The pressure on field marketing to deliver faster, cheaper and better services is challenging outsource agencies to develop smarter solutions to drive sales.
Assuming that we have already recruited the best possible people and trained them to engage effectively with retail customers, the focus will increasingly be directed toward building communities, both internally and across retail networks.
Cloud technology is enhancing this process, allowing immediate data access, anywhere, any time. We can present everything from training materials to the latest product information, without having to provide and manage hardware and software. Groups can share insights and work together from any location, with benefits for field agents, retail staff and retail groups.
At CPM we are harnessing cloud technology to develop a complete solution to engage employees digitally at every stage of their working life. This management tool allows us to take on and induct new recruits, inspire them, target them and measure them - all via the cloud.
We're also creating a community of staff using a derivative of Twitter for field teams. Salesforce Chatter enables teams to have conversations and compare notes about responses they are receiving in-store on a daily basis.
The delivery of real-time sales data is allowing field marketers to deploy their people when and where they are most needed. Teams can instantly identify stores that are showing stock anomalies and people can be sent to locations where a problem needs to be fixed. This creates efficiencies and maximises the value of expensive human resources.
This is how savvy field marketers are moving away from low-skilled merchandise implementation to higher-skilled sales engagement - and this, too, is supported by technology that adds a whole new dimension to conversations.
CPM has been working with digital activation agency Knit to develop applications that make it possible to seamlessly communicate with people and simultaneously direct them to online activity, whether via mobile phones, touchscreens or using iPads for immediate consumer engagement.
We are rolling out rich-media-enabled tablet technology that allows sales agents to show a film or run through web-based instruction tools at any time to suit the retailer's schedule. Field teams can deliver highly visual content in-store, resulting in a memorable 'stand-out' experience for retailers.
These interactive tablets can also show store managers collected EPOS data, comparing their own sales performance on specific brands against that of other stores of similar profile and capacity, thus providing field marketers with compelling arguments for greater brand visibility.
Customer relationship data is now being collected and used to enhance the face-to-face conversations in-store.
Our own CRM solution, RetailForce, allows us to maintain interactions with our clients' customers between store visits, including the targeted delivery of e-shots, product information and training materials. It has enabled us to deliver multi-country data-capture and reporting solutions, while providing a single overview to our clients.
Retailers can also gain from cloud technology. CPM is looking to work with independent confectioners, tobacconists and newsagents - providing a hosted closed community that will not only enable them to engage and negotiate with manufacturers as a group, but also permit us to gain insights on behalf of our clients' brands.
It is equally possible to create communities for the big retailers. A prime example is the electronic departments in superstores.
To compete effectively against specialist retailers, these departments need to provide staff with high levels of technological competence and product knowledge.
The solution is a digital community enabling them to talk to their counterparts in other branches of the same group. So the home entertainment manager at one superstore is now able to share information and insights with all of his or her counterparts around the country.
Field marketers are still getting to grips with digital opportunities, and many more business applications will be introduced in the next few years. One thing is for sure: the future is cloudy, and brands will need to have access to these technological innovations if they are to compete effectively in-store.
Martin Ryan is managing director of CPM (UK). To find out more, visit www.uk.cpm-int.com