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With new markets such as telecoms and IT, field marketing has moved some distance from its packaged goods merchandising roots. As the new demands of different disciplines make their mark, will this spell the end of traditional ways of operating?

Gary MacManus, managing director of Aspen Field Marketing, sums up field marketers changing role. “At the moment they are information providers. In future, they will have to be predictors.”

He has seen his staffing needs change markedly in line with this trend. “People used to have books of part-time people, predominantly female and second-generation sales people. The profile has changed, for us, towards full time. We have younger, graduate-calibre staff, who are looking for a first step towards a career. The people have changed; the systems have changed. We have gone from purely merchandising to controllers of the channels of distribution.

“From a data provision point of view, we’ve gone from providing clients with a forest of paper to Excel spreadsheets; to interactive databases; to multi-dimensional databases; and the next step is data-mining. We tell clients that certain promotions are working in certain geographies. If we try X scenario, Y result will happen,” he explains.

Computer games company Electronic Arts is an Aspen client. Surprisingly, the company has been slow to adopt the new hi-tech methods. Cost has been the major deterrent, explains John Galloway, UK sales director.

“We weren’t going to go into this by just throwing money at it, hoping that it worked. From the start, Aspen was saying we should look at handheld terminals but there was a budget limitation. The information that we get back is very good quality, but unfortunately it becomes difficult to manage and use. We are thinking about either handheld terminals or laptops and will introduce them in the new year.”

At present, the company uses field marketers in much the same way as traditional packaged goods clients do. “Our advisers inform store staff of our latest releases, merchandising the stores themselves and the fixture where the product is, and also assembling the point-of-sale posters. They are an aid to store staff.”

According to Rob Ellert, managing director of Ellert Retail, new sectors make up an increasing percentage of his business. “For some years now, we’ve been broadening the base of our operation. We still have a strong traditional packaged goods base, but our major growth will come from new areas, primarily utilities, financial services and insurance,” says Ellert.

Graham Boscher is face-to-face channels manager for BT, dealing with residential accounts. He has used Ellert Retail to build BT’s field marketing service. “My remit is to develop the market in four ways: reconnecting former customers to BT; new acquisitions; second lines; and the new home highway product. We use field marketing in our door-to-door sales operation.”

Quality and compliance checking are paramount in door-to- door work, says Boscher. “It’s not a completely aggressive industry, but it’s not soft-sell either. Part of our learning curve has been to have a strong compliance and quality checking operation which has kept us fully regulated and has reinforced all the BT brand values.”

BT first introduced field marketing to build loyalty, explains Boscher. “We have call centres across the UK and while we were investing in that we used field marketing to do some loyalty work. Once we had our telemarketing capability running for the loyalty marketing, we switched across to acquisition.

“One of the things we learned is that people who can go in and sell to an existing customer aren’t necessarily the right people to do cold selling. One of the benefits that Ellert has brought to us is the ability to profile people who can do the cold sell.”

Mike Garnham, managing director of Headcount, agrees that the changes in field marketing pose new recruitment challenges. “We’re still doing as much in consumer goods as we have always done, but additional opportunities have emerged – particularly in utilities, telecoms and IT. The type of person we employ is changing. Traditionally we’ve been involved in selling people into an outlet of some kind. With utilities and telecoms people need to knock on doors and make a presentation.”

Garnham echoes BT’s finding that the new skills sets are quite different. “We’re looking for people who have sales skills and the ability to learn. Lots of people can tick boxes on forms and contribute manual tasks, but not everybody can make a sale. To get 25 people, we need to make offers to 50. To do that we need to interview 100 and for that we need to invite 200. There’s so much activity in the market that people can be very picky about what they do.”

Field marketing company DSPS has about 4,000 people in the field. Managing director Gareth Onions says the company’s business has shifted to accommodate new sectors.

“Traditionally, the packaged goods sector has been the dominant provider of work for field marketers, but there is an appeal now which is being more widely understood. Players within the telecoms, IT and financial services markets are all beginning to look at the various ways in which a field marketing organisation could supplement or indeed replace many of their in-house activities.”

Technology has become more important in this process, says Onions, but only in certain areas. “There’s little point in our quoting to clients a service which goes beyond their needs.

“Handheld technology may not be cost-effective if the client does not need the information quickly.”

Ellert is less negotiable on the role of technology in winning business in hi-tech sectors. “In all of the new areas, technology is paramount in building market share. You’ve got to understand all the demographics and the customer base that you’ve been calling on, as well as the whole area of compliance. You can only do that by using technology.”

Yet Garnham cautions that the new technology can be limiting. “The disadvantage of hi-tech is that somebody has to write a programme for it, and that programme becomes difficult to manoeuvre. If the client’s requirements are static for a while, then we can look at an electronic method of collection. If he’s likely to change his mind and needs different information from different areas at short notice, it is easier to change a paper form. We can still get the data over in exactly the same lead time. We can also use a telephone reporting system where people key information in at the end of the day.”

Another issue for Garnham is the risk that the dramatic changes in field marketing may lead to a lack of balance. “These new sectors skew the business mix internally for us. We still need to focus on consumer goods, because we don’t want our business to veer dramatically towards doorstep marketing. If we were in danger of one particular area of expertise becoming more than 35 per cent of our total business, then I would be concerned about the spread of our client base.”

Gail Tunesi, managing director of PMI Marketing, one of whose clients is One-2-One, does not see current trends in field marketing as signs that the traditional markets are being left behind. “The influx of new categories such as mobile phones provides the industry with new opportunities which challenge the scope of traditional field marketing,” he says.

“The diversification within the industry is not necessarily at the expense of traditional field marketing activities. As the number and range of packaged goods products increases, manufacturers have to ensure their products are effectively merchandised at the point of sale simply to remain in business. Product demonstrations and sampling events, together with other promotional activity, provide these products with the competitive advantage they need to succeed.”

This view is shared by Onions, who believes that although the details of field marketing jobs have changed, the fundamentals remain. “Traditional merchandising within the telecoms and IT sectors is still important. If it’s not on the shelf, no one knows it’s there – and no one picks it up.”

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