I have learned quite a bit in my nearly 30+ year marketing career. Probably the most significant is the importance of strategic demand generation and the value of great B2B marketing, supported by data- and insights-driven decision making.
And as I have discussed before, the best organizations also give back – my tenure at SAP included community service and participating in world-class instances of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). Along the way I was fortunate to work with some tremendous partners with shared common values. One of my most treasured SAP experiences over nearly two decades was working with Televerde, a company headquartered in Phoenix AZ that brilliantly combines the best of both.
I was first introduced to Televerde after I started SAP Services Marketing for SAP North America Field Marketing in the mid-2000s. After a rather lackluster experience with the incumbent telemarketing and lead generation vendor, my team engaged them and Televerde in a “Pepsi Challenge” contest won hands-down by Televede.
We went on to employ a dedicated team of services-specific lead development reps (LDRs), later augmented by a team of sales development reps (SDRs) and for a time matched with services inside sales. All of this was managed with regular governance and group calls, and the results provided great pipeline for the services sales team to convert to revenue. Truly a “lead generation machine”!
Televerde has a very innovative and unique business model, with call centers located inside state prisons employing female prisoners, a world-class program that is the archetype of great business meeting CSR and so much more. Not only did former SAP
CEO Bill McDermott once call Televerde “the best lead generation program ever employed by SAP”, Bill Gates endorsed the success of the program with Microsoft; autographed posters from both proudly hang in the Televerde prison call center and Phoenix Headquarters.
It was my great pleasure to recently sit down with Michelle Cirocco, the Chief Social Responsibility Officer and Executive Director of the Televerde Foundation, to discuss the incredible story of Televerde.
Q: Michelle, you have been with Televerde since the very beginning. How would you summarize the journey for both yourself and Televerde over this timeframe?
A: Well as you know Televerde officially launched in 1994 with a six-person call center running out of an air-conditioned trailer at a minimum-security prison in Arizona. And now, we employ more than 600 people around the world, with about 70% of those people incarcerated in women’s prisons in Arizona and Indiana. We actually plan to expand to the Florida prison system later this year. So, to summarize, I would say it has been an incredible ride of transformation and growth, for me and the company.
Q: We were incredibly sad to learn that the Founder and CEO of Televerde, Jim Hooker, recently passed away. What was Jim’s vision, and what are some of the benefits that he and the Televerde team have provided to both clients and society?
A: Jim was the most inspiring individual I have ever met and worked for. He was a role model for and a believer in society’s outcasts. He taught people to see talent and potential in the most disempowered among us. A pioneer in second chances, Jim believed that everyone deserved opportunities to become more than their worst mistake and he dedicated his life to creating those opportunities.
Because of Jim, Televerde was operating as a force for good long before it was a mainstream idea. Our Televerde Prison Workforce Development Program has more than 3,000 graduates. The three-year reconviction (recidivism) rate for our graduates is 5.4 percent. (This is 91 percent lower than the national three-year recidivism rate.)
In 2020, Arizona State University’s Seidman Research Institute unveiled the economic, social and fiscal impact of our program on individuals, families and the state of Arizona. The results reveal that graduates of Televerde’s program go on to attain employment, earnings, and education at higher rates and reoffend at significantly lower rates than other formerly incarcerated females in the United States.
Graduates are 2X more likely to be in gainful employment post-release; 94% of graduates are in paid employment 5 years after incarceration compared to 49% of other formerly incarcerated women. Graduates find earn almost 4 times the national average for formerly incarcerated females.
Graduates return to society with an average of $10,000 in savings to help with reentry costs (clothing, secure housing, and pay for transportation post-release). Despite similar levels of at the time of incarceration, graduates attain higher levels of education with 84% having some college and 30% earning advanced degrees.
Dependent children are 11x more likely to graduate high school than dependent children of other incarcerated mothers. Adult children 11x less likely to be incarcerated compared to the adult children of other incarcerated mothers.
