FIELD MARKETING: Stranger at the gate - Sectors such as the computing and utilities industries are beginning to appreciate what field marketing can do for them. David Murphy reports

In the world of fast-moving consumer goods, field marketing is well established as an important, if somewhat unglamorous part of the overall mix. But its attributes are now being discovered by some of the sectors newer to the rough and tumble of brand marketing.

In the world of fast-moving consumer goods, field marketing is well

established as an important, if somewhat unglamorous part of the overall

mix. But its attributes are now being discovered by some of the sectors

newer to the rough and tumble of brand marketing.



Field marketing is playing an increasingly important role for the

deregulated utility companies and the more high-tech computer and

telecoms sectors.



While the utilities are using field marketing in their drive for new

business, the IT industry is using the discipline to help retail staff

to sell the benefits of complex equipment.



Since the government opened up competition in the supply of gas,

electricity and other utilities, an army of door-to-door representatives

has been engaged in the fight to secure business.



A recent MORI report commissioned by the watchdog Ofgas found that

householders who had changed their gas supplier found doorstep selling

useful and informative.



Yet despite these findings, there has been much negative media coverage

about the tactics employed on the doorstep. Nick Fennell, sales and

marketing director of field marketing agency CPM, which works on behalf

of one of the regional gas companies, believes he knows the reason

why.



’I think you’ve got an interesting balance of the way this type of

activity is being carried out,’ he says. ’On the one hand, in their

local footprint area, you have utility companies using professional

field marketing agencies which provide a disciplined,

tightly-controlled, consumer-friendly operation, with an audit trail

which complies with the Ofgas code of practice. Then further afield, you

have freelance agents, working on a commission-only basis, possibly with

no loyalty to any one supplier.’



It is these freelance agents, Fennell believes, who are at the root of

the problem. ’It’s tough out there, with lots of companies chasing the

business, so it’s easy to see why commission-only is seen as the route

to success. But I believe this hard-nosed, knock-down-the-door approach

is going out of fashion and we are seeing a gradual shift toward using

more professional operators,’ he says.



Far from being discouraged by the bad publicity, CPM has established a

separate division, CPM Homecall, to handle door-to-door projects, and

Fennell says he can see a bright future for it, embracing other services

such as home-shopping.



Negative vibes



Teamwork Field Marketing based in York, on the other hand, pulled out of

domestic utility work as a result of the bad press, but is now working

successfully in the business-to-business sector. Teamwork commercial

director and secretary of the Field Marketing Association, Bobby

Collins, agrees that field marketing agencies have been tainted by the

negative publicity and says an education process was needed when the

company first took on utility work. ’The client saw us as a sales agency

set-up rather than a field marketing agency,’ explains Collins. ’But as

most marketing professionals recognise, the two are completely different

animals.’



At Aspen Field Marketing, account manager Graham Winman says its

relationship with its client, gas company Calortex, is a slightly

unusual one. ’The client manages the agents who go out and conduct the

door-to-door work, making sure that they stick to the company’s code of

conduct and behave professionally. What we do is to take care of all the

admin, payroll and recruitment, so that they don’t have all that hassle

to worry about.’



While utility companies are fairly recent converts to field marketing,

in the high-tech arena, they have been at it a little longer. But

Richard Thompson, chairman of EMS, which has teams working for computer

manufacturers Toshiba and Compaq among others, believes the discipline

is only now being afforded the recognition and respect that

professionals working in the field have long believed it deserves.



’For far too long there has been too much emphasis on above-the-line

activity in the IT sector,’ says Thompson. ’This may drive people into

the store, but without good field marketing, they won’t find the PC

they’re looking for when they get there. Even if they do, the staff may

have no idea how to sell it.’



Thompson believes that field marketing staff can make a big difference

in-store in securing more exposure for their brand. ’A large part of the

agent’s job is in winning the hearts and minds of the sales staff and

the store manager because there’s a lot more discretion to move things

around and secure more shelf space for your brand than in a typical FMCG

outlet,’ says Thompson.



