Much has been made of the various challenges retailers face in the digital age. Consumer tastes and preferences change virtually overnight, new products hit the market faster and more consistently than ever, and even the slightest change in the economic picture can influence how consumers behave and what they buy.
Some retailers are taking advantage of individual analytics tools to try and predict what consumers will want next. But there’s a strong argument that the companies supplying retailers with those products — the CPGs — should take a more active role in delivering the right products to the market at the right time, for both the health of their business and of their partnerships.
CPGs typically have access to robust customer and market data that, when combined with retailers’ customer data, produces more insights into customer behavior and results in higher revenues for both parties. And as the primary point of contact between CPGs and their retail partners, arming CPG field reps with a 360-degree view of their key retail accounts is paramount to growing and sustaining revenues.
Legacy tools can’t support modern CPG sales
It’s easy to envision a small-town, known-each-other-for-years relationship between CPG teams and their retail customers. However, the reality is that CPG sales and merchandising teams often have many retail accounts to serve and frequently lack complete information about each one to develop such deep ties.
In particular, field sales reps — theoretically best positioned to cultivate closer partnerships with retailers for mutual benefit — often have limited visibility into interactions between the CPG and the retailer. Order histories, special promotions, reports of out-of-service refrigeration equipment, and even in-store merchandising plans are locked away in disparate digital systems and paper files that make it nearly impossible for the rep to know how to prioritize his or her in-store activities.
Worse, managing a variety of paper forms and digital apps can be overwhelming and difficult to use, leading to grave mistakes like incorrect orders or even missed store visits that directly impact revenue and profitability.
Challenges for the whole team
Those challenges extend to other members of the teams as well. Sales managers are responsible for establishing sales goals, mentoring field reps, and setting account priorities to maximize productivity and maintain customer account health. But without easy and convenient access to sales and inventory reports, they struggle to accurately forecast orders and revenues projections that could impact manufacturing plans, reduce their discretionary and headcount budgets for the year, and limit their ability to help their field reps prioritize their account activities.
The impact is even more significant for the merchandising team, who’s responsible for executing product displays and special promotions. Important materials like planograms, promotional flyers, and other assets are usually paper-based and are managed individually instead of in a central repository the whole team can access.
Not only does it increase the likelihood of a merchandiser working from outdated drawings and data, but without visibility into order statuses, it’s impossible for them to know if a planogram can be properly executed. On the occasion that a refrigerator isn’t working, a section of the store is inaccessible, or the inventory count is different than reported they won’t be able to properly set up a display — potentially sabotaging a well-intentioned and profitable promotion.
Greater visibility and productivity with integrated, intelligent solutions
To grow sales, boost profitability, and maintain mutually beneficial relationships with retail partners, CPGs must embrace technology solutions that help create a comprehensive, 360-degree view of the retail customer.
Adopting software platforms that replace paper-based reports and resources with an easily accessible central database of digital customer order histories, support tickets for store equipment (POS terminals and refrigeration, specifically), and geography-specific promotions makes sales and merchandising execution more efficient and effective.
These tools provide sales and merchandising teams easy online and offline access to the rich data they need to optimize their tasks and drive productivity. Easy configurable dashboards put all the actionable intelligence each stakeholder — field rep, merchandiser, and sales manager — needs right at their fingertips from any connected device.
By digitizing and integrating field operations, sales reps can instantly tap into machine learning-derived order recommendations based on behavioral patterns and planned promotions to maximize order values. They can also provide real-time status updates on inbound orders and support tickets to better coordinate in-store displays with both the customer and the merchandising team.
Merchandisers can use the data to better plan each store visit by comparing planograms with incoming orders and proactively addressing any challenges with properly executing the promotion. And sales managers can produce real-time snapshots of store visits, sales velocity, and other data essential to driving continually higher sales and customer satisfaction scores.
The CPG industry is enormous and highly competitive. As global CPG sales exceed $720 billion annually, manufacturers must find new market opportunities and efficiencies to gain an advantage. Enterprising CPG companies will focus on strengthening their first lines of offense in— field sales reps and merchandisers — in the ongoing battle for market supremacy by arming them with the tools they need to make smarter, faster, and more personalized business decisions for each customer relationship.