Why Traditional CRM Systems Don’t Cut It for the Consumer Packaged Goods Market

The consumer packaged goods (CPG) market is experiencing a phenomenon extraordinary in the realm of B2B sales. Despite the plethora of technologies and systems available, CPG field sales reps are still overly reliant on antiquated pen-and-paper methods for sales, order processing, and completion. Even when businesses recognize the benefits of arming their sales teams with mobile sales apps, these tools often lack the components integral to CPG sales—namely mobility, visibility, and immediacy. This inevitably results in significant inefficiencies, leading to lost revenues through limited product availability, surplus inventory, and damaged customer satisfaction.

CPG companies that attempt to implement traditional sales force automation from the major vendors often find that these tools failed to meet their field sales CRM objectives, for a variety of reasons.

CPG Sales Requires Unique Functionality for Automation

First and foremost, traditional CRM sales systems are built for non-transactional sales, where the sales cycle is lengthy and targeted at prospective clients (versus existing customers). These systems excel in helping the sales rep manage his or her interactions with prospects through the sales funnel, while providing the rep and management visibility into the sales pipeline. As shown in the table below, when it comes to CPG sales, the focus of the sales process is elsewhere:

B2B sales processes catered to by traditional CRM systemsB2B sales processes in CPG
Focused on new customer acquisition (80%) vs. repeatedly selling to existing customers (20%).Focused on existing customers (80%) vs. new customer acquisition (20%).
Opportunity-centric for goods and services. CRM's primary functionality: developing and monitoring the sales cycle, pipeline, and forecast.Product catalog-centric. CRM must support: interactive catalog-presentation, quoting, order taking, stock taking, handling returns, merchandising.
Sales cycle measured in days/weeks/months.Highly transactional: processing orders with tens/hundreds of lines; often multiple orders to the same clients, on an ongoing basis.
Majority of the data required in the sales cycle is managed in the CRM.Dependent on ERP for operational data to support the sales process (debts, shipments, invoices, pricing, products).
Face-to-face interaction is only one aspect of the prospective client engagement; phone, social media, and chat are important sales channels.Face-to-face interaction on-the-road (at retail stores, trade shows, showrooms, etc.) drives the majority of (non-EDI) sales transactions. B2B e-commerce is increasingly becoming an important sales channel.

therefore, that CPG sales require critical functionality outside the scope of traditional CRM tools, including the following:

  • Interactive product catalog presentation and integrated order taking.
  • Sophisticated pricing, promotions, and discounting engines to maximize profitability.
  • Route and activity planning.
  • In-store retail execution: merchandising, stock-taking, compliance reporting, and more.
  • Tight ERP integration.
  • Offline operation for lightning-fast performance, regardless of the Internet connectivity coverage and speed.

A Mobile-First Mind-Set

With CPG field reps spending the vast majority of their time on the road, mobility is paramount. Field sales reps require immediate access to an array of product, customer, and financial sales information (typically from the ERP system) to provide a , consultative sales experience. In addition, since the product catalog is central to the CPG sales cycle, an interactive, visual, and information-rich presentation of the brand's goods is essential and integral to the sales process. Finally, because CPG sales is highly transactional—orders with dozens of line items are the norm—order-taking speed and accuracy is imperative; reps cannot afford to wait two to three seconds for a CRM screen to load or refresh while they transact with the customer, and so the ability to work in offline mode (to enjoy lightning-fast response time) is critical.

Traditional CRM systems, on the other hand, were designed and built to help reps report on their activities with their prospects, from a desktop (at the office), and for their management to have visibility into their sales cycle. Traditional CRM's product catalog presentation and organization is rudimentary. While most are responsive to mobile devices, they do not offer offline operation. Where a native mobile application is available, it does not cater to the complex and highly visual order-taking requirements of the CPG sales rep. It is no wonder, therefore, that too many CPG sales reps with access to traditional CRM systems are still reliant on legacy pen-and-paper, spreadsheets, and email to carry out their on-the-road business.

B2B E-Commerce Is a Strategic Sales Channel  

With the growing popularity of and expectation for online B2B e-commerce storefronts, the sales rep is no longer the only conduit for customer dealings with the business—and sometimes not even the primary one.

Traditional CRM tools do not cater to customer self-service purchasing. When a B2B e-commerce storefront is implemented alongside traditional CRM, it becomes yet another sales system, with product catalogs, pricing, and promotions to be managed and integrated with the company's ERP. Instead, a central commerce platform one that can guarantee uniformity in brand imaging, messaging, and pricing across all sales channels, in-person and online is required.

Platform Flexibility for Sales Agility

CPG companies require the flexibility to change quickly in order to address opportunities and challenges that are often short-lived: pricing promotions, new product introductions, customer-specific discounts, top-selling and slow-moving products, product returns, sales rep route changes, customer profitability, and more. The commerce platform at the backbone of the CPG business must be highly configurable to be quickly adapted to dynamic business needs; business rules, workflows, forms, reports, and dashboards must all be easily customized, ideally code-free.

Traditional CRM systems were not designed to address the unique needs of CPG sales. A CPG mobile-first commerce platform capable of both streamlining the transactional in-person sales process, as well as providing B2B customers an online self-service storefront, and that can be easily adapted to the business's changing needs can deliver outstanding business results: increasing sales rep productivity by up to 30 percent, driving a sales uplift of 10 to 20 percent, reducing order processing errors, and, above all, improving customer satisfaction.

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