Guest blog by Vladik Rikhter
The lives of field sales representatives and district managers require a certain level of dedication. Driving from store to store to check on the progress of a new promotion or a recently proposed sales strategy for an underperforming product is stressful and time-consuming enough. Then, there’s all that information to track from dozens of locations those corporate offices have to manage and assess. Even worse, the same data is coming from scores of stores and associates in different regions. Compiling that information and analyzing it takes time. Those are hours not spent traveling to stores to verify that a store manager installed a promotion appropriately or that products are on shelves properly. These are the real responsibilities of district managers and field sales representatives for retailers and consumer packaged goods companies (CPGs). Beyond that, organizations need to manage the information coming in from every store and process it in a way that can reveal insights into sales dips and other issues, which are tasks that take even more time to complete.
However, none of those standards or concepts for improving sales can be formalized without the data from managers and field associates. The metrics we use haven’t changed, but the way we collect the data and monitor its application has to adapt. Technology is the answer, and mobile technology, specifically, has the capability to simplify the process of reporting sales figures, unifying communications between different levels of management and improving operational execution for retailers and CPGs.
Bringing context to sales data, improving communication
The sales reports retail that field reps compile have always told us how much of a product sold, what the status of inventory is and the promotions that succeeded or failed. They’ve never offered additional context, though. There are reasons products move and why they go ignored by shoppers. Sometimes it’s a matter of placement; other times it’s just a simple mistake in the way the promotion was installed. Processing that feedback into something actionable prevent mistakes in retail execution demands a faster solution that helps get to the true root of the problem. Integrating mobile technology enables district managers and CPG reps to address this on two fronts. They can communicate instantly with store employees or corporate to verify the progress of a product or a promotion, whether through real-time data or shared images.
The planograms carefully developed to maximize sales and customer exposure to store promotions aren’t too difficult to understand or assemble. They are, however, heavily dependent on careful, accurate execution from store employees. Solutions that quickly enable store managers to share information related to planogram execution and hear about adjustments to make can save dollars. Even if it’s only a few hundred dollars a week, that amount of money adds up over time.
Communication solves problems in operational execution
Frequent communication, whether through conversation or the sharing of data and images, is the only way for management and sales teams to ensure success. Every store has some problems to solve. Looking only at their failures and simply saying, “it needs to improve” won’t lead to solutions. Data leads to a sounder understanding of the problems stores have and helps create a channel for store managers and sales reps to solve problems together. The more stores and management communicate, the more information can be created to piece together the actual cause of a problem. Technology gives teams what they need to do that. With mobile solutions and other tools that enable instant feedback and communication related to execution, stores can receive messages from their corporate offices to prevent problems from lingering. Additionally, we no longer have to wait a week to learn a problem exists. Visual evidence that a worker misaligned an element defined in a planogram or listed promotion prices incorrectly allows for instant problem solving.
Technology is about making our jobs easier. The seamless, speedy sharing of information is just one way technology has achieved that, and retailers and CPGs need to find solutions that wipe out persistent problems in the industry.
Even as retailers continue to thrive in the face of challenges from e-commerce and other trends, finding ways to improve operations is vital to continued success. Technology won’t solve every problem, but, in so many cases, it will clear a path to the solution.
Vladik Rikhter is CEO and co-founder of Zenput