Today's field sales teams, fleet managers and delivery drivers have plenty of technological options at their fingertips. From digital calendars and schedules to GPS-based navigation apps that provide turn-by-turn directions, it seems like the modern road warrior has everything they need.
Route optimization software should be a key weapon in the arsenal of any member of your organization who travels on a regular basis. But not all tools that bill themselves as route optimization solutions are created equal.
Failing to find the best routing software for your particular needs can seriously undermine the productivity of your team, which will negatively affect your organization's bottom line. Here, we'll take a closer look at the common shortcomings of ineffective mapping and routing apps and also emphasize the key features that must be a part of your team's route optimization software platform.
Frequent pain points: What you don't want in a route optimization solution
Some of the problems we're going to examine here are fairly obvious, while others might not come so readily to mind. However, all of them are capable of throwing a wrench into your planning, making things much more difficult for your on-the-road personnel. These issues include:
- Manual optimization is a no-go: When creating routes for teams of sales reps, service techs and other road personnel (i.e., a great number of people), it isn't helpful to create and optimize routes manually. It takes too much time and doesn't create truly optimized routes. In the end, there's little benefit to this method.
- Consumer-grade apps are not enough: Consumer mapping apps, like Google Maps, are designed to get users from Point A to Point B. Field sales reps and service technicians need more from their routing tools than that basic functionality.
- Scheduling snafus: Field employees must always be mindful of their time so that every customer on their daily docket receives appropriate attention and service. But sometimes meetings or service calls can unexpectedly take more time — or less time – than what was allocated. If your route optimization solution isn't built to let you adjust schedules and routes at a moment's notice, it lacks a critical dimension.
- Unequal workloads: If one fleet driver or sales rep does significantly more driving than others on the team due to poor route optimization, they can burn out quickly and lose motivation. An insufficient mapping and routing application can exacerbate this problem.
- The need for the one right tool: When commercial drivers and salespeople need to use multiple apps to access the data they need, it takes time and effort away from their driving schedule and cuts down the time they can spend on appointments themselves.
- Impacts on customer service: If any aspect of the route optimization tool you use has even the slightest negative impact on customers' perception of your organization's services, that's an unforced error that you can easily eliminate.
Key route optimization features and advantages
The ideal route optimization software solution will give its users the freedom to easily create routes that, simply put, make life easier for field personnel. Features that serve this purpose include:
1. Leveraged customer data
The best route optimization software should enable users to upload customer data so that it is displayed whenever any given stop on the map is looked at. Depending on the needs of individual reps and service personnel, they can add company names, points of contact, addresses, phone numbers and any other relevant data points (e.g., their priority as a lead or existing account). This way, users are always thoroughly prepared for every stop along the route.
2. Multi-stop planning
No matter the length of a given day's or week's route, users should be able to plan dozens of stops without worrying about their mapping software lagging under the weight of that data (or simply not allowing enough stops to be input). eSpatial users can create routes with up to 100 stops, planning their travel itinerary out as far as several weeks or even a month.
3. Automatic optimization
Once a rep or technician finishes adding all the stops to their route, they should be able to “set it and forget it.” With eSpatial, they can, as the software's algorithms quickly create a route that efficiently and effectively reaches all necessary destinations. Drive time, schedules (for reps and customers alike) and other data points are all taken into account.
4. On-the-fly adjustments
eSpatial allows you to add desired start and stop times for each appointment along a route. But in unpredictable businesses, these can't always be perfectly adhered to. Therefore, the solution makes it just as easy for users to change schedules and add or subtract stops whenever necessary.
5. Integration with other apps
Your ideal route optimization tool will be capable of interoperating alongside other navigation apps as needed, to make the day's travel even more efficient. Additionally, integration with CRM software and similar tools is essential, as it helps ensure users can draw on as much data as possible to create optimized routes.
Shareable itineraries and driving routes help keep field personnel and managers (along with other support staff in the office) on the same page. Users can share one-on-one with a co-worker, send their route to a private group or make it publicly accessible.
7. Interactive data styling
The route maps you can craft in eSpatial can offer you far more value than the creation of an optimized route. Interactive data styling tools allow you to visualize your daily, weekly or even monthly itinerary in whatever way you choose by using pins that feature valuable customer data, showing and hiding data sets as needed, filtering customers by priority level and much more.
8. Mobile compatibility
The features of a route optimization solution should be just as accessible on a mobile device as they are on a laptop or desktop. Even setting aside the fact that being on the road necessitates more mobile device use by default, smartphones have become so integral to every professional's life, and field sales and service personnel are no exception.