SUPPLEMENT: BUSINESS TO BUSINESS; Just who do you think you’re talking to?

Perseverance and gimmicks aren’t enough to get through to the corporate decision-makers, writes Eddie Gibb. You need to do the research and target the right people and companies

Perseverance and gimmicks aren’t enough to get through to the corporate

decision-makers, writes Eddie Gibb. You need to do the research and

target the right people and companies



It’s war out there and sourcing accurate intelligence about company

decision-makers requires the survival skills of a marketing commando.

Highly trained receptionists will terminate a phone call with extreme

prejudice at the first whiff of a cold call, while secretaries armed

only with a paper knife can disarm a crude mailshot long before it

explodes on their boss’s desk.



Business-to-business marketing is all about overcoming corporate

defences and reaching the decision-makers in their bunkers. It would be

so much simpler if this was one ‘Man from Del Monte’ figure who could

say yes, but it is far more likely that decision-making power is spread

widely in large companies. Getting them all on side might be vital, so

accurate information about a potential customer’s internal structure is

particularly important.



This is now being recognised by business marketing specialists, and

Aspen Business Communications has developed a simple conceptual model to

help clients understand the need to fire different marketing messages at

separate targets in potential customers’ corporate structures. Aspen’s

so-called ‘triangle module’ identifies three key pressure points: the

specifier, who has the technical or specialist knowledge to understand a

product or service; the end-user, who will actually use the new piece of

kit; and, of course, the big cheese, who signs the cheque.



This might turn out to be only two people in a small company, but Aspen

sees these three functions as crucial. ‘The decision triangle lets you

put people in the roles and work out what their motivations are,’ says

planning director, Evan Ivey. ‘We try to convince clients that it’s

worth talking to all three by offering different brand orientations.

There’s no point positioning your brand on a single point if that is

only of interest to one set of people.’



Mercury, which is poised to launch a direct marketing campaign to back

up its above-the-line presence, initially tries to talk the language of

senior executives interested in total business solutions, leaving the

technical sell until later. Mailing relevant case studies is effective

for this. ‘We deliberately focus on how we have helped other businesses

change how they work and hardly go into the telecoms solution. People

don’t want to try something that isn’t tried and tested,’ says marketing

services manager Dominic Owens.



Aspen, which specialises in technology clients, reckons properly

targeted case study information can be one of the most powerful

techniques in business marketing. To persuade busy executives to read a

piece of direct mail, they must believe it relates directly to their

job. Database marketing manager with business-to-business specialist

Blaze, Peter Anderson, says: ‘If you can get people to self-select and

say ‘yes, I’m interested’, the world is your oyster. Even if you have a

highly relevant offer, if it goes to the wrong guy in the right company

it is still irrelevant.’



The big headache for business-to-business marketers is the large

variations in corporate structures. Marketers need to know individuals’

names, job titles and functions and understand how decision-making power

is spread between them.



Commercial company databases are widely regarded as less sophisticated

than their consumer counterparts. Tele-research is the surest way of

generating accurate lists, but it can work out very expensive if the

client’s potential customer base is very large.



‘Too many business-to-business marketers think they’ve got a large

database of prospects, but it’s just a list of suspects. We believe in

segmenting the existing customer base to assess where prospects are and

who they are,’ says Anderson.



In other words, existing customers can be the key to understanding other

companies in the same market. Business marketing agency TDS Insight is

developing a ‘generic model’, which attempts to highlight patterns of

internal company structure. When matched to simple lists of name and job

title it can give a better insight into a company’s likely decision-

making set-up.

‘What we have to do is research as many companies as we can by asking

key questions on easily measureable points and then try to infer some

kind of buying model,’ says Simon Lawrence, TDS new projects director.



While agencies and clients develop fancy theoretical models, does anyone

notice at the other end? Jane Willetts, head of purchasing for Direct

Line Insurance, is unimpressed by vast quantities of business marketing.

‘No one knows your business as well as you. So if you’re looking to

change a product, you do the research and find the best company in the

market,’ she says.



But if she were offered a 20% saving on something, she would pay

attention: ‘There’s always the worry at the back of your mind that it

might be true.’



That one sign of weakness is all the marketing commando needs to move in

for the killer pitch.



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