FIELD MARKETING LEAGUE TABLES 2000: Door-to-door lives - With the national deregulation of the utilities market, door-to-door sales has gained a second chance

Three years ago, Mike Garnham’s view of the business flowing into field marketing from the newly deregulated utilities companies was that it was a welcome but short-term bonus. His advice to fellow field marketers was ’enjoy it while it lasts’.

Three years ago, Mike Garnham’s view of the business flowing into

field marketing from the newly deregulated utilities companies was that

it was a welcome but short-term bonus. His advice to fellow field

marketers was ’enjoy it while it lasts’.

Today Garnham, managing director of Headcount Worldwide, is more than

happy to acknowledge he got it wrong. As a sector it has gone from

strength to strength. According to Marketing estimates, it has grown by

35% in the past year, to the point where it has edged ahead of alcoholic

drinks in terms of its importance as a source of revenue to the


One in three field marketing companies in the league table now has some

involvement with utilities. Having said that, the work is concentrated

mainly among the top seven, where it commonly accounts for 10%-30% of

turnover. An exception to this is second-placed FMCG, for whom the

utility companies have never been a major source of revenue.

The boom came about unexpectedly. In their race for customers, the

utilities companies started using freelance sales people, often on a

commission-only basis. Industry regulators began to express concern at

cowboy sales tactics, and some of the wiser utilities companies also saw

the danger posed to their brands.

Industry watchdogs

Step forward the former Field Marketing Association, now superseded by

the Direct Marketing Association’s newly formed Field Marketing


FMC chairman Alison Williams played a major role in persuading industry

watchdogs that field marketing had the recruitment, training and

management skills to tackle the job professionally.

The breakthrough also alerted the field marketing industry to the

potential of home calling, which opened up other opportunities in

satellite and digital TV, financial services and home computers.

However, extending field marketing into home calling has not been

entirely straightforward. Bob Gill, chairman of GSD, points out that

utility clients had to be persuaded that if they wanted the agencies to

invest in high standards of recruitment and training, they had to share

the risk.

This meant moving away from a system of paying only for successful


GSD works on a cost-plus basis. Some of its competitors get a basic fee

plus incentive payments based on results.

Whatever the system, Gill says the need is for professional and

responsible sales people, rather than pushy, hard-sell types. He aims to

recruit people who can see this kind of contract providing a sound

foundation for a career in sales.

’It isn’t easy,’ he says. ’When you arrive on the doorstep, you haven’t

been invited, and there can be a high level of rejection. We are now

telephoning and making appointments beforehand. It adds to the cost, but

it does mean there is less chance of a bad reaction from the

householder, and a much better chance of a sale.’

Sophisticated targets

Gas and electricity suppliers use other techniques as well, such as

direct mail and telemarketing, but data suggests that customers signed

up after a face-to-face chat are less likely to defect later.

Garnham also points out that sophisticated targeting helps field

marketing companies select the consumers most likely to convert.

Utilities are even attracting new players among field marketing agencies

that were previously wary of at least some aspects of the business. For

example, Marketing Dynamic International has run stands for Scottish

Power in shopping malls for some time, but initially shunned the home

calling aspects.

’I was sceptical about door-to-door,’ says the agency’s managing

director Paul Narraway, ’but we have made a start, and for the right

product, with the right people, it works.’

Similarly, Aspen joint managing director Gary MacManus acknowledges he

was ’anti-utilities’, but has changed his stance. His original

objections were based on the importance of door-to-door campaigns in the

sector, generally involving evening work, which did not sit comfortably

with Aspen’s strategy of only employing full-time staff.

’But I’m in favour of utilities now,’ he says with a smile. ’That’s

because they are talking to us about putting business-to-business teams

on the road. The heritage of field marketing is in fags, confectionery

and soft drinks, and they still represent the major share of spend. But

my prediction is that, with the continuing growth of the multiples and

decay of the independents, areas such as utilities, telecommunications

and computers will soon equal them.’

MacManus’ revelation that he is talking about business-to-business

contracts is an indication that the utilities sector may be


’I believe we are still in the customer acquisition phase for the

utility companies,’ says Mike Hughes, commercial director at CPM. ’I

don’t think anyone has really started to use field marketing for

customer management, but that will be the next development stage.

’In the not too distant future I think there will be four or five major

utilities clients, and a long-term role for companies like ours,

operating on a combined customer acquisition and management


There are also other issues to be faced. Before long, it is possible

that utilities companies could be offering a combined service of gas,

electricity and water supply. But the terms offered to an individual for

supplying power also depend on evidence of their previous buying


With a portfolio of products to sell, points out Williams, ’you could

require so much information, you could be there with one family all


Her colleague, client services director David Overington, agrees. ’I am

not convinced there is an infinite number of products you can sell on

the doorstep,’ he says. ’I think you could lose credibility.

’What I can see happening instead is that you come with a set of

products that stack up in the consumer’s mind as being related. And then

you can come back with secondary products at a second and third stage,

once you have built a relationship.’

’In expenditure terms, utilities is a major part of field marketing at

the moment, with no signs of decline,’ concludes Hughes.

’I see a long-term role for field marketing, especially if it is

combined with telemarketing. The constraint is our ability to retain

door-to-door sales people.’


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