Pepsi bottlers are using wireless to reinvent the way soda is sold, altering the nature of work and customer relationships. Can smart PDAs help put the pop back in profits?
The NextGen of Delivery
For a closer look at how Pepsi bottlers are trying to improve their vision going forward, consider what PBG is doing in Dallas. There, along 70 selling and 40 delivery routes, the bottler is test-marketing a new, next-generation wireless handheld computer it calls Pepsi SMART—for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timebound. Cahill calls it a "staggering advance" in the way products are sold. Hamilton says the 400 MHz, 64-MB RAM handheld devices from Symbol Technologies Inc. can help salespeople figure out their best sales pitch for an individual customer at any given time, reflecting current market conditions and promotional deals already in play. Cahill says the new mobile sales strategy, called NextGen, should "dramatically strengthen" the ability of the sales force to give customers more choice, reduce invoicing and marketing errors, and leverage the full force of the customer data PepsiCo has been collecting for years.
Though it weighs only about 21 oz., the device packs a lot of information. Push one button and reps can compare how much they sold last week with the amount they sold last month, or see how close they came today to meeting their weekly quotas. Push another button and reps can tie demand forecasts for a particular product in a specific market to a variety of pricing, display and inventory scenarios, to help retailers keep product in stock, predict shelf space and plan special displays. Push yet another, and reps can show customers color images of new products and packaging options like Pepsi Blue, or even full-motion videos of upcoming TV ad campaigns to help explain why, say, Britney Spears is pushing some Pepsi products instead of Madonna. And the most important button? It's the one that trains people how to use the device. Push it, and you activate a talking Pepsi can that wears a white baseball cap and a neck whistle for cues.
And that's not all: PBG execs are also hoping NextGen will help bottlers and their sales teams target specific promotions to specific accounts, based on how well specific stores sell Pepsi products. That, in turn, will allow the company to give special deals to its best customers and, it hopes, build customer loyalty among store managers and claim more shelf space for Pepsi products. For example, messages can pop up on the PDA screens from headquarters urging a rep in Dallas to offer, say, the Diet Orange Slice deal only to urban accounts that buy regular Slice but not Diet, and only to those with a Slice poster on display, thereby increasing the effectiveness of a promotion and reducing sales team errors. Since the Dallas pilot began in January, Hamilton says, the PDAs have already begun to reduce the time Pepsi products are out of stock. "We are quite encouraged by what we're seeing so far," he says.
At PepsiAmericas, meanwhile, the wireless strategy is focused more on improving the back end. A key goal of the bottler's $16 million mobility play, currently being tested in seven cities in Iowa, is to get Pepsi reps to wirelessly transmit orders as they are placed into PepsiAmericas' PeopleSoft-based back-end billing and shipping systems, allowing the bottler to build orders in warehouses and load the trucks for the next morning's deliveries, without paying a lot of overtime to the warehouse dockworkers struggling to keep pace with the explosion of Pepsi product and packaging options. CIO Johnsen said he had some qualms at first: "We were very reluctant to do this initially because of the coverage issues for wireless data transmissions," he says. "But the tradeoff is that you either wait and transmit all orders at the end of the [work]day, which can be 4 or 5 o'clock, or transmit orders as they are being placed." Johnsen says 150 trucks or more can report simultaneously for loading at some PepsiAmericas distribution centers, "so we can be getting a few hundred orders that have to be built, and then a few hundred trucks to be loaded, routed and dispatched—all by 5:30 the next morning. There's just not enough time to do that. If you can reduce overtime, which is going up as you add complexity with new products and packaging options, you can get the efficiencies you're looking for." PepsiAmericas' handhelds also can scan bar codes, so drivers can help bottlers get a more precise view of store inventories, faster—freeing up the Pepsi reps in the store to provide service or sell product. "It's very important for us to be able to convert an order into a delivery in less than 24 hours," says Johnsen.