Best practices to digitise field sales operations (Webinar /Article)

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We were recently honoured to be given the opportunity by the French Chamber of Commerce in Kenya ( to present a session on the opportunities offered by the digital to bring more efficiency on the sales operations management.

This is a relevant content for Fast Moving Consumer companies which need to sell their goods through a large distribution network, and want to tap into the power of digital to bring more efficiency to their sales operations.

The session is structured as follows:

  • Introduction by Pierre Chaumont on the FMCG distribution landscapre in terms of challenges assessment and best practices
  • 6 Best Practices to implement with Digital
  • 3 case studies with existing clients

The content can be accessed on this Zoom recording here:

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Below is a summary of what we emphasize:

Efficient distribution is about connecting the dots

FMCG distribution is not rocket science, it is about moving goods from the manufacturer down to the end customer through multiple intermediaries. Digital can help by making sure the information flows smoothly between all the actors of the ecosystem. Distribution is a network made up of several nodes, where each of the node might have different needs and information from the other, leading to asymetry of information.

As shown before, a simplified model of the distribution includes:

  • The manufacturer / the brand who produces the good
  • The distributors / wholesalers who receive the goods from the manufacturers are in charge of supplying them to the retailers
  • The end consumers who purchase and use the goods
  • The retailers who buy from the distributors and sell to the consumers
  • The sales representatives, employed by the brand or the distributor, to sell the goods to the retailers

As a brand / manufacturer, to ensure your products are moving downstream as they should, digital technology can help in aligning everyone and bringing transparency and efficiency in all these logistics process.

Sales Force Automation technology is now a commodity

Today, most of the modern software operate in a Software as a Service mode, meaning it is hosted in the cloud. There is no hardware requirement in terms of servers to install.

Similarly the mobile application can be distributed on the Play Store, and does not require a specific device. The smartphone presence is ubiquitous.

There are now other pillars to leverage: Whatsapp messaging, mobile money, cheap data.

We say SFA technology is a commodity because it is widely available. We believe the differentiation can come elsewhere:

  • In the User Experience
  • In the Support provided
  • In Business Understanding

A key success factor for such implementation is also to have leadership buy-in in the organisation to overcome internal resistance and change management fears. A dedicated project manager must be appointed with the right authority to push the deployment forward.

Sales Force Automation is the necessary first brick to be able to build other key pillars

As a brand, you need to implement a modern digitised system to manage your distribution to be able to think to more sophisticated initiatives such as:

  • A loyalty program to strengthen the retention of the field vendors and the retailers. It can take the form of financial incentives based on the relationship history and sales value.
  • Direct ordering. Digital can help in making it possible for the retailers to order directly to the brand or distributors, and be more proactive, instead of the passive wait of the distributor to show up to purchase or worse, to have to close the shop to go and purchase from a wholesaler.
  • Territory Mapping is the process of scientifically dimensionning your sales capabilities in line with the potential of the market. This allows the right match between supply and demand.
  • Modern route management. To ensure the paths followed by the field users are consistent from a geographical point of view and also leverage the data analytics such as variation in sales, etc
  • Working capital funding. This is potentially an important differentiator for a brand compared to the others. By leveraging the quality data, you can solve the pain point of the retailer in accessing cheap capital to expand their business

6 simple best practices where digital can help

Know and locate your customers

The first step is to compile a unified database with all the dimensions you need to identify precisely and segment your customers. Such info is:

  • GPS / Address
  • Outside / inside / equipment picture
  • Contact information
  • Shop type / Sales tier
  • Shop name / Owner name

You can add custom fields as per what makes sense for your business. With an SFA tool, all the outlets info is always in sync between your mobile and the web app, avoiding issues of discrepancies between the two. Info can be collected by the field users and then seen by the web users.

This will help reduce the issue of asymetry of information, whereby as a brand you are dependent on the info of the sales rep or the distributor, such as knowing where to find the retailers.

