Over the years, we have helped hundreds of companies to implement route sales and direct store delivery systems. My favorite part of the pre-sales process has got to be the ‘ride along’ with the food service reps.

That’s when we get to spend an entire day shadowing a food service rep so we can observe exactly what it is they do on a daily basis. Riding from stop-to-stop with the sales rep is the only way to truly understand where our software can make the biggest impact. I’m always amazed at how often the things we learn on the ride along are nothing like what was described to us by the client at the outset … but I digress.

Sometimes, we ride along with delivery drivers. Other times, it’s pre-sales people. So, here’s how it usually goes with pre-sales people:

First, food service reps check their schedule for the day. The lucky ones have an automated system. Some, however, still use paper lists. They normally have a long list of customers to visit, in some cases as many as 30-40 stops per day in condensed geographic markets! Folks who work in rural areas obviously have less accounts, but for them, the drive-time in between stops is much longer.

When they arrive on site at the account, it’s never quite the same
Sometimes, the rep walks into a store or restaurant and launch into a long, personalized conversation with the store owner or manager. They have obviously built a relationship with each other over time, and rely heavily on each other’s input and cooperation. The store manager needs a replenishment order, and the sales person is incentivized by sales.

However, this iteration is my favorite: Interested buyers may ask about new products, specials, promotions, past buying history, or account information, such as invoices that are due, credits requested, that sort of thing. It always seems to me that most of these interactions result in a repeat order, with few variations.

On some occasions, there is no one on site to talk to. The rep simply walks in and places a replenishment order based on some magical formula only they know. The rep will say something to me like “the owner trusts me” or “I know what they need”. It’s all very mysterious, but so it goes.

With larger retailers, it’s often a multiple-step process: The rep consults with different department managers such as dairy, produce, or meat. They then put together their orders, which may be a single product or many.

No matter the process, I always try to observe carefully to see where most of the rep’s time is being spent. This helps me to establish what we can do to help make their jobs easier, what we can do to help reduce the time sent at each customer stop, while at the same time increasing the quality of each and every visit.

In food service, it’s usually these factors that are most important to the field sales person:

1. Speed
Food service reps typically sell and represent 1000’s of items. Furthermore, most customers only buy a fractional subset of those items. Sometimes, customers have an ‘authorized list of brands’ they can purchase. It’s imperative that sales reps are able to quickly search for items from this list based on item numbers, pricing, brands, descriptions, categories and promotional data. It’s in the interest of both the sales rep and the buyer to get the order done as quickly as possible.

2. Accurate order history
Food service buyers often purchase products from a few different vendors. They may want to know “how much did I buy from you last time, what price did I buy it for, and when did I buy”. Fumbling around for this information is time consuming and can quickly result in loss of credibility if you don’t have the information readily accessible or on hand. Reps that can quickly and accurately relay this information to their buyers are much better off, and are able to forge stronger and more trusting relationships with their buyers because of it.

3. Accurate inventory information
It’s extremely frustrating for a buyer in a restaurant, for example, to order food products for the next few days only to have those products back-ordered or delayed. I mean, if you are running a restaurant and need 50 pounds of steak for your weekend customers, not getting that product can be devastating. Nothing ruins the food service rep/buyer relationship faster than back ordering crucial items they need. Sales reps need to know what items are in stock and when it’s shippable. If a product is out of stock, then they need to be able to offer a substitute item. The worst-case scenario is selling products, promising a delivery date and missing that date.

What a good mobile pre-sales system can do for you
A good mobile pre-sales system will address all the scenarios listed above. With the competition constantly chasing your customers, it’s no longer an option to arrive unprepared and packing outdated information. It’s even worse to delay the shipping of the order because you’ve only got paper-based or some similarly antiquated systems. A good mobile pre-sales system will work to strengthen your relationship with your buyers, not hinder it.

If you’d like to learn more about jLAN Mobile Sales solutions, drop us a line today. We’d love to find out how we can bring value to your field sales operations.