If you are an FMCG company, chances are that you have already experimented with a sales force automation solution or are actively considering going down that route. After all, the FMCG sector has been a pioneer in adopting sales force automation solution, and consequently, the SFA players have also adapted their products to cater to most of the standard FMCG use cases and scenarios. You may also be aware that more than 50% SFA implementations fail. While there are several reasons that can be attributed to this failure, some of the more prominent ones are lack of clarity on why SFA is required, absence of a skilled program coordinator, poor training and support, and at times, an over-zealous management!

The over-zealousness I am talking about stems from the endless possibilities that an SFA solution opens up for the company management, from managing attendance to tracking validated visits to PJP compliance to automating reporting systems. With so many things to gain from an SFA solution, companies sometimes fail to prioritize, and instead, dump a laundry list of to-do items onto their field force from Day 1. The average FMCG salesman is not very tech savvy, and the management’s ambitious directives are often met with stiff resistance. Far from approaching the solution as an enabler, the end users often get into a diagnosis mode to uncover minor inconveniences that are projected as non-starters. The resultant slow adoption and time to productivity on the solution further creates a big mismatch between the management’s expectation and the actual on ground progress. Such overwhelming expectations also at times lead to higher attrition in an already attrition prone sector. This can threaten to derail the entire SFA initiative. In our experience, the oft quoted “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars” does not necessarily hold true in this case. Granted that an SFA implementation requires a certain degree of top down approach to tide over the initial resistance that follows, but it is equally important to win the confidence of the last mile rep on whose shoulders the actual burden of success rests.

So how do we achieve this? One of the key secrets lies in breaking down the implementation into smaller sub-parts that are manageable for the field team and measurable for the management at the same time. This is especially required of an FMCG company that has a large consumer base, and serves geographically distributed markets across territories. It is what we call a ‘phase wise implementation’, an approach that has yielded very good results as far as success of SFA initiatives go.

SFA implementation in phases:

The key aspect of phase wise implementation is breaking down the implementation into milestones to be achieved over a period of time, as opposed to dumping an overwhelming list of to-do items onto your last mile rep from the very first day. On one hand, this offers the field force a reasonable time frame to get familiar with the application step by step, thus building an organic learning curve and bringing down resistance, on the other hand, it bridges the gap between user adoption and management’s expectations, also allowing the management to do better monitoring and take corrective actions within each phase. Based on our experience of managing a number of such implementations, we present below a sample model that can serve as a rule of thumb to doing a phase wise implementation. Based on organizational priorities and initial response of the user community, some tweaks to the sample module will likely be desired.

  1. Attendance – The very first milestone should be to mark the attendance.  The objective should be to eliminate all alternative attendance reporting mechanisms and making sure that all the users are using the app to mark their daily attendance.Suggested duration: 1-2 weeks. Benchmark – High (90-95% adherence)
  2. Total Calls and Productive Calls – Once the first milestone is achieved, the focus should shift towards making the sales team accountable to mark the required number of visits and productive calls on the app. Suitable KPIs should be set accordingly.Suggested duration : 2-3 weeks. Benchmark – Moderate/High (80-90% compliance)
  3. PJP Adherence – Once bulk of the sales team starts reporting their visits on the app, it is a good time to implement PJP or beat plan adherence. In fact, this may well be clubbed with the second phase, depending on the team’s adoption trends.Suggested duration: 2-3 weeks. Benchmark –  Moderate (70-80% compliance)
  4. Time spent, effective calls etc. – With the first 3 milestones achieved, the time is right to move towards a higher set of milestones. One such milestone is calculating the working hours of the team based only on transactions done on the app and setting suitable KPIs accordingly. Another KPI could be that of number of effective calls (which may be productive calls with a certain order value or certain number of lines sold etc).
    Suggested duration: Ongoing. Benchmark – Moderate (80% compliance)

As you can see, the above approach allows both sides to take incremental steps in working towards attaining full adoption and efficiency from the SFA system.

If you are new to SFA and have a country wide sales team, then, depending on your comfort level, you may decide to roll out the SFA solution to one or more teams, or all at once. While solution providers may not have much of a problem in scaling the solution to your entire field force, another good approach for an organization implementing SFA for the first time is to choose a smaller team to begin with. The most important reason for this is that the SFA implementation will bring with it its fair share of challenges and also tremendous learning for an organization, especially in the initial stages. With the focus on a smaller group, the organization is much better poised to address all the challenges and issues that arise and the learning derived can then be leveraged in rolling out the solution to the next set of users or the entire field force, as the company sees fit. The idea is to create one success story within a controlled environment, and then replicating it across all other teams with relative ease.

SFA implementation should not be a game of T20 batting. Rather, it is a 50 over match of the good old 90s, where you opened the innings with the objective of not losing early wickets, focused on building a good platform in the middle overs, and capitalized on the gains in the slog overs!