Retail Execution in the cloud – where are we at?

24 July 2014

Jamie Brown

Jamie Brown

Consultant

Real-time competitor analysis, a mobile centric experience, interactive data visualisation, on-the-go offline information retrieval and updates – these are some of the ideals that can make the lives of sales representatives much easier!

SAP Cloud for Customer (C4C) has built a strong foundation in sales and claims it can deliver the above, but how far developed is its Retail Execution (Rex) cloud offering? I have taken a look at it and want to share some thoughts on where it is at, and where it is heading.

Previous releases of SAP C4C have certainly included some nice enhancements for consumer product companies. Cloud for Customer Retail Execution offers solutions in and around visit planning, execution, and analytics. Within these areas are all sorts of features you would expect from a cutting edge solution, from native mobile apps, interactive data visualisations, maps and graphs, to real-time analysis of competitor’s products on the shelf in front of you.

SAP says that C4C can help account managers and sales representatives “win at the shelf,” by helping users manage their day, their workflow, and allowing them to get on with doing what they do best. It’s designed with consumer products companies in mind, but any organisation where visits to customer or retail sites are needed, could benefit. A summary video from SAP is available here.

February 2014 saw expansion to Cloud for Customer’s core retail offerings with features including auto assignment of surveys and tasks, visit summaries, visit notifications, and automatic next visit scheduling prompts. These enhancements are all built around mobile – so information may be setup in the office before it is used on an iPad at a store visit, for example. More on mobile later.

Let’s take a look at some of these new features.

Surveys

These can be setup in advance to provide sales reps a checklist to go through when on a visit, working offline and on their iPad. Checks could be made on important factors such as product placement, numbers on-shelf, or notes on competitors, recorded with multiple choice answers, tick boxes, free texts fields, and attached photos to record answers. It would work well as reminders for users to record evidence of trade promotions, or competitor’s current tactics every visit, for example.

 

Different surveys can be routed to team members based on all sorts on flexible and customisable rules


Visits

The Visit Planner overview page presents all planned, forecasted and suggested visits to be made, neatly pulling in address information from the business partner records onto a map. Visit frequency is showed, along with the usual numerous ways to sort, filter and segment the results. Tasks, surveys, campaign information and even simple attachments can be manually attached to the visit, all visible in one place when it may be needed later on-site. Some items, like surveys, can automatically be assigned to visits based on rules which segment accounts by, for example, territory and assigned sales representative.

There are dozens of other new features here which demonstrate the amount of thought invested; you can even click 'Generate Summary' to receive a nicely formatted PDF summary sheet to send to visit attendees.

 

Visits are automatically suggested based on numerous factors, like time last visited and location


Mobile

I have to say the native C4C iPad app has been given a lot of thought both in terms of front-end design, but also behind the scenes. In the February 2014 release of C4C, SAP makes proper use of the new design and APIs in iOS7, and now supports offline access (including create, read and edit).

If you don’t have an iPad, iPhone or (modern) Android device, the HTML5 version of C4C will run in the browser of any tablet or mobile. The C4C webapp used to require Silverlight to run – meaning it was heavy to load, and required you to download the special plugin – but has now been updated to run without any such plugins meaning any modern browser can run the webapp on any device.

On any multi-platform service, as you might expect, correctly managing sync conflicts is important. SAP has therefore taken a very considered approach where users can choose to enter offline mode. For important data like this, until patchy mobile signal is a thing of the past, this is really a rather sensible, if slightly niggling, move. Users must choose to enter online mode again to ensure all updates are sent back up to the database after a day out from the office.

 

The native iPad app showing Accounts on an interactive map


The mobile apps are not cut down versions which sacrifice function for usability anymore, and in any case, this beats pen and paper or Excel. There are also mobile apps for Android and iPhones; the BlackBerry app is not supported since the latest release (and it’s not for BlackBerry 10 devices either), and there’s no word on Windows Phone yet. It might be worth noting that these mobile apps are not as user friendly and rich as the iPad app, and nor do they work offline, but they do the job well.

 

The native iPhone app allows quick changes and shows the main information you need


Summary

Things really are speeding along inside SAP now that it has announced that its strategy is based on offering the best cloud solutions. Cloud for Customer, and in particular the Sales offerings which includes Retail Execution, is getting the most attention, new features and investment.

There are many other areas within C4C which complement the Rex features, from the campaign management tools in Cloud for Marketing to SAP Customer Insight, where you can create, edit and view sales forecasts on your iPad. Together, they form an ever expanding package which have the opportunity to transform how businesses sell and market their products. In addition to this, because C4C is inherently mobile, leverages the power of the HANA database, and is built with the end-user in mind, the products are looking more powerful than ever. I will take a look at some of these other features in the future.

That’s it for this blog post, but any questions you have would be very welcome, and if you’d like to learn more or see a personalised demo, do feel free to get in touch.

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