Shifting Ground, Solid Ideas Move DMB

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SAN FRANCISCO - Corporate leaders agree: Technology is transforming direct marketing into one of the most exciting and critical phenomena in American business history. But no one seriously expects the earth to move at a gathering of even the most enthusiastic of target marketers.

It happened here this week just minutes before the kickoff of DMB San Francisco, the nation's largest direct marketing to business conference, as a light earthquake rocked the Bay Area for 15 seconds.

There were no reports of injury or serious damage, but some attendees wryly compared the unpredictability of their competitive business turf to the moving ground beneath them, which generated a 4.2 on the Richter scale, according the U.S. Geological Survey, Menlo Park, CA. And the predictable "shifting ground" jokes about the end of brick-and-mortar business models followed during seminars and presentations at the three-day conference, perhaps because many sensed more than a grain of truth in the metaphor. But with nearly 100 different events to choose from, participants had more than enough opportunity to address solid issues about the future.

According to presenter Michael A. Brown, president of Business Marketing Consultancy and Redwood Training Associates, Austin, TX, one of the major changes people are talking about in business-to-business marketing circles is the growth of integrated sales strategies. But Brown said there are major pitfalls when businesses start integrated marketing efforts based on a field sales premise.

"Trying to do integrated marketing when you are only focused on geopolitical boundaries doesn't work," he said. In targeting businesses, Brown says companies have to break out of old thinking. Selling and targeting based on territorial ground may have ruled traditional organizations "but they don't rule integrated ones."

That notion also was buttressed by a report released at the conference by the Direct Marketing Association saying the Net is the fastest growing BTB DM medium.

According to DMA president/CEO H. Robert Wientzen, "While BTB sales are growing in each of the major direct marketing media at a very healthy clip, this growth pales in comparison to business sales generated specifically by the Internet." The report, prepared by The Wefa Group Inc., Eddystone, PA, said direct marketing sales to businesses grew 11 percent from 1994 to 1999 and predicted total BTB direct marketing sales would surpass $1 trillion by 2004.

"The first thing many companies have to do is [be willing] to adjust," Brown said. "What it takes, in a nut shell, is a focus of the big minds vs. the big heads." He said big heads tend to be traditionalists driven more by ego and old thinking rather than solid concepts built on the terrain of today's business reality.

Another presenter agreed.

"I find that everybody is finally getting on the Internet today," said Arthur Hughes, vice president at Database Marketing Institute, Arlington, VA. "Every hand goes up at every conference when I ask the question. That wasn't the case in '95 and '96, but it is today. The real big thing in the Internet is business-to-business sales. In that world, they are quietly raking it in. But to join them, you have to build new relationships with customers. And that's something the Web helps you to do. It's actually returning us to an older America, the days when you could go into a company store and truly interact. As customers and marketers, the Web is letting us go back to the days of saying hello."
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