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Finding The Way

18 Feb, 2001 By: Ian Crockett imageSource

Finding The Way

A couple of months ago I decided to turn the tables and rather than giving advice, I asked my readers to give me some advice. It revolved around the primary target in every office equipment company. As you may recall, I indicated it is one of the most controversial topics in today’s dealerships. Sales reps all have their own opinions on whether to target the MIS (or IT) person, the traditional decision-making CFO/president, the traditional decision-influencers like the administrative assistants or office managers. To make matters worse, many times their opinions are based on the last sale or call they made.

My readers’ responses didn’t help clear up the picture. The responses, mostly from principals, mirrored the sentiments of sales people with whom I’ve come in contact recently. Some felt you need to impact the gatekeeper or you’ll never get to the next level. Others felt that if they could only target one constituency, it would be the CFO/President or men, ages 35-54.

Actually the majority felt that males 35 and older should be the primary targets. Most felt credibility was a key issue and it was more important to establish that with the person who is signing the check, rather than the person who may make the phone call. But as I said, there are still a number who felt that an office equipment sale requires a grassroots approach.

Impacting The Entire Buying Team

It was nice to hear from non-clients. I sometimes wonder if my clients are repeating back to me my philosophies or the other way around. Hearing from people I don’t do business with affirms that this question is an industry-wide dilemma. One thing I will take away from this exercise is there are indeed multiple targets and they all need to be impacted at some time during the company’s buying cycle.

Even if you can’t afford to advertise to the various constituencies, you need to impact them. There is contact management software available that allows you to keep the entire buying team in the loop. In fact, an argument could be made that they should be impacted with different messages.

A CFO or president is obviously concerned with bottom-line and overall employee efficiency. Office managers are probably more concerned about the welfare of their subordinates and making sure their superiors are satisfied. A receptionist or administrative assistant is more concerned with going home on time than they are about dropping a few more bucks to a bottom line they never see.

This isn’t an easy business, but of course I don’t have to tell my readers that. I’m always reminded of the comment of a client who sold his dealership and became very successful in the car business, “For over 25 years I sent smart people out to talk to smart buyers. In the automobile business, I have dumb people coming to me.”

Probably an oversimplification, but you get his point. Not only are you selling to smart business people, but you also have three or four competitors sending out their college-educated reps to make life even more interesting for you. And now you’ve got me telling you that there’s probably a team of buyers, with each having a different perspective, waiting for your salesperson.

Focus On One Demographic

Although in the digital world we’re seeing team buying, I agree with those who felt the primary demographic should be men, ages 35-54. I’m not saying that female demographics shouldn’t be considered, they just shouldn’t be considered first. When it comes to external marketing programs, many of my readers can’t afford to impact multiple demographics.

Unfortunately many will try. As we’ve discussed in this space over the years, the worst thing any marketer can do is have budget fragmentation. Usually we think of budget fragmentation in terms of media selection and the impatience that accompanies the lack of short-term results. But budget fragmentation also occurs when you try to impact too many constituencies without the proper focus on the most important one.

Remember one of the first rules of marketing: make sure you do one thing right before trying something else. If you take my advice and target men 35-54, make a sincere effort before trying to impact the next constituency. If you try to spread your dollars around without sufficient emphasis on one demographic, chances are your money and your efforts will be wasted.

Shifts In Purchasing

All of this has come full circle. Nearly twenty years ago when I first started assisting office equipment dealers, the copier was one of the newest and most expensive items in a business. The owner or the president of the company was always involved. They had to be convinced they needed a copier, and then they had to be convinced that my client was the vendor of choice.

Many clients referred to their ultimate prospect as “Mr. Right” or “The big guy in the corner office.” There were even strategies to get to this person, such as after-hours cold calling. Clients would have their salespeople work office buildings and industrial parks looking for isolated BMW’s, Mercedes, Cadillac’s and Lincolns. The rep then knew they had “Mr. Right” isolated and could make their pitch without having to wade through gatekeepers.

By the late eighties, every business had a copier, even if it was just a personal copier. Prices had come down and there were many manufacturers, which also meant there were many dealers. “Mr. Right” couldn’t be bothered with parading reps through the office, then taking more valuable time to negotiate and select a vendor.

