TORONTO — Ron Mitchell has a lot of good things to say about Fujitsu Consulting, but he doesn’t want you to hear it from him.

Instead, the company’s vice-president of integrated communications for the IT firm’s Canadian

Trading Area is turning to the outside world for endorsements like never before. That means testimonials that can be published within press kits, for example, as well as case studies for promotional literature. Best of all is something modelled on Microsoft Canada’s marketing program, which signs up satisfied customers to speak on the software giant’s behalf at public events.

“”It’s getting very formalized, very sophisticated,”” Mitchell said during a recent panel discussion of the American Marketing Association’s Toronto chapter. “”It presents value to the customer and establishes credibility.””

John Foreman, vice-president of corporate marketing at CGI Group Inc. agreed. “”An independent source has far more value than anything we could say about ourselves,”” he said, adding that the search for testimonials means building up a closer than usual relationship between customers and marketers. “”That’s one of the reasons we’re now looking at individual client forums instead of multi-client opportunities.””

But while they seem to find customer references for their company’s products, high-tech marketers admitted their biggest challenge may be building up their own department’s credibility with their sales force. Jeff Hayward, national marketing manager for PeopleSoft Canada, is part of an organization that has marketing report to a sales executive, but he said he is very familiar with the long-standing antipathy which has traditionally divided the two functions. Overcoming those attitudes, he said, can take a campaign of its own.

“”It’s like the marketing of marketing,”” he said. “”If we have credibility, they will share their problems and their frustrations.””

That doesn’t mean marketers are only there to listen, said Ken Kirk, vice-president of sales for KPMG Canada. The consulting organization recently restructured so that a marketing person is assigned to projects within each sales team. These employees then push sales to be more accountable for pursuing leads generated through special events or direct marketing campaigns. “”They’re demanding that they see some follow-up,”” he said. “”There’s some rigor being applied to the process.””

Marketers may be checking for follow-up because they are feeling more heat from the C-Suite to justify their budgets. Although some executives are starting to see more money allocated for marketing, all the panelists agreed their budgets had either flatlined or declined for the last few years. “”I think marketing is strategically valued, but sometimes the only thing that matters (to sales people) is the next quarter out,”” said Hayward. “”There’s a lot of leaping to action that means you avoid looking at the longer-term marketing plan.””

Mitchell challenged more of his colleagues to accompany sales executives on customer calls as a way of gaining respect and refining their approaches. “”How can you keep information flowing to the customer if you’re never close to a purchase order?”” he asked. “”Sales is an opportunity process — how can you be a part of that next opportunity if you haven’t been in touch with the customer?””

Foreman admitted that CGI’s marketing department has “”struggled”” to measure the results of some activities, but has turned to internal surveys to gauge perceptions in the rest of the organization. This gives other departments a sense of buy-in and that they have some say in whatever marketing programs are developed. “”They must believe (marketing dollars) deliver a return, but that’s not easy to do,”” he said. “”It’s not like trying to measure R&D.””

Some activities within marketing, like the long-term relationship building with public sector clients, may have more intangible benefits, Haywood argued. “”It may not necessarily be a number all the time,”” he said.

Mitchell said marketers need to take existing management principles and tools in order to manage the process if budgets get squeezed. “”If the pressure is on to reduce costs by 10 per cent, we should determine where that comes from,”” he said. “”You have to look at how the hundreds of investments line up to the strategy.””

Though the downturn has forced marketers to move beyond mere brand awareness to more tactical activities, the panelists agreed that marketing can’t get so close to the sales function that its own interests are undermined. “”We’re the opposite of Canadian politicians,”” Haywood said. “”We can’t be all things to all people.””

Comment: pipeline@itbusiness.ca

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