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The History of Telemarketing - What's changed over the years?

Updated: Jun 7, 2022

Old telephone on desk with notes and a pen

The Dawn of Telemarketing

With telemarketing being such a huge aspect of the sales world and being infamous to some, it’s hard to imagine that the birth of telemarketing happened in the 19th Century when a group of American housewives decided use the telephone to sell cookies!

These women trialled various conversation techniques over the phone to sell their baked goods, and with success they started seeing, telemarketing started to rise (or prove if you don’t mind the little baking pun there) in popularity.

Back then, there were no call centres, no quality data companies, and everything was about quantity. In the early 20th Century when companies started compiling and selling lists of phone numbers from local directories, the only real targeting was aiming for the higher, richer members of society, regardless of need, relevancy or interest.

The Evolution & Growth of Telemarketing

Over the course of the 1900s, telemarketing started to become a more structured and professional approach to reaching new customers.


In the 1950s, the first telemarketing call centre was set up over in the states. This centre was just a small operation back then, with one inbound centre and one outbound centre, but has since grown to be one of the largest telemarketing firms in the world known as DialAmerica.


As more and more call centres opened, telemarketing training began to grow and evolve. With more job opportunities beginning to appear in the telemarketing world, it helped to grow the popularity of telemarketing as an effective sales outreach and market research tool.


The 1970s is where telemarketing really started to pick up mainstream attention – with businesses across the worlds employing telemarketing strategies to generate new business in both B2C and B2B markets.

During this time, there were no fully structured telemarketing strategies, no automation, and no software to assist, which meant telemarketers at that time were doing everything manually and using a scattergun approach, so not only were they only able to call around 100 people a day, but they weren’t exactly the right people to call either.


In the 80s, telemarketing started to pick up speed and take shape drastically. With more powerful computers emerging, stronger and more targeted databases being built, helped to increase efficiency while reducing costs.

And for the first time, in 1981, the expenditure of telemarketing exceeded that of direct mail!


With the widespread use of telemarketing, it started gaining some rather distasteful attention.

Scammers started to use telemarketing as a way of reaching their victims far too easily, and as a result fraud levels started rise rather sharpish.

With this, there was a rapid increase in public consumers joining Do Not Call Registry’s and the Telephone Preference Service to limit the number of calls being received by members of the public, and new legislations started to be brought into force to protect people from fraudulent callers and unwanted sales calls.

A timeline of the telemarketing's history spanning from the 1950s to the 1990s

Telemarketing in 2021

Since its inception, telemarketing has adapted and transformed a great deal.

While in the past a scattergun approach may have been the way to go, in today’s business climate, and with the rise of online marketing technology, telemarketing needs to be closely targeted and personalised to see any quality results.

What's changed?

With the introduction of stricter rules on marketing contact and data protection, telemarketing isn’t the free for all it once was. With regulatory bodies ready to pounce on firms that breach the legislation and dish out fines that can reach into the millions.

With the introduction of the TPS/CTPS (Telephone Preference Service/Corporate Telemarketing Preference Service) and other telemarketing opt-out services, many people saw this as the death of telemarketing, however, it actually started a new era of telemarketing that has blown the old one out of the water.

With the ability to call anyone and everyone no longer a possibility, telemarketers today to carefully identify their ideal target markets and then build regulation-compliant databases or acquire them from trusted data houses.

Decades ago, the same pitch would have been thrown out to everyone, with very little, if any, variations or personalisation in the script. Today, telemarketers now need to use targeted data to tailor their pitch and approach to capture their audience’s interest and build rapport.

This change to the telemarketing world has led to its transformation from a quick, poorly targeted sales tool, into a sustainable, personalised approach to sparking meaningful conversations with the right people, at the right time.

The stigma round telemarketing

Although the world of telemarketing has changed for the better, there are a still those trying to cling onto the past with irrelevant sales calls, scams, and a general disregard for the legislation – particularly in the B2C sector.

All of this contributes to the stigma still plaguing telemarketing and paints the rest of the industry in a bad light. Not only that, but there are also a lot of misconceptions about telemarketing that stem from the actions of these poorly run organisations.

In the B2B world however, telemarketing is still one of the most effective methods of sparking conversations with your target audience. Despite the rise of the digital world and incredible new technologies that allow online engagement to flow in various directions and automations that can take a lot of the work out of a business’ sales process, it’s still nowhere near the level of quick and direct communication between your business and your prospective customers.

That’s not to say that telemarketing should be instead of those processes and digital marketing strategies, but rather combined with them to create an integrated approach to your sales process that covers online and offline marketing channels. When combined properly, telemarketing and today’s digital marketing technologies can become a powerful force for your business’ sales!


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