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47% of B2B marketers endorse using sex to sell

By Andrew Dalglish -

Ever since I was invited to join The Network of Aspiring Women (Birmingham Group), I’ve felt more in touch with my feminine side (see post here).  Perhaps that’s why my interest was piqued by a recent discussion on the BtoB Marketing LinkedIn Group.

Kate Bishop, Marketing Co-ordinator at Custom Fluidpower, has a dilemma.  To use, or not to use, promotional girls at a trade show stand? Her boss is insistent but she has concerns.  I share them.

First, let’s be clear about exactly what a “promotional girl” is.  The clue is in the name.  It is not someone hired solely for their industry knowledge, expertise or charm (although they may of course have all three).  It is someone hired, primarily, because they are a) a woman and b) pleasing on the eye.  Another moniker used in the discussion, “booth babe”, leaves even less room for doubt.

Like the booth babes, it seems Kate’s question attracted a lot of interest.  As I write, 116 comments were posted by 76 people over the course of three months.  Quite frankly I was amazed that there was so much discussion to be had and remarkably the result is a hung jury.  47% are in favour, 53% are against.

Interestingly, almost all of those in favour feel a need to embellish their response with a caveat.  Use promotional girls if…

  • They’re tastefully dressed
  • They’re knowledgeable
  • It is in line with your target audience’s tastes
  • They vet prospects

To me this seems like a lame attempt to gloss over the truth of the matter.  It also misses the fact that there are powerful commercial reasons not to go down this route.

At a tactical level it seems counter-productive.  In a B2B environment, odds are that if someone needs to be enticed in this way then they’re not really a serious prospect. Valuable and finite sales time will be wasted in fruitless conversations. Furthermore, it may well alienate female buyers who see it as offensive, pathetic or both.

At a more strategic level though, I’d be concerned in two respects.

First, the technique sends clear messages to the market about your company’s personality and the substance of your proposition.  Neither message is favourable and may do serious longer term damage to the brand.

Second, it could perhaps indicate fundamental, deep rooted issues.   The offer is too weak to be of interest without a cheap gimmick.  The brand reputation is such that buyers won’t actively seek the stand out.  Market engagement is so poor that setting up qualified appointments pre-show doesn’t seem to be an option.  Moreover, by advocating the use of promotional girls rather than addressing these problems, the desire seems to be to cover the gaping wound with an Elastoplast.

Kate, maybe you’d like to suggest to your boss that he takes a long hard look at his marketing strategy rather than the promotional girls.

Read more about our approach to business-to-business (B2B) brand perceptions research.

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