Every night at nine, Sudhir Sharma, an Onida salesman assigned to a multi-brand outlet, wraps up his work by sending an SMS from his mobile phone. The message, containing his product-wise sales for the day, gets routed to Onida’s central server in Mumbai, where it gets stored with similar messages from 1,000 other such salespersons from across India.
The next morning, everyone who matters in Onida — from the marketing chief to category heads, from regional managers to branch managers — gets an auto-generated email on the previous day’s sales.
Till five months ago, Onida’s sales figures used to take two weeks to a month to trickle in, especially from smaller towns. Now, thanks to an application on mobile phones and some back-end software connections, it happens daily. As a result, Onida is able to manage the movement of its goods better, replenish stocks faster and tweak production based on daily sales patterns.
“After we introduced mobile-based reporting, sales by in-shop demonstrators (Onida salespersons in multi-brand outlets) has increased 15%,” says Sriram Krishnamurthy, VP-marketing, sales and service at Onida. “It’s a leap forward in MIS (management information systems).”
From the field force to in-store executives, the ubiquitous mobile is emerging as a silver bullet for companies struggling to capture data on sales, inventory, service and delivery in real time. As a feedback tool, it allows brand owners to measure consumer response to advertising or promotional campaigns on a daily basis.
Importantly, problems in the system can be spotted and corrective action taken promptly.
Handset makers, mobile operators and independent software vendors (ISVs) are offering such applications. Embracing them are leading companies across sectors like FMCG (CavinKare, Coca-Cola, Eveready and Godrej), consumer durables (IFB and Voltas), pharmaceuticals (Dr Reddy’s and Piramal Healthcare), photo-equipment (Kodak) and financial services (Edelweiss), among many others.
What makes these applications appealing is their sheer simplicity and affordability: they run on basic Internet-enabled phones that start from as little as Rs 2,500, they integrate easily with most enterprise-resource software like Tally and SAP, and they can be rolled out with very little training.
They plug the information gap in the most critical part of any business: the last mile. “Field-force integration is really the key to business process automation that PC-based systems could not address,” says Sanjeev Mahajan, VP and national head for enterprise voice solutions at Bharti Airtel.
At Chennai-based CavinKare, sales auditors visit retail outlets, and punch stock and display numbers for the company’s and its competitors’ products into their mobile phones. With a simple message application, they upload this data instantly into the company’s sales automation system. Says chairman CK Ranganathan: “Updated field reports flow in every 10-15 minutes against a week’s time in the manual method.” As a result, it can take tactical decisions like increasing its retail presence in weak markets or responding to competitors’ activities faster.
Importantly, field executives can send this information through the day only if they actually visit the outlets. “It’s a virtual supervisor in itself,” says Mr Ranganathan. Convinced about its efficacy, he plans a larger rollout of the application for over 1,000 stockist salesmen, and subsequently with the company’s direct salesforce.
The big leap, however, is in the phone becoming a tracking device where employers can know precisely where an employee is at any point in time. That may not come as good news to the salesforce. But for firms like Matrix Processing House, it’s an imperative. Matrix is a Delhi-based provider of new-customer verification and collection services to leading telecom operators and banks. Says CEO Deepak Sharma: “Verification is like a police job; it needs a robust back-end.”
Matrix’s agents are required to carry GPS-enabled phones. Supervisors in the office track their movement and confirm through geo-tagging that they indeed visited an address and at what time. They also upload pictures of the house or person visited along with their comments in an audio file. According to Mr Sharma, mobile-based verification has helped reduce his supervisors from 29 to 8 and nearly eliminated the risk of fraud.
Bill collections from mobile and credit-card customers too are more secure and nearly fool-proof. Agents enter payment details into their handset, send a confirmation to the supervisor, and generate a receipt instantly from a handheld Bluetooth printer. “We know the mode of collection immediately, and reconciliation is quicker,” says Mr Sharma. “Earlier, we had to wait till the end of the day or next morning to know of any issues, by which time we were all busy with that day’s work.”