Simplify to Succeed: Making Sales Technology Work Harder

Sales executives in the consumer goods industry are using mobile and data technologies to gain the edge in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Access to up-to-date account and customer information gives them the insight they need to manage customer relationships more effectively and have more productive conversations with retailers.

Ultimately, however, technology’s role in consumer goods sales will always be a supporting one. Salespeople are not required to be IT experts, for the simple reason that effective selling relies on “human” talents: building relationships, understanding commercial challenges, and anticipating customer needs and concerns.

Marc Simonis

While sales reps want the positive outcomes that technology gives them, they don’t want to experiment with technology for technology’s sake. This is why some consumer goods companies are not making optimal use of their sales technology; the solutions they give reps are complex, unintuitive and ask too much of the user.

Let’s say you’re a sales rep and plan to visit a selection of local stores to check their compliance with pricing, distribution and promotions of products. You also want to talk about upcoming promotions and gather intelligence on competitive activity.

The good news is that all the information you need is available: Many consumer goods businesses make regional sales targets and progress, account information, and details about specific stores available in one sales management application.

But there’s a problem: navigating traditional menu structures, as used in many current applications, can be highly time-consuming. To review your upcoming visits, you open the calendar function. Then you need to come out of that and open the messenger function to review the notes your team leader shared. Then you have to go into the task-management function to see whether there are any outstanding tasks to complete before the visits begin. If not, you have to visit yet another part of the application to find other possible nearby contacts that you could slot into your schedule. Altogether, it can be a highly inconvenient process.

The most aggressive consumer goods companies address this by designing a simplified, intuitive user experience that gives sales teams all the information in one place. For obvious reasons, user satisfaction improves substantially. More importantly, simplified technologies — which many leading consumer goods companies are already implementing — lead to better visit planning, more successful visits, and even a realization of the “perfect store.”

Better visit planning: If sales reps are given simplified access to the data they need — ideally on one screen, like a airplane pilot sitting in the cockpit with all the vital indicators immediately visible — it helps them quickly schedule store visits in the right order. This gives them more time to prepare a strategic approach to each visit.

More productive visits: When salespeople visit a store, they have a long list of objectives — but very little time in which to complete them. It's time consuming to ensure that products are optimally positions and correctly priced, as well as to talk to the owner/manager about the results of various promotions.

To make visits more productive, leading consumer goods businesses are combining the kind of technology we described earlier with software that updates reps about the items they need to check and which promotions they should be pushing in each store. This can be combined with information about the store’s historical performance to give reps a strong argument about why that retailer should follow a certain course of action.

Realizing the perfect store: Leading consumer goods companies are using the “perfect store” concept as a way to determine if a store is making products and promotions available in a way that optimizes sales. The perfect store is typically based on a combination of different KPIs, such as out-of-stock rates or shelf share, as well as the store’s compliance with pricing and promotion strategies.

Consumer goods companies should give sales teams a way to immediately review relevant KPIs for each store — rather than expecting them to work through a long list. If they are given the tools needed to undertake a "perfect-store check" more easily, sales can increase as much as 20%.

Technology can improve sales, but it will never replace the interpersonal skills and intelligence of a talented salesperson. But by removing day-to-day obstacles in the sales process, technology can help salespeople use those skills to the fullest. Consumer goods companies looking for competitive advantages in a tough market should focus on making the job of salespeople easier — by making technology work harder.

About the author
Marc Simonis has more than 25 years of experience in the consumer packaged goods industry and in the technology sector. He is an associate managing director leading the product management team within the Accenture Cloud Solutions for Consumer Goods division, with particular emphasis on trade promotion management, retail execution and direct store delivery.