Twitter, QR Codes & Managing your Mobile Sales Force

What’s the next big thing? What should you be thinking about as Social Media explodes into a frenzy of evolution?

QR codes!

Scan the QR Code with your Smart Phone for the message

QR codes are two-dimensional bar codes like the one pictured at the right. It was created in the mid-1990’s by Denso-Wave to track component parts in the Toyota Manufacturing process.  QR codes are now being adapted to the tooling in the manufacturing process to track usage rates and life cycle.

However, with the increasing use of Twitter, several companies have created Twitter support applications that enable users to ‘check-in’ to, typically, retail facilities. These include products like Foursquare, Gowalla, Loopt and SCVNGR with more and more coming onto the market rather quickly.  These “location based” applications allow users to send their location, via GPS enabled Smart Phones, out to Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites.

It’s been a pretty big hit amongst the 18-25 demographic and has been growing in older demographic segments pretty quickly as well.  Retail chains and restaurants offer promotions like a free cup of coffee, discounts or special promotions to those people that “check-in”

But there’s a small small problem. Let’s pretend that you own a coffee shop and you want to reward the person who “checks-in” at your location the most with a free coffee. In theory, that would mean the person that is the best customer would be rewarded.  However, the problem is that you might never stop at that coffee shop, you and the owner despise each other from when you put his baseball glove in a pile of manure in 4th grade and he married your prom date.  But, every day you drive by his coffee shop, stop at the traffic signal and check in and then later go in and get your free coffee every once in a while and remind the owner that you NEVER spend money there, you just drive on by and check in.

The retailers on the one hand love this alternative method of marketing. But they want to insure that the their customers are actually in their facility.  That’s why you’re starting to see those ‘funny little codes’ show up in retail and on billboards, movie trailers and literally tons of other places.

Once QR codes have wide consumer recognition and acceptance there is going to be some very big management opportunities opening up to get more out of your field sales force, your service people and your customer service people.

Most don’t realize but QR code scanners are available as “Apps” and are even installed as a standard on many smart phones already.

What does all of this have to do with a mobile sales force?

Nothing. Yet. But I just gave you the cut of the final scene of the movie, let’s go back to the beginning.

One of the ongoing problems with managing a field sales force has been a managers ability to balance the need for detailed reporting vs. the need for the sales people to be “in-front-of” the customer. If they are writing reports they are not having face-to face time.  For years, the profession has been plagued by promotions for the people with the prettiest reports who lacked good sales skills thrust upon a talented sales force.  The balancing act has led to shorter call reports in the best cases, or longer call reports in worst cases, but with no real analysis of the data because of the lack of standardization and review: There really isn’t anyone who is doing in-depth data mining and cross referencing of the reams of field data that is available.

Another issue, that has worked itself out to some extent, first with beepers and then with cell phones, is knowing where the sales force is at any given moment to service a customer.  I’ve been in the position and listened to many a phone call from an inside support to a field salesperson that goes something like this:

“Wait a minute! Who Called?  Really! I was just there, when did they call? A hour ago!  I was right down the street and now I’m headed to my next call! I can’t get back to them until next week!  You shoulda called me when you talked to them!”

How to use Twitter & location based services for your sales force

Twitter permits users to set up “locked down” accounts.  That means that you can set up hierarchical private connections. Within Twitter a field salesperson could set up their account and only be connected to their immediate manager. The manager could be connected to all the field sales people within their operational control area.  The next level up could be connected to all below. Again, all on a private Twitter network.

Using a location based service like Foursquare, Gowalla, etc. field salespeople could check-in at an account. Again, within these specific services, they would only connect with people within their team or chain of command.  The check-ins would display for other people who also checked in at that location, but that is no different than looking through a registration log at the reception desk.

Why is this beneficial?

  1. A location and time & date stamp are provided to management
  2. A short 140 character “report” would be submitted. Companies could develop their own ‘shorthand’ for information that they wanted.
  3. Data could then be mined to create various reports and cross-referenced to known customer data.
  4. Customer service could have a “live feed” of where their field sales force is located to provide faster on-site customer support
  5. Since the reporting is done in short 140 character bursts, in real time, there may be no need for deeper reporting, or the data can be harvested to create even more detailed and robust reporting for later use.
  6. A “ticker” screen could be on display within customer support areas at a company’s HQ displaying where the mobile sales force was located at any given moment so that response time could be maximized.

QR Codes & the Future

QR codes have not yet been adopted by large consumer segments. Yet, being the operative word. As QR codes become more widely recognized, as we talked about at the beginning,  this private location based network could gather additional data on equipment, tooling, location, etc.  So a field sales force could literally be walking around scanning codes and inputting data for additional immediate support from the main office. These are all rather “forward-looking statements” but I’m hoping it gives you some things to ponder.

I would love to hear your thoughts or comments.

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  1. This has to be the most advanced (futuristic?) application of Twitter for managing your sales force that I have ever read. The steps you’ve outlined make it very real and the benefits are indeed valuable. I’m eager to hear about anyone who has or is planning to apply this technique.

    Bernard thanks for a very informative post.

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