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
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-
‘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.