Case Study: How Yakult Mobilised the Sales Force

David Murphy

Yakult is the original probiotic. The company operates in 31 countries and territories, across five continents, and every day, around 25 million people drink Yakult. In the UK and Ireland, Yakult is sold throughout all major supermarkets and in many convenience store outlets.

Prior to 2006, Yakult’s field sales team consisted of around 20 sales executives, each of whom had responsibility for a fixed territory. Store visits were scheduled and undertaken on a routine basis, rather than in response to flagged problems.   
Following every store visit, sales executives downloaded paper-based reports incorporating EPOS data on past sales. These reports were re-keyed into a central database in order to facilitate analysis of Yakult’s sales patterns across all retailers. 
Typically, this analysis showed that sales were impacted by problems such as poor availability of stock, slow stock turnaround, shelf-life wastage and stock being positioned in the wrong place, outside of agreed merchandising guidelines. As the problems could not be detected and reported in real-time, however, they could not be rectified immediately.   

Taking stock
In order to increase visibility, optimise productivity and drive efficiencies, Yakult took a decision in 2006 to review its field sales operations across the UK and Ireland. The primary aim of the review was to ensure that the field sales team was deployed effectively, in order to ensure that all time was spent adding value to the business and driving improvements to the bottom line. It was clear that Yakult’s fixed territory model lacked flexibility and allowed undetected problems such as stock wastage and poor merchandising to persist for too long. This, combined with a lack of real-time information hampered visibility, analysis and planning, and harboured inefficiencies.      

A new approach  
At this stage Yakult introduced two key initiatives to streamline and improve field sales operations. The first stage was to restructure the field sales model. The traditional territory model became obsolete and virtual territories were created to enable a more flexible, responsive approach to account management. This model meant that stores could be visited as and when an issue was flagged. Problems could therefore be resolved quickly, and inefficiencies minimised.  
The second stage was to source a solution which would streamline all sales information, and equip the sales team with handheld devices which could be used to download and upload vital sales information.      
Having extensively researched the market, Yakult selected solutions from O4 and CACI. CACI’s Insite & Callsmart solution was selected to enable Yakult to optimise field resources and create territory structures and call schedules for each sales executive. O4 was selected as a complete mobile execution solution which disseminates information to sales executives, and enables sales executives to report information back to a central management suite. Yakult Project Manager, Reshma Patel, explains: 
“Having already completed stage one of our project, Yakult already had aims, objectives and processes established, therefore we required a solution which would be flexible enough to facilitate our goals rather than dictate new ones. O4 adapted and integrated very easily with Yakult’s existing systems and the CACI solution, which made for a quick implementation and a successful go-live.”
Both solutions went live in July 2008 following a five month implementation.   

Reaping the benefits
Using the combined O4 and CACI solutions Yakult is now able to identify stores which require attention, rather than waiting for a routine visit which might previously have been scheduled several months’ down the line. The solutions also enable Yakult to review available resources and split workload appropriately. For example, if a problem is flagged at a particular store, the system can identify the nearest sales executive according to their location or schedule, and allocate them, saving valuable time and resources. 
The O4 solution comprises a real-time customer database, including sales history and analysis; promotions and sales updates; sales executives’ detailed schedule for the week ahead, including what time a meeting is, how long it should take, how long it will take to get there, and what route would be best. It can also run vehicle check surveys where necessary. The handheld device’s built-in camera also means that sales executives can take and file photographs to accompany reports. 
“Through using O4 and CACI, we have saved approximately 40% in field sales force time, which means 40% more resources which can be channelled back into strategy, development and marketing,” says Reshma. “Feedback from the team is great. The sales executives love the solution, as it looks after time-consuming administration and paperwork, saving valuable time. It also enables them to have information to hand at all times when visiting a store, therefore they feel more proactive and well informed when on visits. By being better prepared, they get so much more out of each visit.
“We are delighted with the return on our investment in O4 and CACI. The speed and accuracy of information we now have access to helps to drive the business forward, and a happier, more productive field sales force is driving immeasurable benefits to our bottom line.”