If you ever do a search/have done a search on Google for sales intelligence for FMCG companies, you’ll find several academic articles on how AI can benefit sales teams in FMCG companies, along with links to several companies that provide AI driven sales intelligence to any other sector than FMCG.
And if you search for demand planning solutions there are an abundance of them, those that use AI and include seasonality, holidays etc, to provide forecasts. Ironically demand planning is not used by sales teams. In fact, one of its input factors is a sales forecast from the sales team!
So who uses Demand planning software?
The supply or production planning teams typically use demand planning software to ensure there is enough stock of the final product, so that they can fulfil orders and meet demand. Typically, the annual sales plan or the joint business plan drawn up/agreed by the sales team is one of the inputs into the demand planning software/application. According to an article by Gartner (Aug 2019), demand planning is typically used by the Sales & Operations Planning team (S & OP team) and focuses on a tactical horizon from 3-24 months.
The primary goal of demand planning is to ensure availability of stock on the supply side. The process results in a plan that feeds into the Sales & Operations Planning meeting that agrees on the stock levels that need to be maintained at a company warehouse level for each SKU to be able to meet demand for the period being planned.
Now here is why demand planning is not the same as sales intelligence. Have you ever planned your grocery list 3 months in advance? Also, have you ever known a supply team to influence a customer’s decisions?
Sales intelligence in FMCG
Even a few years ago, sales intelligence in FMCG would have been complex and time taking. Insights teams would look at similar information as marketers do, when considering innovations or ad campaigns. However, due to the sheer volume of information, and the time it takes to process the information and gain insights, this happens only for new product development or for market entry initiatives.
Due to recent advances in AI, it is now possible to build applications that process the same quantum of information on a daily basis to provide valuable insights to sales teams, helping them take advantage of opportunities that were never identified by the strategy team or by the demand planning application.
Sales intelligence apps are meant to be used by any sales team who sell to customers, at a national account level and at a store level.
Economies of scale are critical to success in the FMCG sector. When the production planning team plans production, they need to ensure that the production runs maximise equipment capacity. So they plan 3-12 months in advance. Most companies plan 3-4 months ahead and maintain enough stock to cater to demand.
Demand planning is based on the assumption that sale forecasts are a result of ‘push’ tactics, that current year sales reflects prior year sales plus an uplift under ordinary conditions, adjusted for seasonality and other medium term factors.
Why is sales intelligence becoming increasingly important?
On a broad basis this still holds true. However, these days, the sales forecasts that go into the demand plan are no longer reflective of expected sales. So there are short term fluctuations within medium term forecast numbers. Unless these short term fluctuations are tightly managed, there are frequent stock outs of brands at supermarkets.
With Millennials and Gen Z now forming a significant percentage of the adult population, the influence social media and news have on how these 2 generations buy and consume products, sales intelligence apps and platforms are becoming increasingly important to help sales people understand how much to sell.
By empowering sales teams with information on what consumers want and are likely to buy in the next 4-6 weeks or even days, sales teams can ensure 100% in-store availability of the brands they sell. Providing timely sales intelligence helps sales teams take advantage of opportunistic upsides that are in line with long term strategy, leading to increased revenues of up to 40%.
salesBeat was founded in 2019 by Veena and Alex and was initially a market place which matched freelancers and FMCG brands. They pivoted during the pandemic when they saw the magnitude of lost sales opportunities due to Covid-19, compounded by social media and unpredictable weather patterns over the past year, including a warmer than expected summer and a cooler than expected winter. They launched salesBeat to solve this problem. They have applied the same technology and logic to predict consumer demand that is used by data science teams whose job is to predict events like wars and water shortages.
Veena worked for a number of years within the FMCG industry for companies like PepsiCo and Diageo.
Alex has a history in IT, with extensive experience in creating apps and advising start-ups on their tech strategy.
The founders came together at Antler (an incubator) in Sweden. Both were astounded by the lack of agility in the FMCG/CPG industry. It was apparent that while consumption and consumer habits are rapidly evolving, the companies in this industry still use outdated information sources and methodologies to react to meet their needs.