by Chad Rasmussen / Published July 2014
As owners of or managers in small businesses, it is imperative to always be looking for ways to lower costs and increase productivity. Many of the techniques to do so have been around for many years, but technology is expanding our ability to become more productive each day. I believe that in our changing industry, the companies that use these tools most effectively will not only survive but thrive. At Royce Industries, L.C., we have found mapping tools such as Microsoft MapPoint to be particularly effective in helping us become more productive.
Why use a mapping program? Used properly, this technology can minimize the amount of time that employees spend behind a windshield. The less time spent driving should lead to more productive days. Mapping technology can also allow you to visualize your customers in different ways. If provided with the correct information, they can show you where concentrations of products are sold, areas where you are losing customers, or simply being able to quickly look up nearby customers when your employees are in a given area. Programs like MapPoint can also be used to better plot sales or service territories. They show you information about what zip codes, census tracts, highways, cities, counties, and towns look like on maps.
When evaluating whether or not a tool like MapPoint can make your business more profitable, you should consider several things:
1. Does your customer database contain “good” information? A computer program does not have the reasoning abilities that a human brain has. If I was to write down an address of “1234Main Street” and hand it to you, you would read it and notice that I likely forgot to put a space between 1234 and Main. A computer program will just search for an address that does not exist. Also, if your database does not distinguish shipping addresses from billing addresses, mapping tools may be less effective for you. Many of your largest customers likely have their bills sent to a P.O. Box rather than the address where your employees go to provide sales or service. A mapping program is not going to recognize a P.O. Box as a good address.
2. If your customer database does not contain “good” information, are you willing to invest the time and resources to fill it with “good” information? Gathering and entering complete addresses can be time intensive. It will require sending letters and e-mails, making extra phone calls, or looking for information on the Internet. While this can take a significant amount of time, usually it can be done by almost anyone.
3. Are you willing to invest the time required to understand this type of technology? Although I usually feel comfortable when introduced to a new technology, I have found that mapping software had a longer learning curve for me. Thankfully, there are many videos and discussion boards on the Internet that can provide a lot of information in a short amount of time.
Buying this type of software is not so expensive that you need to wait for perfect information to see if it is worthwhile. The last time I checked, MapPoint 2013 was $299.99. If you are nervous about your ability to use it or just want to get a feel for how valuable it could be to your business, you can also download a free, 14-day trial.
At CETA’s 2013 Annual Convention, I taught a short class about using MapPoint in a sales environment. I showed some ideas on how the program can be used to build territories, schedule days, and prioritize visits. With about one minute left in our discussion, I was asked how this type of software can be used in a service environment. While I did not have much time to share ideas then, I can tell you now that there are plenty of opportunities to use mapping tools for service.
Many distributors probably have some type of preventative maintenance agreement with some of their customers where a technician checks a piece of equipment every 60 or 90 days to make sure everything is operating correctly. Keeping track of these can be difficult at times. MapPoint can be used to identify specifically where these customers are. Each morning, service managers can review where these customers are located relative to where their technicians are going. If your technician is driving by a customer with one of these agreements while traveling between service calls and has time, they can stop to perform the maintenance. This allows the technician to maximize the amount of work that can be done in a day.
Similar to the strategy mentioned for customers with preventative maintenance agreements, MapPoint can be used to show where all of your customers are. If you know a technician is going to have a slow day and you want the technician to see the two closest customers to each scheduled stop, you can look at where the scheduled stops are, identify nearby customers, and add them as stops. When we have done this, we instruct the technician just to check in with them to see if they need anything or to do a quick inspection on their equipment. They might be able to identify a belt that needs to be changed, a leaking swivel, or a clogged nozzle. Even if they need nothing, the customer is being seen by someone and is more likely to remember you when they do need something.
Managers can also use the tool to simply help plan the day. If a manager needs the technician to complete four calls during the day, the addresses can be put into MapPoint, and the software will optimize the order of the calls and the exact directions to take. Calls could be reorganized in order of importance if necessary too. MapPoint will still return the most effective route to take based on the constraints it has been given.
While there are tremendous benefits to using a tool like MapPoint to increase productivity, it does have some limitations. As mentioned earlier, it only returns good information if it is given good information to start with. If you want to work on the revenue potential within a sales territory, sales information needs to be provided. If you want to see where you sell a certain product type or brand of equipment, you will need to be able to provide the data to MapPoint so it can help visualize it.
While figuring out how to manipulate data can seem intimidating, there are resources that can help. I have found that events like CETA’s Annual Convention provide networking opportunities that allow for an exchange of ideas to bring back to the office. Additionally, business schools at local colleges or universities can be a good tool to reach out to. Every semester there will be several courses taught where student groups are asked to reach out to local businesses and identify a project that they can help with. I would also be glad to help anyone that is looking to be pointed in the right direction. Please feel free to e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Royce Industries was founded in 1984 in Utah and has expanded to four locations in Boise, ID; Las Vegas, NV; West Jordan, UT; and Denver, CO. Royce Industries has been serving the needs of cleaning professionals since 1984 and is a proud member of the Cleaning Equipment Trade Association (CETA). Chad Rasmussen is General Manager at Royce Industries and currently serves as Treasurer on CETA’s board of directors. For more information on Royce Industries, call (888) 289-7692 or visit www.buyroyce.com.