It's a fact of life that your products need to be merchandised in order to sell well. Field marketing managers work hard to get their products on retail shelves so that consumers can easily find them, and in the best case to have them featured in some way to make them stand out above the competition. But none of that does you any good if the shelves are disorganized, your products are misplaced, or, in the worst case, the shelves aren't stocked!
So, you have to send merchandisers into the retail outlets to ensure that your products are available, presented well, and in the most favorable position. Boy does that cut into your margins! Here are some tips to help you make sure that you get the biggest bang for your buck on your merchandising investment:
- Hire merchandising representatives with strong personalities. They may find themselves in a situation where they have to talk to a store or department manager about issues with shelf space, presentation or other issues that impede maximum sales. You don't want a wallflower that might have great attention to detail, but lets store management walk all over him.
- DO NOT burden your merchandisers with paperwork and reports. Make sure that they have the tools they need to be able to spend 100% of their time focused on value add tasks… not filling out activity reports. The best merchandising organizations use mobile tools that take the merchandiser through a set of activities that both get the product merchandised and automatically create all the reports you need to know exactly what is happening in the field.
- Leverage digital photos. If your process dictates that reps take photos of issues they find, and photos of results they produce, two things will happen: you will have photographic evidence of issues that you can use to get those issues corrected, and your reps will merchandise your products in a way that they are proud to send you a picture of. All smart phones have cameras, and there are great sales force automation tools that make it very easy for reps to attach photos to store visit reports with photo documentation.
- Use your reps to be your eyes and ears. The primary function of a merchandiser is to make sure your products are available and presented well, but there is so much more that they can do for you. Your reps can spot competitive activity, validate that your promotions are running as planned, conduct customer data capturing, and help to build a demographic map of where you are distributed. If your reps are equipped with a streamlined tool that you can easily set up to prompt them to gather specific information, and if that tool instantly delivers that data to you in an easy to manage format, you will be able to assess, design and implement the most effective retail merchandising plan for your product and market. It will be as if you are personally visiting every store where you have distribution.
- Hold your reps accountable. The best retail merchandising plans are only valuable if they are actually executed. If your reps have the right tools and the right preparation, they should be able to conduct several visits each day (unless of course they are in remote locations), and give you the coverage for your product that you need. While it is not a good idea to have your reps spend time filling out activity reports, it is a great idea to have your reps use a sales force automation tool that accurately documents the activities that they have conducted, such as order taking, including where and when those activities took place. The best tools log all of this information in the background while the rep executes their prescribed retail merchandising tasks, so it doesn't impact their productivity at all. Also, studies have shown that when reps know that field management can easily determine when actual store visits take place, those reps actually make the visits that you have prescribed for them.
Putting it all together, your merchandising company will get the biggest bang for its merchandising investment if the field management team hires strong reps and outfits them with tools that let them easily conduct photo documentation and send you meaningful, relevant information about in-store conditions, all while letting you keep tabs on when and where they are working hard for you.