FIELD MARKETING LEAGUE TABLES 1999 TOP 28: Technology tamed - Laptops and hand-held devices have changed field marketing’s image, but data on its own will not impress today’s savvy client

If there is one thing more than any other that has contributed to eradicating field marketing’s bimbo image, it is the spread of technology.

If there is one thing more than any other that has contributed to

eradicating field marketing’s bimbo image, it is the spread of

technology.



For some years, the sector’s biggest companies, including CPM, Brann

Ellert, FMCG and Aspen, have been deploying laptops and hand-held

computers, both for collecting data and sending it back to HQ via a

modem. Frequently, because of the specialised nature of the task, these

companies use software packages customised for them. However, some are

beginning to lodge data on a web site, for direct access by clients.



The use of such technology is spreading. PMI, for instance - 11th in the

main listing - reports that it is investing in hand-held technology, and

trying hard to ensure that its system choice is robust and flexible.



Inevitably, the technology continues to evolve. EMSChiara, for example,

has adopted a system called Focus 2000, developed by its parent group,

Mosaic. It has a facility to capture digital images of displays, and

record retailers’ comments. ’The anecdotal feedback can sometimes be

more valuable than the hard data,’ says managing director Richard

Thompson.



The field marketing tasks also change. Sue Quest, managing director of

Quest Field Marketing Services, says her company has been using IT

devices in the field for about five years. ’Originally, it was for

taking orders,’ she says, ’and it included prompts on whether orders

were below the required minimum, or were being wrongly specified. Now,

it is moving more toward data capture. Clients have an insatiable demand

for information. Not least where things get agreed at head office level

between clients and retailers, but implementation at store level is an

issue. If promotional displays have been agreed but are not being

carried out, reporting back quickly is vital.’



The biggest companies have invested heavily in this technology. CPM

reports that half its field force of nearly 2000 is equipped with

hand-held computers, ’and the number is increasing by the month’. At

FMCG the figure is 450.



Nick Fennell, CPM’s sales and marketing director, says: ’The ability to

capture data is now assumed. Reporting back is the focus now. Client

service directors need to be much more focused on management questions

in their conversations with clients. There is a definite ’up-skilling’

going on.’



Kate Carr, managing director at FMCG, makes a similar point: ’The danger

is that you end up giving clients lots of data. What clients need is

more management analysis, and recommendations on what to do next. If you

understand their business well enough, it is about making a logical and

analytical contribution.’



Hitting the right balance is, of course, essential. FDS claims to have

been ’always at the forefront in adopting IT’, but managing director

Alison Williams points out that it is important to be able to offer

clients alternative approaches. Not all clients have the budget or the

requirement for online reporting, and others evolve to it only when they

are convinced of the benefits.



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