When the utilities first started deregulating, there was a rash of
stories telling of high-pressure sales techniques used by pushy
door-to-door salesmen. Not only did this throw a shadow over the
privatisation of the utilities, it also rang alarm bells about the need
for better training of sales personnel.
This alerted the UK’s growing army of field marketing companies, which
are keen to extend their role into the area of door-to-door selling and
see high training standards as a way of building clients’ trust in their
Alison Williams, chairman of the Field Marketing Association and
managing director of field marketing company FDS, says: ’One of the main
problems was that some of the electricity companies were employing
agencies which were just one- or two-man bands which set up their own
teams of people, which then sub-contracted to others which also
sub-contracted,’ she says.
’Sometimes nobody knew who was working for whom or when.’
Training takes hold
Williams went hotfoot to the utilities regulators, entering into
discussions which produced standards for those who go knocking on doors.
A major bone of contention had been that salesmen had been working on
commission and paid on results.
’People working for field marketing companies do not have these
problems,’ she says. ’There is a proper audit trail, proper systems,
field support, constant control and monitoring of field staff.
Actually, the figures stack up. It was found that clients who were using
bona fide field marketing companies were achieving the required results
but keeping to the standards.’
The utilities and other new services which sell on the doorstep, like
cable and digital TV, show that personnel in this area have to be more
highly trained than ever before. Again, the field marketing community
feels that high training standards give it the edge over
Mike Garnham, managing director of Headcount, talks about still doing
traditional classroom training, but combining it with calls out in the
field where performance is then analysed and reanalysed. ’It is more
about motivational skills,’ he says, ’with role playing in a hotel room.
But we have a smaller span of control so that managers can spend time
with the people on the road. It is far more hands-on.’
The ratios speak for them themselves, with training involving one
manager to ten field sales staff in FMCG, reducing to one manager for
every six in the doorstep sector. Headcount currently has between 500
and 600 employed in the latter and is still crying out for more people
on the ground.
New sectors, however, demand new skills, so when Garnham moved into
cable TV he had to act swiftly. ’We had to go and look for somebody with
specialised knowledge, so we went to a cable company because they had
been through a learning curve and we wanted to get as high up on that
curve as possible,’ he says. ’We eventually found it has meant a whole
new skills set for head office and doing the job.’
Evolving toward involvement
Developing skills for the job is taken so seriously by Ellert Retail
Operation Services that it is offering its staff a customised NVQ in
direct selling, says Joanne Anderson, its training and development
’We are trying to gain organisational loyalty, because it will help us
reduce staff turnover, but are also looking to involve employees at all
levels where appropriate.’ She is keen, however, not to place a
millstone around people’s necks, so there are three qualifications for
entry: staff have to be with the company for a certain amount of time,
they must contribute toward the cost, and they need their line manager’s
The customisation aspect has gone out to tender, but staff are already
being recruited for pilots of the existing NVQ, to start this month. The
response has amazed Anderson, but the reasons for this reflect the
changing nature of the industry.
The training needs of staff vary, and it would be wrong to presume that
there are just two different categories, ’field marketers’ and
’door-to-door salespeople’. The activity in question dictates the
profile of the person required: the type encouraging you to switch gas
supplier is totally different to the one providing IT support or trying
to get you to home shop.
Passive is now passe
There is a tendency to think of door-to-door as a ’passive’ discipline,
but if this were the case there would not be such a need for close
monitoring and regulation. In utilities particularly, field marketers
need to accord with the highest of standards and only the most actively
audited and tightly controlled of procedures will pass muster.
Training, however, is only one aspect which is extending the reach of
the field marketing industry. Buy-outs of UK field marketing companies
by transatlantic marketing services groups is allowing more to bolt-on
new offers, such as door-to-door, and provide refined targeting
Bucking the financial sector
UK field marketing company FMCG merged with Canadian Group Mosaic in
1997, which went on to buy EMS this summer. Unlike many other field
marketing companies, FMCG is focusing on the financial services sector
rather than utilities, and is working with financial services and
management consultants NR Consulting to tackle the market more
’We help companies to define their sales process and supervisory process
at the front end,’ says Ralph Black, director of NR Consulting, ’while
at the back end we will be helping them sort out the brand proposition
and compliance with regulatory bodies like the FSA. Once the sandwich
has been worked out, we can put the training together and then execute
it as well.’
The training is still vital, however, because door-to-door selling is a
labour-intensive exercise. If the training is spot-on, claims Black, it
can raise a field force’s effectiveness by between 20% and 45% as a
matter of course. But the consultancy also brings one more benefit to
’We are aiming to have the best quality and control by using NR
expertise,’ says Kate Carr, managing director of FMCG. This will involve
looking at the quality assurance side, monitoring salesmen on the job,
and vetting team leaders to see how they manage the individuals, then
disseminating that information in training.
The industry is thriving on both sides of the Channel. According to Nick
Fennell, sales and marketing director of market leader CPM: ’Our
position is quite unique. I work for CPM UK but two-thirds of our
business is outside the UK. I am personally responsible for promoting
what we do here in France and in Germany.’
But while the concept of a successful campaign in an area such as
telecoms, say, can be exported, the acceptance of home calling will
In the Netherlands far more women stay at home during the day, while in
the UK they could be in between 4pm and 8.30pm, and on Saturday
Given varying market conditions, it’s not surprising that some clients
are wary. ’The key thing is to ensure that there is a secure way of
measuring the payback,’ says Fennell. ’Face-to-face is probably the most
expensive, but if it is the most effective it should be used singly or
as part of the mix.’
More points to selling
One side-effect of deregulation seems to be that field marketing
companies are specialising in different areas. For example, FMCG is
focusing on financial services and EMS in IT.
EMS has built up such a track record in IT that the company is unlikely
to switch horses. ’We are using a product set that needs to be sold,’
says Richard Thompson, EMS chairman, ’and we feel that face-to-face will
continue to evolve in this area. The opportunities are enormous for
Our staff can provide in-home training after installing the product so
that the user gets to know what they have just bought. We are just
extending the link from point of purchase to point of use.’
Once the purchaser realises that the salesman is more than a salesman,
more a potential source of IT knowledge, the sales process becomes much
It provides the opportunity to get to know the customer’s needs in a
Protecting its reputation
But even here training is key. EMS has signed up to Investors in
It took the company two years to achieve, but Thompson is convinced it
is the way forward for the field marketing industry.
’It proves your people are up to a certain level,’ he says.
Yet no matter what field marketing companies do to enhance their staff’s
abilities, there is still an inherent danger. ’People are beginning to
associate door-to-door with the likes of the utilities companies,’ says
David Bailey, group account director of IMP Face to Face.
It has meant taking a rearguard action to protect their reputation.
’What we have found is that door-to-door recruits students or classic
salespeople, whereas those we use will have experience behind them,’
’Our worst case scenario is when we get a call from a client about
someone who has gone over the top. The classic field marketing industry
is more client than results-driven, and our approach is genuinely more
The ultimate aim is to get householders to look forward to a visit, as
they would in days of yore when the bread or grocery man came to
If the targeting is right, there is no reason why this approach
shouldn’t bear fruit.
The main thing to avoid, according to more than one field marketing
company, is to avoid knocking on the door when Coronation Street is on.