Centralized vs. decentralized route planning for field reps – what provides more benefit, can they be combined?

Which is the best way to manage your field reps? Centralized route planning by the in-house team or decentralized planning by the field reps themselves? In any case, the objective is the best possible customer service, i.e. meet call frequencies, react immediately to customer requests, and avoid forgetting customers. On top of that, no time shall be wasted on the road and efficient and optimized routes are the top priority. Read here how to plan good routes for your field staff – centralized, decentralized or a combination of both using the modern route planner portatour®.

What is “centralized” route planning?

In the case of centralized route planning the routes are planned by the in-house team in the company headquarters and communicated to the field staff or field sales representatives. Examples:

  • Customers contact the call center and ask for a visit by a field rep.
  • A call center actively calls customers to arrange field rep visits.
  • Good recurring “framework routes” are designed (“weekly routes”, “fixed routes”), which are complied with for longer periods, e.g. one month, a quarter or even a year.

Advantages: The field reps does not need to bother about route planning but can exclusively focus on customer calls. Complex framework routes can be strategically developed without pressure by the in-house team.
Disadvantages: In the case of short-term changes – like traffic jams, cancelled appointments or if the call time is exceeded – the field rep either has to request a new schedule from the in-house team or improvise. Additional human resources are necessary for the in-house team. The field reps often criticize the fact of being “under the control” of others.

What is “decentralized” route planning?

Decentralized route planning is operational planning by the field reps themselves. Certain requirements can be defined by the in-house team (head of sales) – e.g. the call frequency of the individual customers – but it is in the responsibility of the field reps to execute the strategy. Examples:

  • Sales reps plan regular visits to existing customers in their sales territories.
  • Field reps arrange their own appointments for customer acquisition purposes.

Advantages: The field reps can independently react to short-term changes (traffic jam, postponed appointment). No additional in-house staff is required for operational route planning.
Disadvantages: Without suitable software, the field reps have to invest a lot of time into route planning, time that is lost for customer calls. In the case of no or little planning the bad quality of the routes leads to unnecessary miles or the loss of customers.

Why draw a distinction between centralized and decentralized route planning?

Both centralized and decentralized route planning were already possible when planning was still based on paper, pen, calendar and map. Not very long ago, field reps worked with paper file cards and “data reconciliation” with the headquarters was rather tedious and delayed (weekly/monthly meeting, fax machine at home or at the post office). One had to decide between “centralized” or “decentralized” planning, otherwise the work would have been done twice. Thus, in many cases the strict separation goes back to the past.

How does the portatour® route planner allow centralized and decentralized route planning to happen simultaneously?

A modern route planning software like portatour® enables central and decentral planning to be carried out simultaneously:

  • The software is available to both the in-house team on the desktop and the field reps via its mobile version on the smartphone or tablet. Both simultaneously access the data.
  • Whenever the in-house team enters a new appointment, the field reps will be informed immediately and a new schedule will be calculated. The same applies vice-versa. Route changes can be entered both on a centralized and decentralized basis – depending on the requirements. This results in fewer phone calls between the in-house team and the field staff, saving time and money.
  • The software can handle complex requirements: Specific requests for appointments and customers’ business hours, specified call intervals defined by the head of sales, working hours of employees, overnight stays away from home, holidays – all of which will automatically be taken into account. The planning will always have the same high quality, irrespective of who – the rales rep or the in-house team – is carrying it out.
  • Short-term requests for or changes of appointments will be taken into account at the push of a button. The software knows when the sales rep should be where, makes call suggestions and aligns the calls in a way to guarantee fewer miles on optimized routes.
  • The sales rep always keeps an overview of his sales territory and can quickly find surrounding customers. In order to navigate to the next customer, the navigation software of the tablet or smartphone is started at the push of a button.
  • The field reps create call reports on their smartphones or tablets, giving the in-house team a permanent update of which customers have already been visited. There is no need to tediously enter reports in the evenings.
  • This allows quick reactions to customer requests, driving distances are kept short and you save on fuel. Field reps make full use of their time, customers are visited at the requested times and call intervals are met.

Today’s question no longer is whether you aspire to centralized or decentralized planning but when you will test the dynamic route planner portatour® which combines both.