is a perception that this only affects business-to-consumer calls, but there are less obvious implications for business-to-business. The "do not call" legislation has a provision that states you cannot fax to anyone without their permission starting Jan 1, 2005. That is a business-to-business issue. And while it is not part of the "do not call" legislation, there are parallel efforts by the states and now the federal government to manage email along the same lines. There are no exceptions for small businesses to avoid compliance, as there are with other laws. This applies to as single real estate agent, a sole practitioner insurance agent. Everybody has to comply.

Game plan: What should small businesses be doing?

On the business-to-business side, the first very pragmatic step is to seek permissions from anybody in your prospect or customer database. Get them to specify a preference for method of communication and ideally also the subject matter. You want to get permission, then capture that permission and record it. You can do this with order forms, product registration cards, web site registration, trade show lead query cards. Wherever you collect information from customers, you should get explicit permission for faxing, and for email as well.

What about technological solutions? How can software help?

Any contact-management software you use software has to be flexible enough to store customer and prospect information in once place, so that you have a central repository for all that information. Then you need the ability to do selective list creation: "Find me everybody that I can fax to." Then you need the ability to store those permissions, so it has to be somewhat customizable. In other words, the software should support the business's efforts to maintain compliance.

Any procedural issues to keep in mind?

Absolutely. Someone in the company who is familiar with the technology is going to have to be the guardian of customer and prospect data. It needs to be a single individual who is accountable. With the whole company being liable, it is generally going to be best to have that as a centralized function. That person then can run reports to check compliance, for example confirming that you are really faxing to the right people.

What about technologies on the business-to-consumer side, where you have the no-phone constraint in addition to the no-fax issue?

The government publishes a list of phone numbers by area code. That's all you get. Those are people who have opted out of being called. Now, as a manual process that is going to be pretty overwhelming. So you need a program that will read in that XML file and match that to your database. With Goldmine we are working with a third party supplier who will validate the list and tag Goldmine records as being on the "do not call" list. Then, within Goldmine, we have ways to blank out the phone number if they are on "do not call," so that somebody cannot make an inadvertent call by looking at the screen. By law that process has to be repeated every month, in order to keep current with the updated lists.

If "do not call" requires monthly updates, it sounds like compliance could quickly become an burdensome expense ...

Look at it this way: The fine for just one "do not call" violation is $10,000 — and while it is unlikely that they would go after somebody with a single violation, even one of those fines is going to be very burdensome. On the other hand, with software and training and a little bit of configuration you can often implement a solution for less than the expense of a single fine. That's a pretty good ROI. And anyway, do you really want to be selling to people who don't want you to call them? That's not productive, and it's not cost-effective.

Do you have a comment or question about this article or other small business topics in general? Speak out in the SmallBusinessComputing.com Forums. Join the discussion today!

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