During a recent conversation with a manufacturer's field manager, the manager said: "Managing a retail merchandising / sales field team is tough." When I asked him why, he said, "I don't know where half my retail service team is most of the time." I was dumbfounded.
I said, "How can you not know where your team is AT ALL TIMES? These days, there's no excuse, from a technology standpoint, to NOT be able to stay on top of remote merchandising reps."
I went on to tell him that real-time field rep management is critical to perfect retail execution. And getting EVERY STORE PERFECT comes down to three major functions: scheduling, communication, and real-time management.
He saw the light, so I thought we should discuss the field team tracking issue here. After all, we're here to help MSOs and manufacturers achieve merchandising greatness and 100% retail execution.
Often times, manufacturers especially (but also some MSO's) tell me they don't want the overhead of scheduling and/or they trust their reps to get the job done.
I understand that, but I don't think it's ideal. Field service is incredibly expensive and therefore, in my opinion, the leadership team should be maximizing the value returned for the field service expense. That value can be much higher if the leadership team sets goals for service and execution (leading to goals for sales) and then executes against those goals.
Short of the laser focused process I just described, it becomes impossible to move levers that ultimately move the results as measured against those goals. For example, in similar stores what drives more lift (void mitigation, OOS discovery and resolution, tag & sign issue resolution, in-aisle training, driving for additional space in terms of additional facings, cross-merchandising, gaining competitive intelligence and reacting, or a long list of other activities the leadership team can attempt)?
The only accurate answer is that for a given demographic, layout, and ACV the answers vary between some of the above, one of the above, or none of the above.
So management needs to take a scientific approach, gather information about stores with similar traits, develop a plan for a test group of those stores, and attack the group with the strategy. By measuring results against POS (lift) either it worked or it didn't; and if it worked, it should then be extended to all stores matching the traits of the test group.
Once a winning strategy is found and selected for a group of stores, trusting that the field team will accurately execute the winning strategy is gambling -- not business. The only way to drive predictable results is to drive and measure predictable effort. Hence, you must schedule all work for maximum results (and value).
So how do you accomplish the above logistically?
It starts with assigning your reps work. You've got to have an organized way to identify store assignments, including both scheduled AND unscheduled work, so you have optimal visibility each day. Scheduling should be "point-and-click simple". If you're like most teams, you permit your field reps manage their workload -- and that's fine. However, as a leader, you're responsible for ensuring that your unique vision for each store becomes reality -- and that requires you to keep scheduling organized. All the more reason to have a digital retail execution solution like ESP.
With a project dashboard that reveals a complete view of every store, every rep, and every hour, you're able to identify unmatched assignments and send opportunities to the entire team or a set of predefined qualified reps. An opportunity modeling component can automatically produce a list of reps who meet your selected criteria, including availability.
In short, your retail execution software solution must help you identify store traits, attack stores with similar traits using known successful execution techniques, ensure those plans are shared with reps, communicate the successful and timely execution of those techniques, and if you have access to POS information -- plot sales results against in-store activity. Every store. Every time. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Next, you've got to be able to communicate with any and all of your reps...at any time. Field managers have to maintain the right level of interactions with the field for three reasons:
- To achieve 100% in-store execution
- To maintain a strong field team
- To strengthen relationships with your clients
By having the right retail execution system in place, you're able to send and receive instant messages, trigger automatic notifications, and get the data you need to confirm rep location.
On top of being able to connect with reps in real time while they're on site, you also need to have a routine schedule of check-ins, where you can discuss issues with each rep. These can be phone calls, online meetings, or in-person visits, but you've GOT to keep communication lines open in order to manage your team on a daily basis.
Which leads us to field service management. Without extreme shelf-level, store-level, and field-level visibility, you're shooting in the dark...something's going on but you don't know what it is.
Field managers like the guy I mentioned earlier must have metrics...real-time metrics...so they can see when and where reps have worked their stores or missed visits. You should be able to drill down, slice, dice, and filter data, so you can get an instant view of your entire workforce at any point during the day.
Real-time activity views and geo-stamped files, such as photos, along with store mapping capabilities can provide enough insight to have your finger on the pulse of every store and every rep.
Time-tracking every move of every rep...and optionally geocoding those moves..for their entire work day helps field managers optimize their use of field reps, identify – to the minute – the status of each project, store, and worker, and know where their retail execution associates are at 2:30 pm.