Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are shaping the future across a range of different business applications and industries.  This relatively new advancement in technology has become an area of increased exploration and R&D investment for many beverage companies focused on improving sales and retail execution.  There’s an expectation that leveraging these new technologies can unlock the true power of store level data that is generally available (but often unused) to provide better insights to reduce manual overhead and drive more sales. At Shelvspace, we are working closely with some of the most innovative beverage companies, in an effort to incorporate AI and machine learning into their future plans and applications.

Here are three things we have learned to help set up your sales and IT teams for success:

  1. Start Simple with Your Sales Leaders Driving –  The whole idea of machine learning is for the technology to crank through mounds of data and quickly come up with optimal decisions saving humans hours of work.   That said, setting up the system and managing the levers can get complicated fast.  When it comes to in-store beverage data, the variability of different set types and the ever evolving nature of promotions and products adds even more complexity. 

    Rather than punt this over the wall with the hope that an IT associate or the software will just figure this out, it’s important that your key sales leaders start simple and provide direction on the type of factors that lead to the top sales opportunities.  Are you assessing Out of Stock (OOS) rates?  Share of Shelf?  Promotion and Display Compliance?  Product Mix?  Pricing and Competitive Information?   A good sales leader will usually come up with an answer that revolves around some combination of all of these factors, one that they can easily distill into the team’s priorities by channel or account.  

    When setting up the AI system, you will want to start with some of these same basic variables and keep it simple and understandable.  Once the system is producing reliable output, it is easy to add more complexity to it and then let the system intelligence expand over time.  However, if you start with too many variables or too much data, and your sales leaders lack confidence in what you are using, it will make for a very long and expensive pilot program that won’t really get off the ground.

  2. Get Your Data Aligned First – AI, Machine learning, and photo recognition is the fun and alluring part, but as teams begin setting up these systems, they often find that 80% of the heavy lifting  comes from managing the mundane store level ID’s and data architecture, along with the flow and inputs and outputs throughout systems.   This is compounded by the fact that most CRM and ERP systems, as well as many of the photo based field team tracking systems are not designed to handle the data integration and analysis typically required by beverage companies.

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3.  Incorporate Workflow and Communication Automation –   AI systems are only as useful as the change in behavior they drive to your sales teams and retail partners.   Despite providing many valuable insights, the real value of the system is only achieved if the output is actionable and adjustments are made to the team’s workflow and business communication process. 

Surprisingly, these new communication approaches are often an afterthought to the entire project.  Companies treat AI as an IT exploration effort, with sales leaders in a “wait and see” mode until they learn more about the output.  Only then do they really start to think about how to change team goal planning, communication, and accountability.  

Most of our successful brands and innovation partners are doing this differently, redesigning their workflow and communication process from day one.   Not only does this get the key drivers of change more engaged in designing the optimal experience, it also ensures that decision support systems truly revolve around daily behaviors of the business users.

 

These guidelines are intended to help get your teams off on the right path with this exciting innovation. 

If you are a CPG beverage company and considering the  benefits of AI or have already started to evaluate AI in your retail execution process, you can contact  Shelvspace for  additional resources and case study examples to help ensure you understand the possibilities, and take the right steps to maximize that potential value of an investment.

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