Optimizing network performance through digital animation

The search for performance within a network is a daily challenge for managers and animators. However, several recent trends are complicating the situation. In the face of these disruptions, traditional animation methods are no longer sufficient: digital technology is becoming a powerful lever in support of managers and animators to increase the efficiency of networks while reducing animation costs.

Let’s take the example of automotive distribution networks, a sector rapidly changing, particularly in Europe.

The automotive distribution sector is constituted of a very heterogeneous network, composed of numerous stakeholders that need to be involved in the projects. In addition, its organization is undergoing major changes with the diversification of activities, the arrival of several new players, the electrification of ranges, etc.
There is a delicate context characterized by an unprecedented health crisis and the war in Ukraine, which has generated a shortage of electronic components and an increase in the price of raw materials.
Distribution costs are a major issue for all car manufacturers because they have a significant impact on operating margins. Time savings and efficiency are essential and can make the difference between the company and its competitors.

In view of these disruptions, it is necessary to revisit the methods of network management and to support the transformation in order to help employees become more efficient.

The animation of the distribution networks is strategic

It is the real cornerstone of the manufacturer-dealer relationship. Having an efficient and effective network is no longer an option in such a turbulent sector. So, what are the axes to be privileged to improve the performance of the network animation?

Successful network management is based as much on the management of the sales and service units themselves as on the management of the people in charge of leading the network. The most successful manufacturers have understood that it is crucial to take care of the network coordinators, who have been forgotten for too long and wrongly perceived as a “mailbox”, a simple vector of information to the network. Let’s see how a digital animation of these points of sale/services and the people in charge of animating them can increase the performance of the networks.

One of the keys to successful animation is the employees engagement… But how to develop this engagement?

A transparent communication of the objectives

The first step is to communicate the indicators chosen and the objectives to be reached, as they will set the direction and pace of the actions to be taken. The setting of objectives is also crucial because it allows everyone to know what is expected of them individually and/or collectively. It gives direction.

It is essential for your employees to be able to consult their indicators at any time and in any location and to analyze them immediately. Monitoring the evolution of the indicators, comparing them with colleagues or peers, measuring progress and knowing how much remains to be done to reach the objective are a must if you want to keep them motivated over time.

Focus on high value-added tasks for greater agility and responsiveness

A simple, well designed, visual dashboard that allows you to edit ready-to-use exports is a key element for success. Avoiding having to go looking for figures and results in different tools, results that are not always consistent, and having to make recalculations is essential if you want to keep employees engaged.

This applies in particular to all the managers in the points of sale and the network managers who must carry out weekly and monthly reports respectively to the Director of the point of sale and the Regional Director. It is also an obvious time saver that allows them to focus on high value-added tasks such as business development and customer satisfaction and simplifies their daily life.
Operational staff in the field need daily updated dashboards that allow them to be more agile and responsive. They need to be able to immediately identify where they are not on target and how they compare with their colleagues or other sales outlets in order to take corrective actions as quickly as possible. Gone are the days where losses or failures were simply recorded in the rear-view mirror.

The right information, to the right person, at the right time

Now that the indicators and objectives have been set, how can we animate the points of sale and the network managers on a daily basis and help them achieve these objectives?

These are very operational people who are often in contact with customers – the sales and service outlets – or people who are constantly on the move – the network managers. It is therefore essential to send them only useful and relevant content to achieve their respective objectives and that they can easily find it at any time with the help of a well-organized and intuitive document base and a high-performance multi-criteria search engine.
The communication strategy and the tool(s) selected are decisive. In order not to drown the network and the network leaders under a mountain of messages, notes and other documents, it is necessary, before any sending, to make sure of their value for the recipient concerned. Top-down information (from headquarters/central to the network and network facilitators) cannot, over time, ensure engagement.

Network members and network facilitators must be able to exchange and share information with their peers, and report back to their network facilitators or to headquarters. Communication can no longer be one-way if we want to engage the network and its facilitators. This is where the implementation of communities takes on its full meaning.

Capitalize on the power of communities

Bringing together people who share the same issues and therefore the same indicators and objectives within the same community contributes significantly to performance.

This encourages the exchange of best practices around themes that are relevant to everyone in the community and avoids sending and sharing content that is only useful to some of the recipients. The community members have a space where they can ask their questions and exchange on subjects that will allow them to progress in a very concrete way.

Microlearning: a complement to traditional training

To support the strategy based on indicators and communication, it is important to complement it with training.

For networks and network leaders, as we are dealing with people who are mobile, highly operational or in contact with the customer, it is appropriate to adapt the format of these courses. Opting for micro-learning (which complements intensive half-day or full-day training) is a very good approach. The micro-learning, which format should not exceed 10 minutes, can be done at any time and on any device, between 2 customer meetings or during a break, and should be able to be stopped and resumed if needed, the business and the customers remaining of course the priority.

This allows for a continuous and ” effortless ” increase in skills, especially if fun formats are adopted. A very important point for the sales outlet managers: their employees do not need to leave their workplace to carry out these training sessions and are therefore always available to welcome and take care of the customers. These short formats, more accessible, allow them to focus on very operational subjects that can be used immediately to progress and reach their objectives.

Gamification to create emulation within the network

Finally, in order to guarantee engagement over time and encourage emulation between members of a community, the implementation of challenges seems to be perfectly appropriate for populations such as automotive networks and network managers who often have a competitive spirit.

These challenges must be directly linked to the achievement of objectives and must be regularly renewed and diversified in order not to bore the competitors. Network animation is a real performance booster and supports the daily work carried out by the network managers.

By combining the use of the different levers mentioned above: indicators, communities, content, training and challenges, we can then take on board all types of points of sale or services and address all the problems in a targeted way according to the profile of the point of sale and its level of achievement of objectives. No one is left by the wayside.

AI to automate and create continuous animation

Using artificial intelligence to animate networks also seems to be an important lever, as it saves time and helps achieve objectives more quickly, both for the sales outlets and for the network managers.

Indeed, an artificial intelligence engine capable of pushing content recommendations to an under-performing point of sale avoids the need for network managers to do so and allows them to focus on implementing actions rather than sending emails. Similarly, for network managers, an artificial intelligence engine that can push recommendations for actions to improve the performance of the points of sale in their area (launching a challenge, putting a micro-learning program online, ….) is a valuable tool for achieving objectives.

This is especially true in a context where manufacturers are constantly seeking to reduce distribution costs and are therefore tempted to reduce the number of network coordinators. Anything that can reduce the network manager’s workload is welcome, as he often has many points of sale to visit and many brands to manage. As a result, his visits to the points of sale are becoming more limited and artificial intelligence can help him ensure a continuous animation between two visits of the animator.
In order to have an efficient network, manufacturers must become more agile. They need to constantly rethink their network management and the tools they use, to take into account the major changes the Covid 19 pandemic has accelerated and clearly highlighted.

Employees want a better balance between their work and free time. They are increasingly prioritizing their family, friends and leisure time. This is why any kind of animation that gives meaning to the objectives set and increases efficiency has become essential to mobilize and lead the networks towards greater performance.

Read also: Three keys to Successfully Drive Sales Network Performance