This article first appeared in the Autumn 2016 issue of The Record.
This autumn, Microsoft will introduce Dynamics 365, which combines Microsoft’s current customer relationship management and enterprise resource planning offerings into a single cloud service with new purpose-built apps for specific business functions.
“Dynamics 365 is going to help our partners to focus on some very specific end customer needs as well as build apps to help differentiate themselves in the industry,” says Luke Shave, global industry marketing lead for consumer packaged goods (CPG) and retail industries at Microsoft. “What’s more, with the introduction of Microsoft AppSource we now provide a modern discovery and provisioning system for the solutions.”
Currently, Microsoft AppSource offers more than 200 software-as-a-service (SaaS) apps, add-ins and content packs from Microsoft and its partners. One of the first industry-specific apps available via AppSource was AFS Retail Execution, a mobile solution built by AFS Technologies on Microsoft cloud technology.
Aimed at CPG companies, AFS Retail Execution is designed to empower field sales and merchandising teams to quickly plan and execute daily in-store tasks. It also helps management teams better plan in-store product activities while ensuring strategic sales plans are executed in the field.
“Our solution offers an industry-specific set of features that empower field sales and merchandising teams to address the costly disconnect between store/shelf strategy and actual execution at retail,” comments James Caudill, vice president at AFS Technologies. “The app offers features for optimising order capture, carrying out product audits, tracking stock levels, monitoring compliance during promotional campaigns, and comprehensive listing and pricing to support granular scenario compositions across chains, regions and product categories.”
In addition, embedded technologies such as digital image recognition, augmented reality, machine learning and gamification empower in-store staff and field-based sales representatives to become more efficient and productive. These technologies also capture in-store data to help identify untapped sales and category opportunities so they can better plan store-specific assortments and shelf displays, reducing the likelihood of out-of-stock situations while simultaneously driving sales.
“AFS Retail Execution offers real-time access to the most up-to-date store information, which helps field sales and merchandising teams to quickly respond to any issues – such as out-of-stock situations and incorrect pricing – or capitalise on new selling opportunities as they arise,” Caudill explains. “This allows them to build the ideal store planogram and then measure compliance against their ‘perfect store’. By optimising processes, the app also reduces costs and margin erosion, while promotional sell-in, compliance audits and rapid issue identification and resolution drives a higher return on investment for trade spending.”
Most importantly, the solution helps teams to align their merchandising and performance expectations, ensuring that everyone knows the main business objectives and which tasks need to be completed. This is key for companies with multiple stores and warehouses, notes Shave.
“Store visits are a crucial part of identifying opportunity areas, ensuring compliance and capturing best practices from individual locations,” he comments. “Before, during and after the store visit, account reps and area managers can capture their findings, evaluate store performance based on company objectives and policy, and use this insight to inform future company strategy and innovation.”
AFS Retail Execution has already been implemented by various CPG companies worldwide. For example, an Asia-Pacific-based consumer products company has boosted the productivity of their sales representatives by 25%, while a beverage company based in the Baltic region has halved out-of-stock incidents. A US-based food and beverage company has also achieved a 15% rise in promotional compliance.
“Our customers require solutions that drive value today, but also will also help them to meet the needs of tomorrow’s retail and CPG market and AFS Retail Execution does just that,” says Caudill. “Microsoft’s platform enables our current offerings to be highly accessible, secure, scalable and reliable, however the biggest win for us came with Microsoft’s advanced intelligence capabilities. We can now expand our trade, retail execution and direct delivery solutions in critical areas such as business intelligence, analytics, artificial intelligence and gamification, all driven by specific value propositions that improve the competitive position of our customers.”
Ultimately, notes Shave, AFS Retail Execution helps CPG companies to achieve their main aims: enhancing the service they provide to their customers and realising revenue potential.
“Industry-specific solutions built by our partners on Microsoft cloud technology help CPGs and retailers to be more responsive, drive collaboration and adapt for the digital era,” says Shave. “The ability to share insight across function areas, collaborate in real time and apply advanced analytics to glean deep insight and optimise processes ultimately fosters a business that can provide optimal customer service. AFS Retail Execution is the first in a line of solutions Microsoft is developing with its partners for the retail and CPG space.”
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