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12 tips for successfully deploying route-planning software to your field reps

Do you have field representatives in sales, consulting or service in your enterprise? Want to deploy route-planning software to improve your field-sales performance? A 25% efficiency boost is possible — but to reap the fruits, you have to deploy successfully. No matter how good the software is, during deployment it matters more what you do right (or wrong). So follow these 12 tips we are learning from over 100 successful enterprise rollouts of the route-planning software portatour® every year.

  1. The decision-makers need to pull in the same direction. CEO, sales-management and IT-management must stand firmly behind the route-planning project and communicate positively to the sales representatives. Educate them until everyone is on the same page! Communicate these arguments to the decision makers.
  2. Hold your horses! You wish you had rolled out route optimization for all employees yesterday? Even under time pressure, please start with a controlled pilot project with carefully selected sales representatives as pilot users. Learn the ropes, setup everything correctly, and spare yourself the criticism of the whole team if something doesn’t work as expected on the first try. Once pilot users are firm in the saddle, the good news will spread and the whole team wants to join the ride.
  3. Start with 5 to 10 pilot users. Less than 5? If one falls ill, goes on vacation, or quits, you won’t be able to gather trustable results. More than 10? You will feel like herding cats.
  4. Start with the best. Suitable pilot users are technology-savvy, open-minded performers who want to improve themselves. Unsuitable people are those who want to work “as always” or shun technology. No matter how good the software is: the wrong pilots ensure that your project never takes off, the right ones make it fly.
  5. Do your homework in the CRM. The worse the quality of the addresses in your CRM, the more dead “zombie” clients are in your CRM, the worse your route-optimization will be. If garbage from the CRM goes into route-planning, garbage routes come out. Remove the garbage from your CRM. Commit to quality right from the beginning.
  6. Set realistic territories and goals. Are the territories of the reps sized rightly? Have reps too many or too few customers? Have you defined which customer should be visited how often, for example based on an ABC categorization? If this is not settled yet, work on your strategic sales and territory planning.
  7. Technology has to work before the sales reps go to work. Before you start: configure, test, care for data-quality!  The pilot users should spend their time visiting more customers while driving fewer miles. They should not find bugs that could have been found before. To make the technology work, you need an IT professional in the team, don’t settle for an intern.
  8. Train the first pilots. “Learning by doing” is good, but “flying blindfolded” is not recommended. Put a training session on the first day of the pilot project. Train pilot users, IT-support, and the sales director. Hire a pro to conduct the training, knowing how to adapt and deploy the new software for your individual situation. You are building a “training-pyramid” this way: the first users will later train more people.
  9. Questions and criticism are good – as long as you answer. The field representative will ask questions and even criticize the software and the new process. Good! They are showing interest. Establish a single point of contact, e.g. IT support, project manager, or sales manager. Make sure to answer questions promptly and send the reply to all pilots – this way everyone can learn. Having an in-house expert for route-planning makes you also independent from external support.
  10. Treat the pilot like production. When your field staff is using the route-planning software in a pilot project, they generate real data: appointments, call reports, customer data. This is valuable data. Ensure that it does not end up in the trash but is fed into existing systems.
  11. Boldly go where no rep has gone before. The proverb goes: “Insanity is defined by driving the same routes over and over again and expecting different results”. This is the moment to throw the “established routes” overboard. Don’t relent to a rep who wants to “always visit my lovechild customer on every Wednesday (for a coffee-break)”. Treat the pilot project as controlled experiment: let the route-optimizer calculate optimized routes and let the sales reps driven them. Stop them from driving like they always drove, break habits now. This is the only way to visit up to 25% more customers.
  12. Measure and improve continually, not at the end. Do not wait until the end of the pilot phase to gather information – this can turn into a bitter ending. Do not use a questionnaire at the end. Rather, care for the pilot project continually: read the call reports daily, check suggested route-plans, talk with the pilot users. Move roadblocks out of the way, communicate successes immediately to everyone.

We wish you a great success. Any questions? The team of experts from the portatour® route-planner is here to assist: www.portatour.com