There are few things in the CPG world that seem as easy as taking an order. A customer wants “x” number of units for “y” product, and the field sales rep writes it down and submits it to the order management system when he or she arrives back at the office.
But like most things that appear simple on the surface, there’s a lot more that goes into CPG order management than meets the eye. In the past, order taking was usually done in-person — or at least over the phone — and required little more than a pad of paper or a spreadsheet to keep track.
Today, the CPG world is markedly different, as the combination of evolving consumer behaviors new sales channels have fundamentally changed how (and where) people buy the products they want. In fact, omnichannel shopping experiences — online, on mobile apps, and through third-party retailers — are the new norm, expected to grow by 30% in the coming years including up to 20% of all grocery purchases by 2025.
These shifts have made managing orders more complex than previously imagined. And in the coming years, it’ll only get more difficult. So, here are four best practices to help prepare your team for a new age of CPG order management, both in the near- and long-term future.
#1. Upgrade to real-time data
Today’s consumers aren’t as patient as they were in the past. They’re not going to waste time driving across town to Walmart or Target for items that may or may not be available when they can just as easily order it online and have it delivered in within a day or two.
While retailers will bear the initial brunt of customer complaints about understocked or out of stock items, CPGs can play a pivotal role in helping to ensure their products are always available in the right quantities and the right price.
Instead of relying on data that’s traditionally been processed and analyzed in batches — daily, weekly, or even each month — using real-time data analytics delivers key insights into inventory levels, order histories, and promotion performance. Now, instead of relying on moving averages or historical data processed in periodically in batches, CPGs can project sales orders and adapt their pricing strategies to account for seasonality, special events, or other non-standard considerations that help drive sustainable business success.
#2 Enable greater visibility with dashboards
Even the most up-to-date data is only valuable if it’s actionable. That means there must be context and meaning behind it. For most CPG sales teams, wading through various spreadsheets, printed reports, or summaries can be more time-consuming and confusing than helpful.
Instead, CPGs can maximize productivity — and profitability — by supplying field sales and other teams with easily accessible and configurable reporting dashboards. These tools give reps access to a customer’s entire product catalog along with order histories, tax and discount calculators, and a host of other key performance metrics whether they’re connected to the Internet or not.
More importantly, adaptable interfaces allow individual teams and users to configure displays to their specific job requirements, condensing the most important data around purchase histories, pricing strategies, and route planning into an at-a-glance view. The instant information makes it easier for them to appropriately select other features like penny-perfect pricing, barcode scanning, and mobile signature capture to simplify customer interactions and improve overall efficiency.
#3 Standardize chain of command and collaboration
Consumer behaviors aren’t the only things changing quickly in the CPG sales world. More than ever, order management is a team sport. Field and van sales teams are supported by a full complement of merchandising, IT, and category management teams.
On one hand, having that much manpower and support dedicated to serving customers should be sufficient for effectively managing customer accounts and keeping things moving smoothly. On the other, coordinating the various activities of each team — and doing so in the correct order and acting upon updated information — is a tall but very important task.
To ensure each team is doing the right thing at the right time, companies must standardize chains of command and order of operations among teams, while enabling closer collaboration. That means rolling out formal processes for which the team engages with a customer at what stage from initial contact through order fulfillment.
Of course, situations can change at a moment’s notice — a product sells out unexpectedly, inclement weather delays a shipment or other unforeseen events — and teams need to have the ability to react appropriately when they do. CPGs can enable that with automatic notifications and alerts in cloud-based retail productivity apps.
These tools give field reps, merchandising teams, and others up-to-the-minute information they need to execute important tasks quickly. They also help managers track and monitor field KPIs in real time, providing the visibility required to reallocate resources where and when they’re needed, should the situation arise.
#4 Employ Artificial Intelligence for accuracy and efficiency
One of the most significant technological advancements of this generation is the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).
While AI has already gained a foothold in other industries, it’s a relatively new concept in the CPG world. Forward-thinking CPG companies are using AI to break down information silos from among massive amounts of data and create a 360-degree perspective of the retail store owner and their end users as a strategic foundation for more efficient and profitable relationships.
AI software eliminates most of the time-consuming manual tasks around sales forecasting, production projections, and other data-intensive activities and allows human team members to focus on higher-priority tasks like relationship building. But AI can also provide an added layer of support and self-service for customers by allowing CPGs to deploy chatbots or digital assistants to address an array of customer questions, concerns, or requests 24/7.
These tools rely on “conversational AI” to enable the chatbots to understand natural human language and mimic the experience of having a conversation with a live person. Customers can hop online and execute redundant daily tasks in a matter of minutes with a bot, while CPG teams are freed to pursue more important initiatives. It’s a true win-win situation for all involved.
Few industries are experiencing wholesale evolutions quite like consumer packaged goods. To remain relevant and competitive, CPGs must adapt to a changing landscape by embracing new technologies and strategies that serve the needs of their business and their customers.
Contact us today to learn more about how Spring Global’s comprehensive suite of retail execution solutions can bring your business into the Digital Age and deliver sustainable growth for years to come.