ATLANTA - Your local telephone company is picking up where salesmen of vacuum cleaners, vinyl siding and insurance left off.
BellSouth Corp. plans to go door-to-door soliciting residential customers throughout its nine-state territory by early next year.
The effort, which the Atlanta-based company is already testing in select markets, comes amid growing competition from cable providers. The federal do-not-call list also has made it more difficult for telemarketers, like phone companies, to do business, said Tad Neeley, an industry analyst for research firm RHK in San Francisco.
"The telcos are just losing customers; they've got to be aggressive," Neeley said. "They've got to find ways to attract new customers. I think this is a real risk on the nuisance side, but they probably don't have a choice at this point."
BellSouth has been soliciting business customers door-to-door since 2002. Last spring, BellSouth began door-to-door soliciting of residential customers in Atlanta and gradually expanded that to eight markets, including Birmingham, Ala., Louisville, Ky., Charlotte, N.C., and several major cities in Florida like Miami and Orlando.
Expansion to all nine of BellSouth's states is expected over the next few months. Several hundred salesmen will eventually be part of the effort, the company said. A formal announcement was expected Tuesday.
SBC Communications Inc. of San Antonio has been doing door-to-door sales at homes in select markets in 11 of its 13 states in the West, Southwest and Midwest since last summer, spokesman Michael Coe said. New York-based Verizon Communications Inc. does not do door-to-door soliciting at people's homes, spokesman Mark Marchand said.
"The value of face-to-face contact has been shown in our research," said Rob Bentley, a vice president in consumer services for BellSouth. "I think the litmus test is how professional you present yourself."
Bentley said the do-not-call list issue was not considered as a reason for launching BellSouth's door-to-door sales effort. He also said the company is aware of the risks, from a nuisance standpoint, but he said that for the most part the program has been well received.
"Don't get me wrong, we get a lot of folks who exercise their choice to decline," Bentley said. "Of the people who do want to talk to us, those people we follow up with. As long as customers continue to respond to it, we would obviously continue it."
There will be no solicitations after 8 p.m., and the company said it will respect neighborhoods that prohibit soliciting.
Telecom analyst Jeff Kagan said increasing competition is at the root of the door-to-door effort.
"It's turning a page back to the old days of marketing," Kagan said. "Once the customer signs up for multiple services, chances are they're not going to switch away. So, there's an urgency."
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