Discover your free Construction Marketing Ideas Email Newsletter

Friday, March 21, 2008

Residential canvassing and b to b cold calls -- the yuck in marketing

I discovered this video at Seth Godin's blog -- Seth advocates Permission Marketing and I think would be aghast at the idea that marketers should send squads of canvassers through residential neighbourhoods, or sick telemarketers on your business. But the story is never so simple.

Two threads at relate the challenges and opportunities of outbound 'push' marketing. I've waded deeply into the debate about the merits and risks of residential canvassing, while another thread-starter has asked the question: How should she handle a list of more than 600 potential b to b clients for fencing services. In the later thread, Susan Betz from Fences of Distinction in Ocala, Florida, expresses her fears and discomfort about making cold calls -- and receives suggestions, advice, and warnings from others.

The canvassing debate with Doug Holland of American Dream Vinyl of central Pennsylvania has grown heated at times. I've argued that door-knocking to sell services is wrong -- it is unfair for anyone selling stuff to intrude into the private space of our homes, whether or not it is legal or effective. However, I also concede that canvassing is probably quite effective and may have a place if your business is either in urgent need of a boost or in start-up mode.

The debate here revolves around a fundamental question about marketing which has gone on for eons. With all the clutter and noise out there, and all the challenges in gaining attention of our potential clients, how can we best work our way through the 'mind clutter' and achieve top of mind awareness. This problem is clearly outlined in the "this is an awareness test" video posted on Seth Godin's blog.

Here, we come to a fundamental question about marketing. If an intrusive, irritating, and downright offensive methodology -- to many, or perhaps the majority of potential clients -- 'works' for the minority, to the extent that it is utterly effective, is it wrong, especially if, once you have the clients in your system, you treat them well and with respect? In other words, if you have people banging on doors, or calling cold, and nine-tenths of the people out there want nothing to do with you and in fact are downright irritated with your intrusion, if you find the 1/10th real clients, and then convert them to loyal followers, have you done anything wrong?

These are good questions, and remind me of an experiment I tried some years ago with a fax information service for construction data and information.

I thought, why not send a free sample to everyone on a large list of construction association members. And I did, with a test sample. Out of a hundred people, I received two complaints, and two orders. The ratio seemed reasonable to me, so I rolled out the list, and picked up some 20 to 30 clients out of 1,000 names.

Fair enough. I thought, why not extend this further, to other lists; and then received the chilling awareness that when you go "in your face" you had better be careful about relevancy. Nothing but complaints -- including from people using third party fax services, who had to pay by the page for the data I dumped on them. (If I had tried this in the U.S. I would also have run into FCC regulations highly restricting fax advertising -- if you are thinking of doing any kind of broadcast fax marketing in the States, be aware, you can easily be snared in some very expensive litigation!)

The broadcast fax situation got out of hand a few years ago when, under public pressure, the FCC tried to strengthen the anti-marketing fax legislation even more to close some 'loopholes' for trade associations and prior business relationships. Fortunately, a coalition of trade associations and marketers rallied to have these rules modified -- ironically, this type of fax advertising is now hardly intrusive nor expensive for most businesses, since faxes generally feed into computers and in any case, are easy to discard without intruding on your space or time.

Canvassers, meanwhile, ran into problems with local ordinances as communities tried to restrict the nuisance of door-to-door selling. But this one found its way to the Supreme Court, and canvassing is indeed legal and cannot be stopped. So now the floodgate is opening as canvassing consultants ply their trade and sell their services -- of course not by canvassing, but by Internet and relationship-based "pull" marketing.

We can argue this one up and down and around and around but it seems to me the marketing space is polarizing, between really heavy intrusion marketing (canvassing and telesales) and really good permission marketing (PR, electronic newsletters, search engine marketing), with the more conventional advertising approaches, whether they be print, direct mail, or radio and television, struggling with costs and the challenges of breaking through the attention-getting clutter. In this environment, perhaps the best approach indeed is to find a combination -- systematically using canvassing or telesales to generate leads, even as you work to deliver your product/service with such high quality that you don't actually need to do that type of marketing, because you have so much repeat business and referrals from satisfied clients.

Of course, that is the rub of the situation. If our businesses are well enough run that permission marketing generates most of our business, why would we want to engage in practices which we find distasteful and irritating? I won't solve this problem anytime soon.

No comments: