Will Old School Field Reps Become Obsolete?

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“That’s just the way we’ve always done it” isn’t an uncommon refrain among experienced professionals in any field. CPG field sales reps, perhaps more than most, are creatures of habit and routine.

They’re accustomed to visiting customers on a set schedule and building relationships with both employees and managers at the store. Over time — through repetition and conversation — reps get a feel for the customer’s business and can anticipate the products and quantities the next order will bring. And because selling is and always has been a relationship-based transaction, they’re often able to deliver what the customer needs when they need it.

But, times are changing. The CPG industry as a whole — especially among the retail component of the supply chain —  is also changing rapidly, becoming increasingly more dependent on data and predictive analytics to make smarter business decisions. Armed with data, store managers find themselves under increasing pressure from store owners and corporate parents to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and drive greater profitability.

For the old-school CPG field reps who’ve been doing this job for longer than many of their colleagues have been old enough to work any job, it can feel like their whole world is shifting underneath their feet. Many are reluctant at this point in their careers to change what has worked for so long, but the resistance to change juxtaposed with the pace of change leaves many asking an existential question: are old-school CPG field reps about to become obsolete?

Evolving industry creates new challenges at every level

There once was a time that CPG companies could compete merely on price and perceived value. Reps visited their scheduled customer stores loaded with updated pricing guides, materials for upcoming promotions, and a bit of latitude to make the necessary adjustments to pricing or delivery timelines required to meet their customer’s needs.

Today, the industry isn’t so cut and dry. Acquisitions and consolidation have reshaped the competitive landscape and introduced new ways for consumers to get the products they want more conveniently and often at a lower cost. In fact, nearly half of U.S. consumers shop for consumer packaged goods online, including up to 20% of all grocery sales by 2025.  

The evolution of consumer behavior and the emergence of new sales channels have challenged retail store managers to try to balance retail space for multiple brands to maximize revenues and are increasingly using data to make smarter decisions about how to best allocate it. That, in turn, is pressuring CPGs to change their business strategies as well because they’re realizing that cookie cutter retail execution strategies designed for traditional in-store shopping simply don’t work anymore in such a dynamic market.

Nearly half of leading CPG companies — and certainly more in the near future — have deployed an analytics initiative, using the intelligence to manage everything from production capacity forecasting and inventory management to quality assurance, marketing campaign development, and all activities in between.

The ability to evaluate and predict how customers will purchase, what they will purchase and when they will purchase gives CPG companies and their retail partners a tremendous amount of data that they can use to build out business plans for the future. Every data point is scrutinized and contextualized to arrive at insights that help determine down to the individual contributor level how each customer account should be handled, who should execute what activity, and when it should all be done.

It’s a far cry from — and a more reliable, proven approach than — relying on gut feelings and intuition to make decisions about how to strengthen relationships and optimize business activities for retailers.

A happy medium: intelligent sales execution software

For CPG field sales reps, the wholesale change in the industry can feel like a significant push toward becoming obsolete. Salespeople are, by and large, relationship-driven beings who thrive on making personal connections with their customers. Sticking with the way they’ve always done the job is a fast track to early retirement or an earlier-than-expected career change.

But trying to catch up on the newfangled data tools, strategies, and terminology can feel like an impossible task and insurmountable challenge they’ll grudgingly have to undertake to avoid being phased out. For many, the overwhelming amount of information and new technologies to assimilate into their daily activities may be too much change too quickly.

Fortunately, many companies are discovering a happy medium by adopting data-driven retail software solutions that combine powerful AI-powered analytics with an intuitive, transparent interface. Rather than trying to completely replace instinct-based relationship management, companies can simply augment it, empowering reps to stay true to their relationship-centered sales approach while making the transition to a more data-driven foundation less challenging and painful.

Most reps already have a good sense of what their customers will want or need, but now have instant access to the hard data to justify those instincts (both to the customer and to their sales managers). These cloud-based order-processing systems provide a central location for reps to see at a glance the exact quantities of previous orders, current inventory levels, and even recommended orders and pricing for their various customer accounts — all using the mobile device even the most old-school reps are comfortable with.  

Change is always hard, but it doesn’t have to be so onerous that it drives valuable seasoned professionals to other industries or out of the market completely. Instead, employing non-invasive, easy-to-use sales enablement solutions gives old-school sales reps the best of both worlds: the freedom to use their vast experience and gut instincts to solidify customer relationships and the clear, concise data they need to accurately predict and proactively address customers’ evolving needs now and into the future.

Contact us today to learn more about how Spring Global’s comprehensive suite of retail execution solutions can bring your business into the Digital Age without alienating vital members of your staff.

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