Industry

Consumer Goods

Client

Timeline

June 2019 - March 2020

INTRODUCTION

Walk down a row of shelves in a supermarket, and you’ll see brands like Dettol, Clearasil, and Lysol. Next to the cashiers, Durex boxes peek out next to mints and chocolates.

That’s the work of fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) company Reckitt Benckiser Group, which manufactures and distributes a variety of health, hygiene and home products in convenience stores, supermarkets and other retail outlets.

The root of their success is simply in making customers happy. A network of salespeople build relationships with places where consumers shop by visiting regularly, and stocking products that are in-demand or trendy.

The big challenge? A shape-shifting version of the classic travelling salesman problem. First, the company had to create the shortest possible route for each salesman to visit stores. Next, changes in demographics, sales regions, and store locations mean there is continually a need to replan schedules.

Here’s how the Reckitt Benckiser Group manages to do it all.

BEFORE ROUTING TECHNOLOGY WAS AVAILABLE

“It’s all about consumer demand. We need to produce, store and deliver our products to the full satisfaction of the consumer, on time and without loss of quality,” says Matt Prichard, a sales manager at Reckitt Benckiser.

But before technology was implemented, the group relied on individual sales representatives to plan their own schedules.

They would need to estimate how much time to spend at each store, decide how often to visit based on its sales, and plan a route every day.

A complex task like this would take up a few weeks each quarter.

The challenge is being able to tap on this data in a useful way.

“We know exactly how much product we sell in each store, which products are popular, which areas are growing and which are shrinking,” says Matt.

Afi Labs was engaged to take all this data and use it to automate the scheduling and routing of Reckitt Benckiser Group’s sales representatives.

Working in collaboration with Afi Labs, we created a multi-day scheduling and routing tool that builds a schedule that decides which stores a sales rep will visit on a given day, and then provides a route that minimizes the total amount of travel time.

In short, this automation would not only save costs, but build predictability and flexibility for the sales team. They would know where they have to go every day, and what route to take.

Moreover, a sales representative who has taken a day off can have his route assigned to close colleagues with a click of a button without any fuss.

A DEEPER DIVE INTO THE PROPRIETARY ALGORITHM

A list of stores prioritised by annual sales and required visit frequency is sent to the tool. The store visits are then assigned to sales representatives based on their fixed territories.

Stores are assigned to specific days based on priority first. The next store on the list is then scheduled for the same day as long as it is within a specific distance radius. This helps guarantee that store visits are clustered in the same area.

Completed sales calls create happy customers, retailers, and sales representatives.

Stores outside that distance radius are scheduled for another day.

Minimum days between visits to the same store can be programmed so sales representatives can build in a healthy buffer between sales calls.

Once the schedule is built, the route optimization algorithm generates an optimal route that starts and ends with the sales representative’s home. They can view their schedule on both a calendar and map.

A favorite feature is the calendar, the first thing sales representatives see and manage on their web and Android App

The build process was rapid. It took only two months, and user testing after that, only one month. Deep data integration with Afi Lab’s big data infrastructure took time, but it meant that Reckitt Benckiser Group could send their data directly to the tool in the end. In total, Afi Labs took six months to build the routing tool.

A MULTI-DAY SCHEDULING AND ROUTING TOOL THAT DRIVES GROWTH

With the pandemic, growth for the hygiene business had taken off overwhelmingly. It meant that the sales people had to work even harder to keep up with consumer demand.

Thanks to the tool, data is an effective feedback loop to ensure that the sales team remains attentive to the needs of retailers and customers. The sales data now automatically informs sales routes, so that the products are delivered to where they are needed and relationships remain strong.

“We’re really optimistic about the future as our sales routes are now automated and optimized. In fact, we plan to use the data we collect and connect the feedback loop further upstream to influence production, marketing, and business strategy,” shares Matt.

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