What Is Location Intelligence Doing for Your Field Sales Strategy?

by James Hibbard

Location intelligence will impact retail field sales strategies both pre-launch and post-launch. Should you invest?

Location intelligence (LI) analyzes the relationship between a business’s geographic context and its success. As a business intelligence discipline, it utilizes geographic information systems (GIS) software, provides insight into spatially-oriented data, and drives better-informed business decisions.

When used to help plan and execute field sales campaigns, location intelligence blends market data, consumer demographics, retailer information, and more to ensure the best possible alignment of salespeople, locations, and strategy. The result is a highly efficient field coverage model.

What is LI able to answer before the launch of a sales campaign?

Success in one location doesn’t imply success in another.

Determining the best mix of high-impact locations for successful retail and field sales invokes important questions such as:

  • How do I determine demographic and product alignment?
  • What kinds of stores are best for me to visit based on the kinds of consumers who shop there?
  • How do I align sales territories and routes to minimize my sales associates’ “windshield time” and maximize their “face time” in stores?
  • What features of my product will appeal to consumers in one area versus others?
  • Where should I allocate expensive merchandising displays?

Getting science-based data

If you have thought about such questions but had difficulty finding science-based answers, you are definitely not alone. It’s highly uncommon for decision-makers in field sales to have dedicated Business Intelligence teams with GIS capabilities at their disposal. Instead, you likely find yourself in one of the following situations:

  • The high cost of hiring LI analysts and licensing LI software and data is prohibitive to your business
  • Or, your company does have location intelligence resources, but they are unavailable to you because they’re dedicated to other programs or departments.

Either way, inaccessibility of LI resources leaves sales operations leadership with three choices:

  1. Make do with what’s available within the department (such as spreadsheets, free or inexpensive mapping programs, and cross-purposed analysts.)
  2. Outsource to location intelligence specialists.
  3. Or, be at the mercy of the channel partner to tell you which locations are the best for your products or services.

Now that I know the answer to what LI is, why should I invest in it?

According to prior research, poor sales territory alignment has been estimated to cause 2-7% in lost sales opportunities. Location intelligence outsourcing comes at an expensive hourly rate, but it could be the missing link and provide a competitive advantage by helping decision makers eliminate the cost of trial-by-error.

Jack Dangermond, the oft-quoted founder of Esri, the world’s leading GIS software, summed up the case for spatial awareness in perhaps the most concise and elegant way ever:

“Knowing where things are and why is essential to rational decision-making.”

LI and pre-launch strategy

The launch of a new product and/or campaign is often preceded by internal or outsourced market research that describes the sorts of consumers most likely to purchase the product. This in turn impacts product messaging, ad campaigns, packaging, and other efforts.

Engaging a location intelligence team enables the fine-tuning of a field sales strategy.

Pre-launch, LI integrates market research results and offers strategic insight, such as:

  • Finding the consumers targeted by your market researchers, knowing where they live and shop, and knowing what approaches should be taken by your field sales personnel.
  •  Establishing success indicators to scorecard retail locations and decide where to focus your resources — both human resources (i.e., field staff) and collateral (i.e., end cap displays, sales demo units, and so on).
  •  Ensuring the field force knows the most economical way to make store visits (versus zig-zagging inefficiently across towns), enhancing “face time” versus “windshield time” and reducing mileage reimbursements.
  •  Aligning product inventory with the expected consumer behavior of each store’s trade zone.
  •  When hiring sales reps, knowing not only what kind of reps will best reach targeted consumers, but also where those reps can be recruited. For example, perhaps you need bilingual reps, reps who excel in interacting with consumers, reps who excel in interacting with store staff and management, reps who have a particular interest and/or expertise, etc. Recruiting meets with quicker and better success rates when you know where to look for these people.

What can we learn from LI, post-launch?

Change is a part of every business operation and can affect outcomes. During sales campaigns, reps leave and their positions are backfilled. Realities in the field are discovered (e.g., road construction is affecting sales in certain stores). Competitors launch and customers go away.

You may even find yourself given a new set of expectations from senior leadership or stockholders that causes you to rethink your field sales strategy. LI helps by finding spatially-based trends in data. It is one more way you can look at and interpret what is happening.

Post-launch, reported sales results contain statistically significant correlations between a store’s success and its geographic context. Comparing post-launch sales with pre-launch score-carding and success projections allows us to find “outlier” stores with the biggest differential between what we expected and what actually happened. Three things can ensue as a result:

  1. We can isolate stores that performed poorly in spite of showing a high probability of success, find out what went wrong, and fix it.
  2. We can isolate stores that performed far better than we would have expected, find out what’s working, and capture best practices that can help other stores to over-perform.
  3. We can reassess and update our pre-launch predictors of sales success.

Takeaways

Location intelligence brings geographic context in interpreting what has, is, or will happen, and thereby brings these factors to bear on business decisions. Blending data and advanced analytics, it provides useful reports and data visualization that inform your field sales decisions.

In short, knowing where your stores and customers are and why is essential for you to make rational business decisions.

 

Topic: Retail

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Hibbard, MarketSource’s GIS Manager, has been involved in field sales technology and strategy since 2001. He completed his post-baccalaureate studies in GIS and Location Intelligence at Penn State University.

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