As the UK field marketing industry settles down after a flurry of buyouts by international communications groups, new services are beginning to emerge.
Among the most visible are door-to-door sales and after-sales servicing, as clients look for new ways to add value to increasingly similar products and services.
With the rise in door-to-door activity, however, comes the need to monitor householders’ responses, and possibly tighten industry codes of practice.
For obvious reasons, the utilities sector has seen a marked increase in the use of door-to-door sales personnel, with a mixed reception from consumers.
Field marketing company CPM has launched a unit called Home Call which undertakes home visits for various utilities companies, such as Eastern Electricity. According to client service director Mike Roberts, field marketing is an attractive option for utilities companies, which either use CPM or roving – less regulated – sales teams. “There’s an advantage to building on the expertise that we have in running large field teams. Gallup undertook a survey for us last year which indicated that face-to-face marketing has grown by 50 per cent in the past three years,” Roberts says.
CPM has been working on a pilot project since February, offering a “human face” to an unnamed grocery retailer’s home delivery division. Roberts says: “We’re completing the customer loop. The consumer will pick up information about home shopping, including direct mail – even a telephone call. We then identify and target those areas where the direct mail has been sent, and knock on doors and speak to those consumers about the service in more detail.
“This gives us a great advantage with the next step, which is obtaining the order. We can sit down with the person and identify clearly what the shopping experience should be.”
He claims regulatory issues are not a problem. “We are members of the Direct Selling Association and we’re bound not only by its code of conduct but also by the regulators of the industries that we’re working for. Increasingly, there are fairly stringent safeguards protecting the consumer. It’s about putting quality people on the doorstep.”
Door-to-door activities vary, from the simple knock and drop to highly personalised calls. Executive director of the Association of Household Distributors (AHD), Shelley Radice, believes that, as face-to-face contact on the doorstep increases, monitoring will become more sophisticated.
The AHD recently became a council of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), bringing its regulatory practices with it.
“There must be structures in place to check that the distributor has done the job. The free newspapers have always done this because of the obligation to abide by verified free distribution laws, and the AHD has been doing it for 11 years. Clients are now able to commission independent companies to knock on doors and ask if people have received things. Even in our sector, there’s going to be more of this about.
“We’ve drawn up some guidelines on the right way to approach people, and we support the International Code of Direct Selling,” Radice explains.
Industry self-regulation is key, says James Moyies, managing director of PMI Marketing, which is working with the Field Marketing Council (FMC) of the DMA to establish best practice and industry regulation. “More and more companies are going direct to the householder, but they do so without having the infrastructure to support this in human terms. Field marketing companies are increasingly needed to provide the human element. The FMC needs fairly strict guidelines as to how we should act. It opens up lots of issues with regard to security and intrusion.”
Moyies believes the spate of multinational buyouts in the UK field marketing industry will prompt major changes. “These large groups are going to want to offer a one-stop shop. Field marketing has to become more mainstream as far as marketing is concerned.
Opening new doors
“Over the years, field marketers have taken on what used to be mainstream sales activities. Opportunities for add-on sales or cross-selling are difficult to achieve any other way than through personal contact. More and more, you’ll find retailers knocking on your door.”
The need for training will accompany this trend, says Moyies. “We’re speaking to three clients at the moment who are all new to door-to-door, and who are all a bit wary because there have been a few bad experiences in the utilities sector over the past year which have tarnished the reputation of field marketing. We have to learn from other markets and take the regulations on board.”
Unscrupulous or insensitive door-to-door approaches have made things difficult for the entire industry, says Richard Finch, sales and marketing director at Headcount. “This area has had a chequered history in terms of the bad press that some door-to-door salesmen have given the industry through misrepresenting benefits to the consumer.
“Following various fly-on-the-wall documentaries on the subject, field marketers have replaced a lot of these questionable companies, with reassurances to regulators that they will work in the interests of the public. Field marketers don’t operate accelerated bonus schemes where the pressure is on sales staff to maximise their sales at any cost,” Finch says.
As part of the Health World Corporation, Headcount has clients in Europe and the US. Its door-to-door work for Powergen has yielded one of the lowest levels of consumer complaints and cancellations in the industry, Finch claims.
He adds: “A good salesman will be invited into a person’s home. Because these people are non-confrontational, and the offering is not pressured, customers see the benefit of talking to them. You cannot afford to betray that trust by having the wrong people working for you.”
The utilities sector is an obvious choice for door-to-door work, but financial services and IT are likely to prove lucrative markets. Mike Cottman, chief executive of FMCG – recently bought out by The Mosaic Group – and head of FMCG Home Service (a new door-to-door unit), says: “FMCG Home Service has taken on the cash collections facility of the Prudential’s industrial branch policies. We aim to offer the same services for all other industrial branch insurance companies, and to become the introducer on the doorstep’ for non-financial service deregulated products. This is the first time we have moved into a major cash collections facility.”
A Prudential spokesperson explains the decision to use FMCG: “Industrial branch policies are a declining business, so we decided to stop selling them in 1994 and outsource the business.
“It’s a win-win situation. We have found a cost-effective way of servicing our customers – they still remain Prudential customers. Also, some of the customer base really like this service.”
Another Mosaic Group company, EMS specialises in IT field marketing and has developed a door-to-door service for the sector. Chairman Richard Thomson says: “Our core business is managing the core file and retail channels on behalf of IT vendors. We also have a pool of 500 full-time, in-store promoters, demonstrators and trainers, who are a more tactical resource. We have just started using these people to go into homes after the sale to train consumers in how to use the IT they’ve just bought. It allows us to start profiling people to see what else they may buy technology-wise.
“It starts a relationship that can be followed up with other forms of marketing. Door-to-door provides the opportunity to tailor products to specific consumers, because you know when they’re likely to buy and what they’re likely to need. It stimulates the consumer to buy, and it doesn’t cut out the high street or normal routes to market.
“The other angle is anecdotal feedback, which allows us to drill down further into buying habits. Ultimately, once people feel comfortable in the home, there’s nothing to stop you ringing them to say you’d like to come and talk to them about other products.”
There is no doubt door-to-door services are increasing, but many people admit they never open the door to anyone they think might be selling something, including utilities companies. So, although field marketers might talk a good story, it seems door-to-door is likely to be limited to those households which have specifically requested a visit and can be sure that it will provide a tangible benefit.