Training, he believes, is another key area. ’There’s still this thing in

the IT world of selling on ’techs and specs’,’ he says. ’What we’re

trying to do is to train store staff to sell on benefits rather than

features.



We’re making progress, but there’s still a certain sophistication in

FMCG stores that doesn’t always exist in electrical retailers.’



Training on benefits



Collins is not surprised by the way the IT sector has taken to field

marketing. ’It’s always been there,’ he says. ’Even in the days of the

first PCs there were promotional field marketing people to train

in-store staff on how to sell the product. It’s no surprise that its

potential is starting to be realised. For the client company, it removes

a fixed cost and gives them the option of pulling out, should they wish,

once their objectives have been achieved.’



While IT hardware may differ from traditional FMCG fare, Collins

believes the principles remain the same. ’Whether it’s a PC or a shelf

of soap powder, the skills are already in place. The agents just need a

top up on the product knowledge,’ he says.



At Aspen Field Marketing, which works on behalf of several high-tech and

telecoms companies, including Sony, Electronic Arts and Vodafone, joint

managing director Gary MacManus concurs with this view: ’We’ve taken a

lot of the disciplines used in FMCG and applied them to high-tech,’ he

says. And like a lot of field marketing professionals, MacManus accepts

that the better his field marketing staff, the more likely it is he will

lose them.



’We know that we will be net exporters of people because they acquire a

lot of knowledge about the product. We accept that they will often be

promoted into the client company, or another company within the

industry,’ he says.



PACKARD BELL



Computer company Packard Bell has recently upgraded its field marketing

support for Dixons Stores Group, with the creation of a 12-strong field

support team. Previously, the company contracted merchandisers to work

in-store at weekends, but the new team’s responsibilities extend

further.



They offer what Packard Bell calls ’on the mat’ training to in-store

sales staff and they can also be called upon to help staff sell a

specific product. In addition, they carry out research in the form of

mystery shops, feeding back the results to head office. Finally, the

role embraces a traditional merchandising function, making sure that

point-of-sale material is available and put to good use.



According to Packard Bell director of marketing, Susan Lazareff, the

team is already having an effect. ’Our merchandisers allowed us to

respond to periods of peak activity, but the field support team gives us

a presence in store every day of the week,’ she says. ’The market is

becoming more competitive and more challenging and we knew that we had

to get closer to consumers and to the shop-floor sales staff. Buying a

PC is a very daunting process. This brings the whole thing to life.’



YAMAHA



In the world of hi-fi, the simpler the better. The more you pay for an

amplifier, the fewer knobs and buttons you are likely to find on it, in

the interests of keeping the audio signal as pure as possible. In the

world of surround sound amplifiers, however, which recreate the sort of

listening experience you get in the cinema, Yamaha offers listeners an

enormous choice of listening options for different types of programme

material, recreating the ambience of jazz clubs, churches and concert

halls in the living room.



Yamaha’s latest surround sound amplifier, the DSP-A1, offers no less

than 40 different listening modes and can accommodate up to 11 different

music and video sources (CD player, video recorder) as well as nine

speakers. This makes it a complicated product to get to grips with and

so for this reason, the company invests a lot of time and effort to

train retail staff.



There are five levels of training, including basic sessions run by the

company’s salesmen in store, and two which require retail staff to

attend a full-day course at Yamaha’s Watford offices and sit an

hour-and-a-half’s written examination.



Despite the intensive nature of the training, Yamaha technical sales

officer Terry Murphy says the company’s dealers are keen to take part.

’They recognise that the more their people know about the product, the

easier it is for them to talk to customers and get their confidence,’ he

says. Murphy recognises the importance of the training, too, for

Yamaha’s own results. ’It’s a very important part of what we do,’ he

says. ’With a top-end product like this, we need the guys on the shop

floor to be switched on to what the product can do. If they don’t

understand it, the product doesn’t sell.’



So far, Murphy has kept the training in-house, but admits that as the

hardware becomes more sophisticated, it has become a more time-consuming

task. ’It’s going to be interesting to see how the workload pans out

this year. For now, we can just about handle it.’



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