There is a growing buzz about Field Activity Management; the ability to manage the efforts of an outside sales team with real time visibility, minimal data and reporting overhead and a high degree of communication in order to maximize the value of every activity. Agile teams embrace Field Activity Management tools and concepts so they can respond to competitive threats, adapt to changing customer demands and execute more transactions than traditional 'Automated' field teams; but how do you create this agility in your field force? These are the keys to being nimble, responsive and ultimately more competitive in the field:
No More Reports!
Reps are productive when they are building relationships, generating orders, marketing a product, or delivering some sort of service. Any time that a rep spends writing a report about what they accomplished over the prior day, week or month is time they could better spend talking to prospects, or preparing for valuable client interactions. A focus on administrative reporting by reps that summarizes business or activities reduces the agility of the team and is all too often a wasteful exercise in creative writing. These reports result in information flowing to management after the fact, when it is too late to make impactful adjustments to process or activities. Management needs access to a real time stream of activity information that is generated while the rep is conducting their business in the field, and should always know what their reps are working on 'in the moment,' not what they worked on in the prior week or month.
The same holds true for reports or instructions that are created and distributed to the field; they are a waste of paper, pixels and time. Reps should have access to the data that is relevant to the task being performed at the moment, and no more. When a rep opens a spreadsheet or report and scans for relevant information, they are typically looking at something that is already out of date, and probably thick with distracting, superfluous data.
The most effective field organizations access and generate only bits of relevant information, and they do this within the execution of valuable sales tasks.
Most reps carry SmartPhones that have more power than a laptop computer had just a few years ago. With gigabytes of storage, fast wireless connectivity, multiple processors, high definition displays, GPS and much more, these devices are a tremendous resource that all too often goes untapped by filed organizations that think of them as simple communication devices for phone calls and email. The most effective reps use their SmartPhones to document everything they do, and wield them more nimbly than pen and paper. Leading Field Activity Management solutions give reps access to the data they need through a simple and very well organized SmartPhone interface, so they have it accessible instantly and all the time.
Reps are already used to using their phones or tablets for finding and storing important information, so why not leverage them as activity diaries, record keepers and real-time reporting tools? The connectivity that these devices provide establishes a means for the information generated 'in the moment' to illuminate details of field activities to management in real time. It costs the rep absolutely nothing to keep management informed about exactly what is happening in the field at all times.
The incredible power and capabilities that every rep carries in his or her pocket present the greatest opportunity for enabling agility by establishing two-way access to the most relevant bits of data, and creating an 'always on' communication channel.
Accountability is a fundamental part of a successful sales team, without it, there is no real urgency to respond to change rapidly and pro-actively. Reps who know that their management can measure and hold them accountable for metrics like number of visits, duration of customer interactions and completion of important forms and surveys are much more likely to execute their prescribed tasks (and subsequently make their numbers) than those who feel they can get away with cutting corners. The manager that knows exactly what her reps are doing at any time is much more likely to provide relevant direction and coaching, and subsequently make her numbers as well. Accountability can be built into the culture of a sales organization by making metrics visible across the team, and having frequent, informal and unexpected communication about those metrics. Direct coaching when expectations are not being met, and explicit policies around abuse of the flexibilities afforded to outside reps are key to driving accountability.
The success of field organizations comes from solid planning, and a disciplined execution of a plan. The benefits of adopting a Field Activity Management tool and culture come from being able to quickly adapt to competitive, customer and market condition changes; and to implement adjustments to the plan with crisp execution. This ability comes from a culture practiced in driving accountability and the resulting organizational discipline.
The ultimate success of a field organization is achieved through the culmination of culture, processes and tools that maximize visibility, accountability and communication to drive out wasteful activities and meaningless data.
Mat Brogie is part of the founding team, and CEO of Repsly, the world's leading solution for high performance retail execution teams. Mat has spent the past 15 years of his career focused on bringing technology enabled business solutions to the consumer goods industry, having implemented solutions for tens of thousands of field reps at companies such as Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble, Pepperidge Farm and hundreds of others.