Sales force automation is continually evolving. Brand marketers that have implemented some degree of sales force automation in the last few years are now working on the next generation. Not only is the available technology changing, but so are the possible applications.
"Historically, sales force automation systems and processes have focused on productivity aids, based on internal information," said Dave Carlson, division president of IRI Software, a unit of Information Resources Inc., Chicago. As examples, he listed contact management, involving such data as the name, address and phone number of the person to contact, some personal information and the date of the last visit; call planning, involving data on when and how often to call on a contact and what results are being obtained, and information collection, data from the salespeople who are out in the stores and can report on shelf sets and display activity. "These systems have also given pretty simplistic but important updates on limited performance measures, such as how much was sold this year to date or how much was sold to this customer year-to-date," he said. Either a sales automation company or the company's internal computer department information technology group would send out "snippets" of this information automatically when sales results were available. So the focus was on distribution of information that was internal to the company, according to Carlson. In the future, sales force automation will be bidirectional. For example, Carlson said, it will be just as easy and likely for a remote user to ask or tell something as to be told something. Inquiries will be easy to make. Field people won't have to be computer specialists or require extensive technical training to learn the answer to a simple question, he explained. Also, the systems will become very collaborative, and will support a collaborative planning and forecasting process. People who work in different locations, but are somehow involved in a sales cycle, will be kept informed of what everyone is doing, he said. For example, if someone plans to make a sales presentation, that information can be entered into the system so that everyone who could be affected by it will be aware of it. If an account is going to receive promotional funding, the amount can be entered into the system and subtracted from the available budget. Another change expected in sales force automation is the development of "tailored contexts," Carlson said. Instead of everyone being faced with the same list of choices when using the system, each will be provided with choices specific to his or her particular world, he said. For example, if a salesman wants to inquire about a particular account, he won't have to scroll through the company's total account list, but will only be presented with a list of his own accounts. If a salesman has more discount store accounts than supermarkets, he won't be given choices that are relevant only to someone who calls on supermarkets, he said. External information, such as market share and competitive product performance, that is available from companies including IRI, may play a bigger role in sales force automation in the future, Carlson said. "External information goes beyond how the salesman is doing vs. his budget or quota to information on where competitors are having great success in his domain," he said. "Where has a competing manufacturer introduced a product that I should be worried about? Where are retailers losing out because they are not carrying one of my biggest selling products? This is what I would call opportunity information," Carlson said. IRI is focused exclusively on the packaged goods industry. Scan data is collected from various retail outlets to provide causal information, such as the effect of advertising or displays. Software technology is used to help manufacturers understand how to improve selling and merchandising their products to consumers and to help retailers improve management of product categories in their stores, he said. Three brand marketers that have taken strides in sales force automation efforts are Ralston Foods, St. Louis; Warner Wellcome Consumer Health Products, Morris Plains, N.J., and Honickman Organization, Pensauken, N.J., a large beverage supplier with franchises up and down the East Coast, including Pepsi, Canada Dry, 7-Up, Snapple, Ocean Spray, A&W, Lipton, Sunkist and Welch's, as well as the distribution rights to Coors beer in New York City and Philadelphia. Honickman rolled out a radio frequency program for order entry for its Pepsi operation in New Jersey in May 1994. It addressed the problem of converting a 48-hour delivery system to a 24-hour delivery system. Its next move, now in progress, involves a change to quicker and less expensive equipment for its Canada Dry franchise in Atlantic City, N.J. Ralston Foods, a subsidiary of Ralcorp Holdings, St. Louis, has been using a Lotus Notes program for two years and last summer began sharing information via Lotus Notes with some of its brokers. Warner Wellcome, a joint venture of Warner Lambert and the United Kingdom's Wellcome, introduced sales force automation in 1989, but it simply automated its current processes. It will institute its second generation of SFA this year. A cross-functional development team is at work on a new system that automates and streamlines communications from when the sales plan is issued to consumer takeaway on the shelf. Here is a look at the strides these three companies are making in sales force automation, as presented by Deanna Holland, a sales information executive, at an SFA conference in Boston in December.
Walt Wilkinson chief financial officer Honickman Organization Pennsauken, N.J.
