By Donna Tellam
VP, Customer & Partner Solutions
Many consumer goods companies experience high turnover with their field sales and merchandising reps. This can be extremely costly with the need to hire and train new employees and the impact turnover has on maintaining relationships with retail managers.
Over the years, I have had the pleasure of shadowing many sales reps and merchandisers in the field in an effort to better understand their pain points and address these in the user experience of our applications.
I recognize that there are many aspects that contribute to employee retention rates, many of which relate to corporate culture, employee recognition and opportunity for advancement. However, I am surprised at how often I hear that having the right tools to effectively do the job greatly factors into employee satisfaction.
When employees feel they can’t complete their work effectively or that their tools adversely impact the way they interface with people on a day-to-day basis, they become frustrated and unhappy. Why? Because they want to have positive interactions with customers. They feel that bad service reflects on them personally and affects their reputation. Imagine going to work every day knowing that most of your interactions were going to be negative – being yelled at because you didn’t have the information the customer needed or having to tell customers that the products they thought they had ordered are actually unavailable.
These are all good reasons to pay attention to the usability, reliability and performance of the tools your company provides your field reps. You have a problem if employees are measured on how efficient they are in the store, but the tools they have been provided hold them back or prevent them from meeting their goals. When this happens, field reps are being negatively evaluated for something entirely out of their control.
Many reps I have shadowed were working with apps so ineffective that they were leaving them behind in their cars and instead using pen and paper. Those reps would save everything in their notebooks, then go home at the end of the day and find an alternative way to submit their orders or enter information into the primary system of record.
One manager I spoke with lamented the fact that he was having difficulty maintaining millennial employees because they refused to use the antiquated tools they were given to get their work done. Instead, he had to turn to an ‘alternative’ work force of retired people looking for something to occupy their time in the ‘boredom of retirement.’ While there is nothing wrong with an older workforce, it certainly doesn’t result in long-term employees with a passion for the company.
While it is difficult to change a company’s culture, providing better tools to make the job easier is much simpler solution. There are many factors that contribute to effective mobile tools for consumer goods field reps. The tool must:
- Be easy and fun to use
- Always be available, even when Internet connectivity is not
- Provide accurate pricing and product availability information
- Provide the right sales and merchandising collateral at the right time
- Enable effective communications with customers
Easy and fun to use
Having an easy-to-use application is a primary contributor to increased productivity. With much of the employee resource pool being made up of millennials who have grown up using mobile apps, CPG mobile tools need to operate in a similar fashion or these employees will become frustrated and disheartened.
According to Josh Cline’s Huffington Post article, How to Attract, Retain, and Develop Millennial Employees, “by 2025 Millennials will make up approximately 75% of the entire U.S. labor force.” Cline goes on to say that the best way to retain Millennial employees “leverages timeless advice that pertains to human behavior:
- Be in the present rather than stuck in the past
- Leverage technology for efficiency
- Ensure that the mission and vision are felt prominently among the leaders and communicated throughout the company
- Align your mission with staffers’ personal missions”
The technology you employ in the field should support these concepts and keep field employees connected to the mission and vision of your company.
The apps you deploy in the field must always be available when field reps are trying to execute their objectives. If this doesn’t happen, employees are forced to resort to time-consuming workarounds that eat at productivity and reduce the number of stores a field rep can visit each day.
When your sales reps are working hard to achieve their goals so they can earn their bonuses or get ahead in the business, these factors are of the utmost importance to them. If they feel their tools (or lack thereof) are preventing them from achieving their goals, they will soon be looking elsewhere for work that enables them to get ahead.
Accurate pricing and product availability
I cannot overstate the importance of having accurate product availability and pricing information when it comes to employee retention. Passionate employees value their personal relationship with their customers. If reps can’t provide customers with accurate information, and they have to continually to go back to the customer with apologies and corrections, it’s tough to maintain credibility with the customer. This goes back to making sure that reps have everything they need to effectively maintain relationships with customers.
Sales and marketing collateral in the right place at the right time
One of the common challenges for field reps is the difficulty of managing collateral that needs to be shared with customers. Some companies actually print and mail materials to their reps who then have to store it in their cars and carry it around to stores. Other companies store and maintain documents on servers that require Internet access, and are poorly organized and maintained. This leaves reps to wade through massive amounts of documents that may be outdated or inaccurate. Worst of all, they can’t provide the information to the customer without an Internet connection.
How can field reps have effective conversations and communicate promotions or specials to customers without accurate and available data?
When I spend time in the field, I always ask reps, “what are your key performance indicators (KPIs)?” and “do you know what to expect when you go into your review with your manager?” These measurements are almost always centered on achieving the company’s mission and vision.
For the most part, field reps know how they are being measured, but they don’t know how they have done until the end of the period. By this time, it is too late to make corrections or drive for improvement. As a company, you must do as much as you can to help ensure the success of your employees if you want to keep them around.
If you want to ensure high achievement, reps need to have daily insight into how they are performing against their KPIs. If they can see the progress they are making, they know what needs to be done each day to guarantee success. When employees are achieving their goals and making their bonuses, they are significantly happier and know they are on a clear path for success.
Today’s modern mobile apps can do so much to advance communications, help employees achieve their goals and keep employees happy so they stay with the company longer and hopefully even move up in the ranks.
Spring Mobile Solutions is dedicated to helping you achieve all of these goals. Our state-of-the-art mobile apps provide the user experience and advanced functionality you need to retain your field employees – all while increasing your sales and lowering your operational costs.
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