In addition to all of that, Jim believed that education is the greatest equalizer. We’ll continue to honor his legacy through the Jim Hooker Endowment for Futures Scholars program. By investing in people after incarceration, Televerde continues to empower women with pathways that enable them to advance both their professional careers and personal lives.
As he said time and again, “the human spirit under the right conditions and given the right opportunity could rise up and achieve extraordinary things.” The world is a better place because Jim was in it, and his spirit and legacy will be with us always.
Q: As a long-time proponent of analytics (literally since the creation of BI more than 3 decades ago) I have espoused the benefits of data-and insights-driven marketing as critical to “modern marketing” and long-term business success. How and where has Telverde invested in these to assist your clients?
A: Televerde understands the impact of incorporating analytics into our engagement decisions to produce the best results within our partnerships. For us, the last several years have been geared around hand-picking best-in-class technology to enhance our ability to make data-driven decisions for our internal programs, but more importantly, for our partners.
We are enhancing every aspect of the process through implementing new technology that covers everything from our phone systems, workforce management tools, and engagement platforms, to BI and refreshed user training across all departments.
While data-driven insights are key for incorporating long-term strategies, we are well versed in knowing that technology and insights are only part of the recipe to success. The biggest impact for our partners is the level of knowledge that our team possesses to support them and bring to life the analytics that are provided to generate viable results.
While Televerde is getting a technology facelift our core remains the same as it always has – it is built on human interaction. We are firm believers in the human touch. People matter and taking the time to listen and build rapport and relationships is what has made us so successful. Without that piece it is just numbers and systems.
Q: We have seen Televerde at many high-profile events, including the SiriusDecisions Summit and TED Talks. Can you please share key insights to the success of Televerde and its innovative business model that have been the themes and “red threads” of these events?
A: The key to our success is our workforce. Our people are what have allowed us to deliver more than $10B in revenue for some of the most recognizable brands in the world including SAP and Adobe-Marketo.
And while it is becoming more mainstream for companies to do good and be socially conscious, what keeps our clients coming back is not our business model, it is because we deliver incredible results for them. We take great care in getting to know our clients, understanding their needs, and educating our agents on their business.
We hear all the time from our clients that our agents know their technology better than their own employees. I do not doubt it. We have women who are highly motivated and out to prove that they should not be defined by their worst mistake.
Q: How can the valuable lessons and experiences of Televerde and the incredible journey you and the leadership team have driven be applied to business and society at large?
A: Let us go back to the quote of Jim’s I shared earlier: “the human spirit under the right conditions and given the right opportunity could rise up and achieve extraordinary things.”
As business leaders and a business community we need to see more of this. We must lead with empathy, lift others up and give people second chances. We need to recognize that people make mistakes.
My advice to all of us is this: we do not know every person’s back story so we should be less quick to cast judgement. All of us have made mistakes. And very often you may find that someone is in prison for the something you did once – the difference is that person was caught. We need to exercise more empathy and recognize what the cost of incarceration is causing this country and our communities.
Michelle, thank you for your insights. What you describe is both incredible inspiring and an amazing mix of business, CSR and “modern marketing” at its absolute best. We look forward to hearing more of Televerde’s continued success and the continued impact upon so many peoples’ lives. Encouraging everyone to read the Harvard Business Review Article “Do your Employees Feel Respected” featuring the great Televerde “case study” and view the outstanding TED Talk “My Journey from Privilege to Prison” featuring Jim Hooker.
Michelle Cirocco is the Chief Social Responsibility Officer of Televerde and the Executive Director of the Televerde Foundation. She is a strong customer champion with a tireless commitment to demand generation excellence and best practices
Follow Michelle @mcirocco
Fred Isbell is a former Senior Marketing Director for SAP Global Marketing, a high technology industry marketing veteran and Research Director at Dresner Advisory Services.
Follow Fred @fmisbell