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Running a Telemarketing or Call Campaign? Make Sure you Observe “Do Not Call” Rules

Running a Telemarketing or Call Campaign? Make Sure you Observe “Do Not Call” Rules

By Caron_Beesley, Contributor
Published: April 11, 2012 Updated: April 11, 2012

Looking to drum up business with a call campaign? Want to reach out to your customers and prospects by phone? Before you dial, you should be aware of the government’s Do Not Call rules.

Most of us probably have a loose interpretation of Do Not Call rules and requirements, assuming that as long as “an existing business relationship” exists between the telemarketer and the consumer, then it’s okay to call. But consider these questions:

  • Which customers do you really have an “existing relationship” with and what does that mean, anyway?
  • What if a prospect has asked for a quote from you in the past? Can you call them even if they haven’t purchased from you? 
  • Can you call prospects and customers for the purposes of taking a survey?

If you’re not sure, read on for a quick look at how to ensure your telemarketing calls comply with federal and state regulators (who are often more restrictive). Remember, compliance is not just good business practice, it also allows you to focus budget effort on calling consumers who are actually interested in what you have to offer.

What is the National Do Not Call Registry?

The National Do Not Call Registry, which falls under the Telemarketing Sales Rule enforced by the FTC and FCC, is a list of phone numbers from consumers who’ve indicated their preference to limit the telemarketing calls they receive – whether from third party telemarketers or businesses seeking to sell or provide goods and services to consumers. Do Not Call provisions don’t block calls from political organizations, charities, telephone surveyors, or companies with which a consumer has an existing business relationship.

Telemarketers and sellers are required to search the registry at least once every 31 days and drop from their call lists the phone numbers of consumers who have registered.

The “Existing Relationship” Rule

So what is the “existing relationship” rule and why does it matter? Basically, if you have an established business relationship with a consumer, the Do Not Call rules don’t apply, even if the consumer's number is on the National Do Not Call Registry. So what constitutes an “existing business relationship”?  There are two types of established business relationships, both of which are time-limited:

1) A business may call a consumer if that consumer has purchased, rented, or leased the business’ goods or services, or if a financial transaction has taken place between you. The time limitation on this relationship is 18 months after that sale or transaction.

2) If a consumer hasn’t purchased from you, you can call them only if they have made an inquiry or submitted an application to your company, such as a request for a quote. In these cases you can only call up to three months after the original inquiry.

So, before calling a former customer based on an established business relationship, make sure the relationship is current by these rules.

Be Aware of State Do Not Call Lists

Check with your state website about in-state Do Not Call laws. While the federal government is trying to unify state and national laws, many still maintain their own lists, which you are required to access and use to cleanse your lists.

Types of Calls Not Covered by the Telemarketing Sales Rule

The Rule includes provisions about incoming calls to your business, too, and marketing to those callers. Read more about the specifics of these exceptions here. Although many of these exempt calls are inbound, the FTC has restrictions about up-selling to consumers during the course of these calls. Calls that aren’t covered by the rule include:

  • Unsolicited calls from consumers
  • Calls placed by consumers in response to a catalog
  • Business-to-business calls that do not involve retail sales of nondurable office or cleaning supplies
  • Calls made in response to general media advertising (with some important exceptions)
  • Calls made in response to direct mail advertising (with some important exceptions)

Maintain Your Own Opt-Out List

In addition to obtaining and scrubbing call lists of numbers in state and federal Do Not Call registries, you are also required by law to maintain an in-house list of consumers who’ve requested not to receive calls. On the flip side, if a consumer has given written and signed consent (electronic signatures are also valid), you may call them, even if their number is on the Do Not Call Registry.

What About Third Party Lists?

What if you buy a list of consumers who have opted in to receive calls about the types of products or services you sell? Technically you don’t have an existing business relationship with these consumers, and the FTC requires that you scrub these lists against the Do Not Call registries.

What About Contests or Sweepstakes?

Again, no existing business relationship is considered to exist with a consumer if you obtained their name through a contest. So, if their number is on the Do Not Call list, you can’t call them.

If in Doubt, Consult an Attorney

Any telemarketing practices that don’t comply with telemarketing laws can result in hefty fines and penalties. So consult an attorney for more information before you embark on what you might otherwise think is an innocuous marketing campaign. 

Additional Resources

For more information about telemarketing laws that may impact your small business check out these resources:


About the Author:

Caron Beesley


Caron Beesley is a small business owner, a writer, and marketing communications consultant. Caron works with the SBA.gov team to promote essential government resources that help entrepreneurs and small business owners start-up, grow and succeed. Follow Caron on Twitter: @caronbeesley