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How Commuting Affects Your Field Sales Team

Thursday 10 October 2019 Field Force Planning

Jonathan Lee's picture
By Jonathan Lee

Do you work in or with a field sales team? Do you have complaints about time spent commute driving? Or perhaps you have no complaints but a suspiciously high staff turnover in some areas? Or if you’re just generally interested in planning for commute in a field sales team then you’ll want to read the information below.


When does your working day start and when does it end?

If you worked in an office in the 20th century you could have answered this question in your sleep, likely reciting the rhythm of Dolly Parton’s “working nine to five”.

In today’s working world, contracts have become more flexible, but office workers still know at least how many hours they work per day, if not the exact start and finish times. You also know roughly how long it takes you to commute to and from the office.

Field sales teams are a completely different matter. They may know that they are contracted to work eight hours per day or from 09:00 – 17:00 but unless they can teleport themselves to the first customer, and back from the last, there must be some commute driving involved. More importantly, how much is involved?

Depending on their schedule, a field sales representative could be visiting their first customer 10 minutes away or 100 minutes away…


A screenshot from CACI’s CallSmart, showing a variance of commute driving time (dark blue) within a single week


What’s your Point?

So, what does this mean for their working day? In nations with strong unions, works councils, or morals the commute may be placed partly or entirely inside the working day. This would reduce the amount of working time available and thus the number of visits that can be made.


The Benefits

What’s the benefit to putting part of, or all, commute driving inside the working hours?

To answer the question, we need to explore the soft benefits it brings, we’re looking at work-life balance and call compliance. CACI has investigated the effects of work-life balance and how it can affect a field sales team. I’ll provide a three-part summary here but if you’d like more information click here to download our white paper.

There is a financial benefit to having a good work-life balance and minimal staff turnover. This isn’t specific to commute planning, indeed the entire Field Force Planning process should ensure that you have a team balanced on call duration and driving between visits, so all members feel like they’re getting a fair deal. However, if you don’t account for commute driving, you miss out on a key aspect of the equation.

This breakdown of work-life balance will lead to a higher staff turnover which incurs costs of recruitment, training and damage to essential customer relationships. Not to mention the loss of a possibly experienced and knowledgeable team member.

Back to the qualitative topic at hand, a benefit to keeping the field team’s work-life balanced is, hopefully, a reduction in work-induced stresses. In this modern age we understand the negative effects this can have on people’s lives and it is our ethical responsibility to avoid and reduce work-related stress.

The last part of this trifecta is the alternative to being overworked and stressed out, not completing 100% of call coverage. If you’re staring down the barrel of an eight-hour working day plus an average of four hours of commute per day then you might decide to take some liberties with what time you get to the first customer. This takes time away from the working day, which could lead to visits not getting made and customers, especially long-distance customers, being disregarded.

If we had planned these sales territories to include time for the commute, we could have pre-empted these issues by creating an area that is fair to the person working it, that is as stress-free as possible, and allows for 100% compliance.

So now that we know why we should consider making commute part of the working day let’s talk about the challenges involved.


A screenshot from CACI’s InSite FieldForce, showing United States Counties within various distances of the eight most populous cities. This highlights the maximum distance challenge that can occur if commute inside the working day


The Challenges

Firstly, what are the effects of putting all the commute inside the working day? If you’ve created territories balanced on the number of accounts or even the minutes of work in the day then the effect of adding in commute might lead to territories being overworked.

Consider that with an eight-hour working day even just a daily commute time of two hours decreases your available time by 25% and increases your headcount by a similar figure. An average of two hours of commuting per day wouldn’t be unusual for a UK field team. This could be quite a shock for your business, needing to quickly reorganise and recruit.

The reorganisation of your field team may not even be as simple as recruiting full-time staff. For example, planning Scottish territories in the UK. You have the major population belt of Glasgow – Edinburgh which can support at least 1 rep or more according to where your customers are. The commute times here are likely not to be too excessive. Then you have everything north of there, a few towns and smaller cities of Inverness, Aberdeen, etc. but not necessarily enough work in any locality for a full-time worker.

If you put all the commute inside the working day, there is a limit to how large a territory can be (see the image above for an example of this). There are two solutions, one is to have many overnights to allow the worker to travel further, though this is possibly counterproductive regarding work-life balance and stressful conditions. The second option is part-time workers. Part-time territories do have a secondary benefit of not just being viable and fair to the worker but also in reducing total mileage as you have more but smaller territories. Would your business be ready to employ part-time field sales workers?

Regretfully, even with part-timers there will still be some distant areas that cannot be visited. This can be true in any field sales team, especially in large nations such as the USA; commuting inside the working day simply exacerbates the problem.


The Middle Ground

Of course, between two extremes there is always a middle ground. You could choose a cut off point for the time spent commuting after which the field sales worker can cut into the working day. For example, up to 60 minutes of a commute will be done on the worker’s own time, any excess will be done in the working day.

This should help to maintain a reasonable work-life balance for the field sales team as well as provide certainty around how early they are setting off every morning and getting home every evening. Conversely, they will have more time available in the working day, time that may allow you to reach some of those distant areas.

Forgoing any strict contractual or legal reasons for commuting only inside the working day, we would recommend following the middle ground approach.


In Conclusion...

Whichever route you decide to take CACI’s got you covered with our Field Force planning software. And when you’re next planning territories or schedules, spare a thought for commuting and the place it should have within your field sales team and your company.

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


Do you work in or with a field sales team? Do you have complaints about time spent commute driving? Or perhaps you have no complaints but a suspiciously high staff turnover in some areas? Or if you’re just generally interested in planning for commute in a field sales team then you’ll want to read the information below.

How Commuting Affects Your Field Sales Team