Our next step with sales force automation will be our Canada Dry franchise in Atlantic City, which is in process right now, and our Canada Dry franchise in Wilmington, Del., which is expected to become automated in March or April. Different technology is being used this time around. Salesmen will be out on the street with a handheld device and will transmit data wireless to Pensauken. Then we will make dispatching decisions and send them down to Atlantic City. We will now be utilizing RAM, which necessitates our using the next generation of Norand equipment. This takes care of the sales department piece. The next thing is to look at the delivery piece and determine if there is cost justification for hooking up our delivery force via wireless communication. We would be able to see where they are on the route so we know how they are progressing. They could communicate with us if they can't hit all the stops. We are convinced wireless works. We are already using Norand for delivery service and customer service. When a customer calls in for a delivery that is not there yet, it would be nice to be able to look up and see what time they can expect to get their stock and where the truck is now. Capturing data on completed transactions and those not completed can create efficiencies. This is something we will look at in the third or fourth quarter. The cost justification will be a little more difficult this time. Our first cost justification was $2 a day net incremental cost per box. If there are 50 boxes on the street per day, that comes to $100 per day. We had a loading room of 30 people waiting at overtime rates. That more than paid for wireless communication. When we first went into this system we were not making all of our deliveries. Traditionally, a truck returns to the plant with 1% to 2% of product, but our drivers were returning with 10% to 12% of product. Our credibility was nonexistent. We got through this past summer without having to work Saturdays except for one holiday. Now we have credibility. We are getting fewer phone calls. Our first effort at sales force automation required cars to be equipped with radios, and the cars had to be wired with an antenna through the roof. Now with the RAM system, basically the communication piece is already attached to the box. The person takes the order and communicates from the store. The new equipment is 10% the size of what we formerly used and half the price of the radio. It gives us greater flexibility.
Bill Antoskiewicz director of sales operations Ralston Foods
St. Louis Our team-selling approach is going fine. We are continuing to try to make sure all the pieces of our business are getting the same information, including our brokers. We are using groupware. What we use is Lotus Notes as well as other basic IRI [tools]. We can use a single store or data base that everyone can access. We have all the tools: IRI and others, presentation and spreadsheet tools, Microsoft and Lotus Notes. Our people can have all the information or much of it that they need to be able to manage their business and also to communicate throughout the organization, whether by electronic mail or data base sharing, such as our bulletin or category management template. We do a lot in templates. We all try to work from the same page. About 90% of our brokers are up on Lotus Notes. Our broker network is wider because we also deal in store-brand business. At last count we had 180 broker contacts. We are seeing direct impact with field people as they travel. We have the ability to be connected to the broker through electronic mail and can share information in our data base. We are looking at possibly becoming another piece of the Project Info program. That is an initiative communicating between manufacturers and brokers regarding electronic data interchange transaction sets. Our piece would fit in by addressing the everyday running of business for the broker and region manager. Eventually, this could extend into an Internet exchange. It helps manage the information without being very proprietary in the idea of systems and applications. Some manufacturers will put a computer in the broker's office, but tell him he can only use it for that company. A broker company with us receives bulletin information that helps us communicate distribution, pricing, some general information regarding samples, administration process, a data base that holds presentation templates for category management and any promotion we show at the time. Presentations can be customized for use at customer level. We are all sharing that same basic information and templates. This helps us ensure we will be more responsible, and controls communication costs by reducing faxing and mailing. We are using and ready to roll out a category management data base, a template and road map for doing category management with a customer.
We are looking to continue to do other things, such as communicating how our brokers are doing. We are testing with a handful of brokers communication of forecast information, forecasting promotional activity at a customer so we can adjust our inventory.
Deanna M. Holland assistant manager, sales information Warner Wellcome Consumer Health Products Morris Plains, N.J.
We are looking at having a pilot by mid-1996. Most of what we will change in our second project will have less to do with technology and more to do with how we apply the technology. The role of customer field sales will change with the second project. Our biggest challenge is changing the behavior of what we call a national account manager or key account manager, who in the past has been able to get around using any system by using support within headquarters or at the regional offices to either get the information needed or send the information to retail. This system is going to demand that they take part. They will be responsible and accountable. The whole process is built around team selling. We are moving from a one-division support sales force automation project to a multidivisional. Having three divisions trying to establish what the goals should be at retail will be a challenge. Headquarters, divisions, regions and account management first will have to agree and then support whatever the category focus is for those products.