This piece was written to accompany the feature, "strike Up the Brand" in the June 2001 issue of CRM magazine.
From pioneering the liquor distribution business in Alaska in 1932 with "medicinal bourbon," Odom has grown into one of the nation's largest beverage distributors. Based in Seattle, the company handles 500 orders a day for it's 5,000-plus SKUs (stock keeping unit), distributing 600,000 cases per month.
And until recently, its 85 DSD reps were doing it the hard way, like running the Iditarod without sled dogs.
That is, DSD reps were mushing from store to store, doing all their field work on paper. The result was illegible numbers and pricing and discounting errors. Such mistakes caused labor costs to soar as back-office staff had to call customers, research the paper trail, communicate with other departments, process a new credit adjustment and print new documentation.
In 1999, the company launched a sales force automation project that put order entry, route information, store inventory tracking and survey capabilities in the hands of the company's direct salespeople by equipping the entire sales force with Fujitsu mobile terminals and Thinque's Sales Portfolio (SP) software.
Thinque SP is a CRM solution that lets sales reps place product orders, submit call reports, and manage inventories, customer information and customer sales history, among other functions. Nestle and Red Bull also use Thinque SP.
Of a suite of 50 stand-alone components that perform a specific CPG business function, Odom selected modules for order entry, pricing, customer information and profile, account history, call history, call report, warehouse stock and customer stock. Some of the modules, such as pricing, were configured to the unique pricing support Odom needs for soda, water, wine and beer.
Thinque SP offers specific information and functionality for field personnel doing recurring sales. It's supposed to help cut pricing errors as well as give added functionality such as enabling the DSD worker to make suggestions on product substitutions for out-of-stock items.
When the territory is Alaska, it's doubly important to give mobile sales forces visibility into inventory information because it gives them a better chance to reduce out-of-stock situations and reduce unnecessary distribution costs.
"In our more remote customer sites, the implications of this could be significant," recalls Odom's John Burke. "One example of this situation occurred in Lewiston, with a customer 70 miles out of town who was outed on their order. The customer ultimately ran out of the item, and a second trip had to be made. Had the salesman had the capability to see the out-of-stock situation and substitute a like product, the extra 140-mile round trip could have been avoided."
Odom's cost savings were not limited to the field. The company realized additional back-office savings from greater efficiencies and consequent reductions in staff. According to Odom's estimates, it will save $150,000 on the annual cost of credit adjustments, another $100,000 on reduced personnel costs, and incidental savings of $15,000 on order forms, route cards, survey reports and handouts to reps that the system obviates.
According to Burke, the most impressive result of the new tool's implementation, however, is its impact on the customer, and consequently, Odom's bottom line. "The real benefits of using Thinque's Sales Portfolio software are extending our ability to drive sales, increasing our selling time and building stronger customer relationships, resulting in a competitive advantage."