Gathering reliable GPS information is especially useful to dimension the sales capabilities you need to put to supply the market, and plan the routes.

Finally we believe it is better to do it in house rather than through an external agency for two reasons:

  • It is much cheaper to leverage your existing staff or to use students to collect this data, compared to using external enumerators
  • You start leveraging the SFA tool you will reuse in the future for distribution purposes
  • The census data quickly becomes outdated with shops closing doors quite often. It is therefore an ongoing exercice that always needs to be refreshed and it is better to embed it to the sales operations.

The potential drawback is that you might miss the independent assessment, but with technology you have ways to ensure the territories are fully covered and to ensure data quality.

Once you have your universe of retailers in place, the next step is splitting it into meaningful territories.

The purpose of having territories is to:

  • have one sales rep in charge of it
  • be able to measure more accurately the performance, rather than national average
  • ensure you have the right ressources to cover it

The main KPI to look for is the outlet coverage. It will tell you the % of retailers the sales rep has been visiting in his portfolio. If you don’t have a portfolio assigned to a sales rep, you won’t be able to look at individual performances.

With a SFA tool like ours, you can also manage the scope of the list of retailers, to decide whether they are on read only or editable, and who can see the information, say of each retailer, by mobile user or team.

Measure field force productivity

Enough with pen and paper. Create digital version of the questionnaires to capture data from the field, don’t spend time on data aggregation. Create custom workflows as per what is required by the users to do on the field.

Main KPIs to track are:

  • Sales value / quantity
  • Drop size
  • Number of shops visited per time period
  • Outlet coverage. % of the portfolio visited per time period
  • % of visit time vs non visit time
  • Start time

A good practice is that 50% of the pay is variable and related to the achievement of targets.

Another major source of productivity improvement is to use the geo check-in feature which forces the user to be within 100m of the outlet, as determined by the GPS, to be able to submit a workflow related to it. That prevents the fraud of reporting fake visit data.

Finally, take the advantage of the pictures to have a good grasp of how your products look like in the shop and how well your visibility is deployed.

Implement geo tracking and smart route management

Geo tracking enables you to ensure the movements of your field users during the day are consistent. While route management is often thought as a static way of assigning a set of agents to visit during the day, there are more dynamic ways to do it using technology and data analytics, defining business rules. As an example, you could have these rules set up:

  • make sure that an outlet that has not been visited for 30 days is prioritary
  • change the routes based on a drop of sales compared to last month
  • allocate more weight and visit frequency based on sales
  • identify abnormal drops in product mix

Another room for improvement is to ensure the capacity of the delivery van is used at maximum level. This can be made possible with optimisation algorithm in a Uber Pool type of logic, where vehicles load stock that can be dropped in close by routes, instead of leaving with undercapacity.

Leverage Image Recognition to increase data collection efficiency

Image recognition technology is now much more accessible and efficient. It is even applicable in traditional trade environments with low quality pictures, with detection rates above 80%. From our experience, it can help reduce the time the sales rep spend in the shop by 5, whereby instead of having to count the SKUs one by one, a single picture can help to detect the SKUs with a high level of confidence. We believe it should be included as a standard module to quickly measure product and equipment presence.

Digitise the sales capture process

Instead of collecting sales on pen and paper, which can cause issues in the stock and cash reconciliation, we recommend to use digital to process them.

You can adapt to the specific sales process you have, direct or indirect, include all your products, have automated calculation, and share receipts in a digital form with the retailers to create trust.

Build relevant analytical dashboards and share them with everyone

An SFA solution enables you to have analytical data in real time. You skip the tedious tasks of data aggregation and data cleaning. As soon as the data from the field is synchronised, you can visualise it in web dashboards.

Our recommendation is:

  • to put in place the right reporting in line with the sales process so that everyone talks the same language
  • to make the information flow downstream, to empower the field users and the distributors with a dedicated access at their levels so that information does not be kept secretely.


More details are given in the webinar. We hope you will find it interesting!

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