FIELD MARKETING: Discipline on the doorstep - Field marketing sees improved training for its personnel as the key to winning better door-to-door business

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.

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

the partnership.

’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

more relaxed.

It provides the opportunity to get to know the customer’s needs in a

non-threatening environment.

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,’

says Bailey.

’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.


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