Direct-store-delivery (DSD) solutions no longer are the clunky order-entry devices of times past, notes David F. Giannetto, senior vice president of performance management for Salient Management Co., Horseheads, N.Y. Instead, systems today allow managers to be away from their office and still maintain control over the company’s distribution systems, putting the pertinent information into the hands of the right person at exactly the right moment, he says. Distribution managers can use such devices to stay in communication with employees in the field in order to shape the employees’ behavior and conduct while providing the information and feedback needed for efficient and accurate deliveries. Incorporating devices such as smartphones and tablets allow the manager to make sure the conversations flow in the proper manner and touch on what management deems is most important, he says.

Supply chain managers also can use DSD software solutions to track stock levels in retail locations, merchandise product, take purchase orders and collect consumer data, according to Erin Friar, the marketing journalist at Boston-based Repsly Inc. Managers also can use the software to better organize sales territories, view representative activities through GPS tracking, schedule client visits, use communications features to update representatives, and analyze field data to get a clearer picture of consumer and retail trends, she says.

Supply chain links

A fully integrated supply chain can support supply chain professionals. However, in the past, even when this was done well, it often still failed, because those who come from a supply-chain background know that at the end of the day, supply chains still are about people: people placing, picking and packing, doing quality checks, transporting goods, and stocking and moving goods at the point of sale location, Salient Management Co.’s Giannetto says.

Because of the square footage that can be required to meet supply chain needs for customers, field workers can be less available at times. Mobile devices have overcome this problem, in part, because they can allow managers to control the workflow of an employee and put hard stops into their routines that help them follow effective and efficient processes, comply with procedures, and notify management when they don’t, but also because they can allow managers to instantly redirect the employee as changes happen, Salient’s Giannetto says. The merger of business intelligence into mobile devices has turned what once was a purely operationally oriented worker into a knowledgeable worker able to support the larger vision, Giannetto says.

Mobile phones and tablets enabled with field activity management software have raised the bar for the speed and accuracy when it comes to the supply chain. Software solutions provide a platform for beverage field representatives to perform activities like input purchase orders or merchandising audits and share this data in real time with managers back at the office, eliminating the need for manual data re-entry and significantly lowering the rate of human error, Repsly’s Friar says. Utilizing hardware in the beverage field allows representatives to gather information at higher speeds without the wasted time of completing, filing, and in many cases, recovering paperwork, she says. The speed and accuracy that hardware and software combinations provide mean that existing supply chains will be more robust and field representatives will have more time to acquire prospects, she adds.

DSD trends

As consumer preferences and behaviors continue to change, new brands and categories are entering the market, and margins are not what they used to be, Salient’s Giannetto says. This external influence, more than anything else, is forcing suppliers to adapt, he notes. They have long focused on growing volume, managing inventory and controlling cash flow but have been slow to modernize the “on-the-road” portion of their business, he explains.

There are three key trends in the beverage industry that are fueling the growth of field activity management solutions, Repsly’s Friar says. First, the oversaturation of the beverage industry is pushing leaders to take a closer look at competitor behavior, she points out. These leaders need a solution that allows representatives to take photos of competitor merchandising and pricing strategies across territories to understand individual retail environments as well as the overall sales picture, she explains. Second, beverage businesses are expanding their product lines. Even small players are trying to develop new options for their consumers, she says. To remain relevant in this fast-paced industry, businesses need to have intelligent territory planning that prioritizes high-value retail partners and allows managers to see the real-time effect of new strategies, she explains. Third, the high rate of employee turnover in the beverage industry is pressuring leaders to develop innovative ways to positively engage their representatives with work, she says. Field software solutions address one of the key issues causing disengagement and turnover, namely resources, she notes. In exit interviews, one of the more common complaints from employees about management is that they did not provide the right tools to perform the job, she says. Field management software can simplify many aspects of beverage field representative work from merchandising to purchase orders to client relationships to team communication, she adds.

New products

Salient currently is focused on taking the information that decision makers have long been accustomed to collecting from its technology and pushing that out onto the road and into the hands of people who are at the point of the spear making the daily decisions, Giannetto says. Beyond this, Salient aims to share information with its customers about new brands, flavors or packages, when an off-day delivery needs to be authorized, additional marketing or merchandising support, or when stock levels need to be adjusted.

“We are helping employees factor in the impact these decisions are having on the profitability of an account by actually telling them what the impact of that decision will be, and this is what senior management wants: fully empowered employees who take the overall success of the organization into account when they are out by themselves on the road doing their job,” Giannetto says. “Our new dashboard and native mobile applications extend our suite of products and the information it delivers out into the marketplace where it can have the most impact.”

Repsly’s Friar also says the company focuses on continually tweaking its main product in an “effort to provide field teams with an easy-to-use tool that can optimize core activities.” Repsly’s newest feature focuses on visit scheduling. It allows representatives to organize their visits through their mobile phones and also allows back-office managers to see when representatives update the status of client visits, also showing them in real time when a visit is missed, enabling them to send an immediate replacement if necessary, she explains. Additionally, the tool tracks this continuing amount of visitation data so that back-office managers can have a clearer picture of their teams’ success rates in the area of visits, she adds.

More industry requests

Although beverage companies have mobile tools that help them with their general operations, they now are asking for better information that is more customized to not just their industry, but to their organization, Salient Management’s Giannetto says. “They are asking that we show them the entire supply chain, [including] where it isn’t optimized, and then also tell them how it can be and who should be doing it,” he says. “Now that information is being released from the corporate headquarters, it’s making for exciting new uses that connect people within and around organizations in ways never before possible.”

Success stories

Giannetto notes that many of Salient Management’s customers have had success working with DSD solutions. “Our clients typically don’t like to publically cite examples, although their results in some cases have been quite high: over $1 million per week in non-billed [electronic data interchange] (EDI) shipments billed, an 18 percent increase in distributions across the portfolio, a 2.5 to 1 improvement when a portfolio is rationalized, and over 60 percent of voids filled,” he explains.

Repsly’s Friar details a beverage account that turned to Repsly’s mobile note-taking and photo functions when it was having difficulty achieving accountability in merchandising and had little visibility into field activities that were affecting sales. With Repsly’s software, field representatives now are able to document merchandising by taking photos and filling out audit forms, she explains. Additionally, the tool enables the back office to use GPS tracking so that they can see where each representative is in the field in real time and when activities are completed, she says. This optimization allows management to map out more intelligent sales territories, clearly communicate with their team, and set high standards for all activities in the field, she adds.

Next steps

One of the big areas of focus for handheld solutions, and DSD software in general, is to help companies collaborate to get better results even when workers do not see each other face to face, Giannetto says. For example, a sales person might be able to get a better order by agreeing to provide merchandising support, he says. They need instant access to what types of point-of-sale materials are available or what can be created by the sign shop and the costs of doing so to make this agreement while they are still on site with the customer, he says. Then they want to take a picture and send it to the sign shop so it is done properly, he adds. When complete, this information can be directly passed to the merchandiser with the placement specifications and pictures attached. After the install, a picture can be taken and uploaded to that account’s digital file so that everyone knows the task has been completed. If the sales person returns and finds that the point-of-sale materials are not placed properly, they still have the information they need to communicate with the retailer to amend the issue. With DSD solutions, all of this can be done digitally through the handheld devices in real time without having to wait to talk or receive an email response from a colleague. The information, including the performance numbers and contextual information is right there when they need it.