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Effective deployment of your field sales reps: Your route optimisation options

Thursday 20 September 2018 Field Force Planning

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Stewart Moody's picture
By Stewart Moody

The amount of time your sales reps spend behind the wheel has a direct impact on their call rates and fundamentally, their ability to generate sales.

Route optimisation is how you can get your sales reps to reach their full potential. The benefits of this are well documented, but implementing that change using technology has pitfalls. I’ve spent most of my professional career helping people like you weigh up the options when it comes to route planning tools, and guiding them around those pitfalls. There are several options when it comes to route optimisation. The word “Dynamic” is increasingly used, but few people seem to agree what that means, and what it looks like in the hands of a sales rep. This breeds confusion and hinders decision making:

In my experience, you have three options:

Static

Optimise the sales reps route for them

Agile

Help your sales reps optimise their route

Dynamic

Let your sales reps optimise their own route

The differentiator between these three is the amount of help you give the reps, the form that help takes, and ultimately where the responsibility of optimisation sits.

Static - Do it for them

You decide on a preconceived contact strategy which dictates the visits that are to be scheduled, and a timescale over which they need to be accomplished (typically 1-12 weeks). By using a piece of software with an integrated algorithm you can build an efficient schedule. That algorithm builds in travel time, as well as other factors such as customers needing more than one visit, and customer availability. That schedule is then deployed to the field. This can lead to efficiencies across the board.

We call this Static because changes to the route are not made by the software, and the routes in each call cycle tend to look a lot like the last. Instead, the reps are empowered to manage that schedule with guidelines on what adjustments they can make to their own diary should change be needed. At the end of the call cycle the process is repeated with the schedule adjusted to take into account new and lost customers. I have seen a small slow-down in the number of companies opting for this, it is still by far the most commonly implemented technology based solution.

Agile - Help them do it

There is huge potential for including measures of customer value into route optimisation. Doing so will help an organisation get an even better return on investment from their field sales team by visiting the right customers at the right time. I recall a customer of CACI’s, Yakult, doing this 12 years ago, and building routes on a weekly basis to only those customers whom EPOS data identified as being most in need of a visit. At the time they were unique in this approach, but it proved very successful.

CACI helped (us) drive out inefficiencies, improve utilisation and reduce costs. We also have a happier, more productive field sales force driving huge benefits to our bottom line

This approach assumes a degree of flexibility in the selection of the customers you decide to visit and a reps schedule can change drastically from one call cycle to the next. The reality is, not all customers are equally important every call cycle. I noticed agile re-emerge as a mainstream approach to route optimisation about 3 years ago, and today data-driven route planning is gaining a lot of traction. An Agile approach introduces value to the route optimisation process, it questions the value of calling on each customer and summarise that value as a single priority score. That priority score determines whether it will be routed in the call cycle or not.

Software is used to build an efficient schedule, but now the priority score lets the algorithm recognise the most important customers to schedule and factor their relative value into the decision-making process. That schedule tends to be shorter than Static planning, typically 1-4 weeks, due to the data refresh cycle of your priority score.

Dynamic - Let them do it

The fall-back approach to route planning is to let reps do it themselves. This can be the least efficient method as we know that those routes have 20% more driving than those created by an algorithm **. But a new Dynamic approach combines the knowledge of the sales rep and the power of an algorithm to produce more effective and optimised routes.

Workforce management apps have brought a new dimension to managing field sales people, enabling you to communicate easily with your reps, and allowing them to capture data and report back to you over the course of their day. With technology firmly in their hands many options are emerging to return to reps planning their own routes, but with an algorithm at their fingertips.

Dynamic can be great if your people often have their day disrupted by external factors such as visits over running, or finding that the decision-maker is not available when they arrive. It allows them to re-optimise their own diary on the move.

Summary

In my experience static is still the most common, with a shift towards agile. CACI have been helping organisations schedule efficient routes whatever their preferred method. CACI have been delivering both since they came into being, and we are pleased to be releasing the latest version of our route optimisation software, CallSmart, via the cloud so that you can optimise routes faster than ever before.

Dynamic comes with some question marks because it is something that is still being refined by technology companies. Our approach to dynamic has been to make CallSmart’s optimisation algorithm available via your own workforce management app giving you the flexibility to employ it as you see fit.

To get started on optimising your routes, why not try our Field Force calculator? Simply type in your team size, average visits per day and annual mileage and we’ll tell you where you could be saving time, money and even emissions.

 

*   Source, CACI 2018, driving includes commuting to/from home to first/last visit, as well as driving between visits.
** Source, CACI 2018, based upon like for like comparisons of actual routes driven by reps against CACI’s route optimisation algorithm.

Further information

If you want to hear more about how CACI's Field Force expertise can help you, get in contact now

A sales rep spends an average of 34% of their time behind the wheel and this has a direct impact on their ability to generate sales. Adopting one of these route optimisation strategies can reduce time on the road.

Effective deployment of your field sales reps: Your route optimisation options

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