Routing and Scheduling Sales Personnel

Routing and scheduling plans aim to maintain the lines of communication, to optimize sales coverage and minimize wasted time. When management is informed at all times of salespersons’ whereabouts in the field—or at least knows where they should be—it is easy to contact them to provide needed information or last-minute instructions. Chances are good that sales personnel will be where they are supposed to be.

Routing and scheduling plans improve sales coverage. The mechan­ics of setting up a routing plan are simple While working out the plan, detailed information is required on the numbers and locations of cus­tomers, the means and methods of transportation connecting customer concentrations, and desired call frequency rates. Detailed maps are needed showing not only towns and cities and transportation routes but trading-area boundaries, mountain ranges, lakes, bridges, and ferry lines. If sales personnel are to travel by air, airport locations need spotting. The route, or routes, finally laid out should permit the salesperson to return home at least on weekends.

If the route planner considers the desired call frequency rate for each customer on the route, the call schedule is a by-product of setting up the route. In most cases, however, making up the call schedule is more than planning the route. Customers and prospects are segregated according to the desired call frequency rate. Using detailed maps, the planner identifies the locations of members of each customer and pros­pect group and reconciles the route with these locations. Hence, often the salesperson has a different route each time he or she travels the territory, to achieve the desired call frequencies and to incorporate new customers and prospects into the itinerary. Furthermore, because changes occur in account classifications, prospects, competitive activity, as well as in road conditions, it is impractical to set up fixed route and call schedules good for long periods.

Routing and scheduling plans reduce wasted time by sales personnel. Much backtracking, travel time and other “nonselling” time is eliminated, and scheduled call frequency is to fit customers’ needs. Effective routing and scheduling automatically builds up the size of the average order.

In scheduling sales personnel, some firms not only designate the customers to call upon each day but prescribe the time of day to make each call. Detailed scheduling is coupled with a system for making advance appointments. Companies not using scheduling plans usually suggest advance appointments, but often salespeople ignore this suggestion. For effective detailed scheduling the scheduler needs current information on time required for each call, probable waiting time at each stop, travel time between calls, and the probable time with each customer. This information is difficult to collect and update. Detailed scheduling is most feasible when customers give their full cooperation. Most firms allow their sales personnel “time cushions” to allow for the many variations met on each selling trip.

Companies, almost without exception, benefit from systematic rout­ing and scheduling, but not all find detailed scheduling feasible. The petroleum marketing companies, and other firms with combination driver- salespersons, use detailed routing and scheduling plans successfully, as do several large pharmaceutical manufacturers. Less-detailed routing and scheduling plans are used by wholesalers of groceries, drugs, and hardware. Detailed scheduling plans are appropriate in trades typified by frequent calls, great homogeneity among customers, short travel time between calls, and highly standardized products not requiring large amounts of creative selling time—that is, in situations where trade selling predominates.

Routing, scheduling, and control. The routing plan, the scheduling plan, or both assist sales management in obtaining closer control over sales personnel’s movements and time expenditures. The routing and sched­uling plans are integral parts of the overall process of establishing sales territories and assigning sales personnel. Any routing or scheduling plan should have frequent checkups to detect needed adjustments. Call reports are compared with route and call schedules to determine whether plans are followed. Variations or discrepancies are noted and sales personnel asked for explanations. Adherence to the plans is also enforced through frequent and unannounced visits to the field by supervisors or branch sales managers.

Source: Richard R. Still, Edward W. Cundliff, Normal A. P Govoni, Sandeep Puri (2017), Sales and Distribution Management: Decisions, Strategies, and Cases, Pearson; Sixth edition.

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