WITH OVER 50 branches in all states and territories, Australia’s largest independent confectionery distribution company, Accredited Distributors, has access to over 40,000 retail outlets ranging from petrol and convenience stores to local shops and schools.
Accredited Distributors has distributed confectionery and snackfoods to retail outlets for the past 20 years.
The company’s branches stock a diverse range of confectionery and related products, which vary depending on local needs and regional facilities. Some branches, especially those in regional areas, have regular delivery routes that may be hundreds of kilometres from their distribution.
This extensive national network means that the sales force is constantly out in the field, making it important for transactions to be handled as efficiently and accurately as possible.
Traditionally, Accredited Distributors’ sales representatives used a “book and deliver” structure to handle sales order transactions.
This process was paper-based, labour intensive and required up to seven stages of human intervention.
Initially, the sales rep would call on the customer and manually fill out an order form, which was faxed or phoned through to Accredited Distributors’ offices at the end of the day.
Administrative staff would then manually key the order form into the invoicing system to produce a picking slip. The goods were then picked and packed, an invoice printed off, and product delivered to the customer.
This time-consuming process increased costs through inaccuracy and delivery delays. It wasn’t uncommon for customers to receive incorrect products due to human error, resulting in the re-supply of products and a tarnished reputation as a supplier.
The “book and deliver” structure also put a strain on resources and resulted in high stationery costs.
To overcome these issues, Accredited Distributors explored ways to enable its sales representatives to immediately transmit orders from customer premises back to the warehouse.
The most viable option was a mobile computing solution, which would take orders in the field via a handheld device and transmit these via GSM (Global System for Mobile communication) to the applicable warehouse file server. Accredited Distributors’ invoicing system would automatically process the orders and produce an accurate picking slip.
It was vital to determine the necessary functions that the new software had to perform on the handheld device to ensure that the salesperson had access to sufficient data for a fully effective “sales call”.
It took several brainstorming sessions to identify the required functionality and data flow for these requirements.
“A handheld device was the best way to generate easier and more accurate sales, compared with the traditional book and deliver process,” said Brad Mays, the IT manager for Accredited Distributors.
“We needed a device that could perform the usual server based, complex number crunching that would typically take place during invoicing.
This was necessary to ensure that the mobile solution would work efficiently. Our analysis uncovered other functions that could be added to a handheld to improve service to our customers.”
The traditionally server based functions included: the ability to display each customer’s product and order history to improve the efficiency of taking orders; the ability to specify order quantities in units, inners, outers or shippers; an insight into customer specific pricing to facilitate negotiation with the customer; and the ability to review “stock at hand” in the warehouse.
Further analysis revealed other value added customer service functions such as: alerts about new product lines for promotion; access to customer specific notes (such as unpaid accounts or special arrangements for pricing and payment) for better customer management; and the ability to search all products in the warehouse for items not normally stocked by the customer.
Accredited Distributors’ sales representatives now use a wireless mobile device from Symbol Technologies to manage their sales order processes.
Symbol’s pocket sized PDT 2837 features integrated GSM/Global Packet Radio Services (GPRS), integrated barcode scanner, pen based Pocket PC operating system and wireless connectivity.
The PDT 2837 handles an extreme range of temperatures and climates, can withstand drops to concrete floors, and is certified by Vodafone for use on its GSM and GPRS networks.
A custom software solution uploads all product details, multiple customer histories and specific pricing to the PDT 2837. The sales representative simply specifies which customer is scheduled for a visit, and the handheld is ready to take their order with their unique pricing.
Orders are stored in the handheld. Their transmission back to the main server occurs with the push of a button by the sales representative.
The PDT 2837 enables network connections to the main server for the upload of data, barcode scanning for ease of order taking, and integrated modem for transmitting orders back to the office.
Sales orders are now directly entered into the invoicing system, eliminating errors from manual entry and from other transmission methods (phone or fax).
The creation of the order itself is more accurate, because sales representatives can access customer-specific data such as pricing arrangements.
Since introducing the Symbol mobile devices, Accredited Distributors has improved the sales order process for its customers across Australia. Delivery accuracy has drastically increased, labour costs have dropped and, most importantly, Accredited Distributors is able to fulfil customer requirements more easily.
For example, now that sales representatives have access to stock levels at the warehouse, they can establish credible delivery timeframes for the customer.
Also, the ability to search all products at the warehouse means sales representatives can offer alternative products or hot new product lines immediately. In addition, access to customer specific data and customer history facilitates clearer discussion between sales representatives and customers.
Because sales representatives are able to update customer data in real time, records are kept up to date and relevant for future sales.
The improved data accuracy and instant updates also enable Accredited Distributors and its members to more easily manage inventory - reducing stock returns.