Sometimes when I visit my neighborhood green grocer or the medical store, I see a sales representative standing by the counter taking down sales orders for products from the store owner and telling him about new products that are available.
Until around five years ago the sales guy used to have a notebook and pen with him to take down sales orders and he would have a ream of printed sheets of what I assume was dealer stock. These days the sales guys have mostly done away with the paper based method in favor of 10 inch mini-laptops that are tethered to a USB broadband stick that they use for entering orders, checking stock and looking up data for new products and offers.
There is a good chance that five years on the sales guys are likely to stop coming all-together. Here is why:
Consider the 3 primary activities that a field sales person needs to perform at an outlet:
- They need to check up on stock levels at the outlet for the products they sell and take down sales orders.
- They need to look up stock levels at the dealer/distributor/warehouse and inform the outlet of the expected delivery times of the ordered products.
- They need to inform the outlet about new products, promos, discounts etc and book orders against the new items.
The sales person needs to perform these three functions because the outlet cannot perform these functions themselves. The sales guys have the benefit of carrying a ‘mobile database’ of products, orders and stock levels.
This is also the reason why there are dozens of field service mobility products in the market today that let the sales guys perform the above three functions (and much more) from their laptops, tablets and phones.
Now imagine the following two improvements to this situation:
Let’s say the outlet has an account in the inventory control system of the dealer/distributor/warehouse/manufacturer. Secondly the POS of the outlet is integrated into this inventory control system. Now whenever a product is scanned for purchase at the outlet, the inventory is updated not just at the local database but also in the centralized inventory database for the outlet.
Whenever the outlet owner/operator wants to order products they log into this system, check local inventory levels and enter purchase orders for SKUs they are interested in. The system informs them about delivery times based on global inventory levels. The system also informs the dealer about new products, promos, offers and discounts and lets them enter orders against the same.
The system can also deliver marketing material together with display instructions for the same. All invoices are generated and reconciled against payments within the same system.
With such a system the only visit that takes place to the outlet is that of the delivery truck!
Such integrated supply chain systems are already being used by several retailers and specialist retail chains, and these systems are by their very nature nudging out the field sales guys and with them the mobile applications they use.