They rarely used the machine, so why not leave the shopping and the decision to the subordinates that could actually judge performance of the machine, since they used it. Besides, most acquisitions were a lease, so a monthly payment wasn’t as big a deal as an outright cash purchase. So we started placing our media emphasis on adults, ages 25-44. It was our feeling that we could impact office managers, executive secretaries and receptionists, without losing young entrepreneurs who were still making all the decisions for their businesses. Actually for our mature clients, this was not a new constituency. Most of our early clients had become very successful and were generating enough co-ops through advertising that we could go beyond targeting men, ages 35-54. We had chosen for secondary demographics adults, ages 25-44 for the reasons stated above and women 25-34, who we felt were the first line of defense for a cold calling rep.

During this period, a lot of companies started downsizing and eliminating middle management. Even as analog copiers became more expensive, upper management didn’t want to be bothered, so it was still delegated to the end-user level. “Mr. Right” was more involved in acquiring computer systems and establishing networked capabilities, since that was the most significant capital and business decision to be made.

Then as we approached the new millennium, manufacturers began putting out digital products that were accepted by the marketplace and enhanced the network’s output capabilities. Even though the price wasn’t that much greater than the analog ancestors, the ramifications of it being tied to into the network required “Mr. Right” to get involved or at least be interested in the final decision.

A Representation Of The MIS

Then, of course, a new level of decision-maker or influencer entered the picture: the Manager of Information Systems. Almost everyone agrees that this person must be impacted or softened by marketing, but not too many agree on how important their role is in a purchasing decision. Many believe this person has an open checkbook and can purchase anything that has a positive impact on the network’s functionality. Others believe they are in a caretaker role and even though they don’t have a budget to purchase anything, they can throw a monkey wrench into a potential deal. As far as their demographic profile, many believe that MIS’s are 20-something’s, that spend their whole life viewing a computer screen. Others, especially people targeting major account business, believe the individual is in their forties or fifties, has an electrical engineering background and like the same things other men their age do, like golf or spending quality time with their families.

My experience has proven the latter to be a closer representation of the MIS individual, even though I agree they come in all sizes, shapes, ages and genders. A couple of years ago, we took on a client that was more of a pure systems integrator then they were an office equipment dealer. The first thing I did was to interview their customers. Even though these individuals primarily answered to the title of Chief Information Officer (CIO), I discovered a definite pattern. Eight of the ten I interviewed were between ages 47-56 and seven of them were men. Even though ten is a very small sample from which to draw a conclusion, the trend has been confirmed through the hundreds of interviews I do each year with our clients’ customers.

Before taking all this as gospel, you need to keep several things in mind. When discussing target audiences, one must use general ties or trends. Since you probably can’t go after everyone who potentially may be a decision-maker, you need to say to yourself, “What target, if impacted correctly, will provide my best return on the investment?” The size of your market, previous marketing efforts and the make-up of your sales force all have a bearing on your decision. Past successes also have a bearing. If you’ve been having success targeting gatekeepers, don’t even think of changing your approach.

Choosing Media To Fit Your Target Audience

There are more good reasons to target men, ages 35-54. First, they are cheaper and easier to reach than younger male or female demographics. Also, if you buy media that targets this demographic, you’ll probably get men ages 55 and over. This is because their tastes aren’t all over the board. In radio, for example, if you purchase time on a news and talk station, you’ll reach a high percentage of this demo. To get the same percentage of a younger or female demographic, you may need to purchase time on country, soft rock, hard rock and Top 40 stations. The same is true in other media.

If you purchase space in a business journal, you’ll impact not only men, ages 35-54, but also older men and decision-making women. If you bought a regional ad in Vogue or McCall’s, you would impact women, but chances are any Men 35-54 wouldn’t see your ad. As I said before, if you’ve been successful targeting gatekeepers or other initial points of contact, don’t change. The culture of the sales force has been established. However, if you’re struggling with who should be targeted within a limited marketing budget, pretend it was 20 years ago. And, even though it wasn’t discussed, stay away from using sports sponsorships unless you have a budget surplus. In fact, if you have a budget surplus, give me a call.

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