In everyday speech, it's common for many of us to use terms that are similar – but not actually synonyms for one another – as if they're interchangeable. Sometimes this is a misunderstanding, and other times it's people who use certain words as shorthand with colleagues and friends.
But when this sort of thing gets in the way of understanding a critical concept, it's time to nip it in the bud. For example, the terms "route optimization" and "route planning" might sound more or less similar, but they're quite different. And the former will be far more valuable than the latter to your sales and service teams. Let's take a look:
How is route optimization different from route planning?
There are two answers to this question – one literal, the other more related to the changing business environment.
Let's start with the first. Route planning is the act of plotting a route on a map with a starting and ending point. If applicable, this can also include notes of any stops that have to be made along the way.
By contrast, route optimization means not only creating a route but also working to make it efficient. The goal is to reach as many stops (and attend to as many clients) as possible while reducing drive time. Because the goal is also to provide quality service at each stop, you can't focus entirely on drive time, especially in sales or on service calls. Some customers will need longer meetings than others.
The other main difference between route planning and route optimization is modernity. Basically, planning is old-fashioned, suited to the traveling-salesman era of decades past. Route optimization, on the other hand, is essential to any modern organization. It's the way of the future.
Who benefits the most from route optimization?
This is another question with a short answer and a longer one. The short and simple answer is "any company or organization with teams that spend any significant amount of time on the road." And that's certainly true, but there's a little more to it:
- Outside sales teams whose reps must cover territories with a large number of customers in a densely populated but limited geographical area — e.g. in or around any major city in the U.S. — benefit from optimization. These teams aren't covering long distances, but with some many potential routes, it's difficult to choose the most efficient one. This can lead to doubling back, crossing over, and generally slowing down the process.
- Organizations providing logistics or delivery services need to make the daily routes of their drivers as efficient as possible. Especially in companies that guarantee shipping within a specific timeframe. Delivery problems are among the most common customer service complaints, so minimizing them is always a good idea.
- Service technicians must thread a similar needle. Customers who need their hot water heater looked at or their internet service restored (to name just a few potential businesses) want someone to get there as soon as possible. But on arrival, they also want technicians to spend as much time as necessary to address the problem.
There are many more situations where route optimization can help your business. If your company has a sales, service, delivery or other road team, you can apply route optimization.
Mastering route optimization with eSpatial
It's possible to calculate optimized routes with consumer mapping tools, but it's more difficult and time consuming. You need a versatile and leading-edge data visualization and mapping solution like eSpatial that can handle these tasks in seconds.
Key features of the software that make it ideal for your route optimization needs include:
- Automation: The eSpatial platform automatically optimizes routes based on parameters you define, freeing you from the burden of calculating drive times.
- Data uploading: With eSpatial, you can upload data about each point on your map. Or, if you use Salesforce, pull data straight from your CRM. This means that your sales or service reps can have detailed customer information for each stop, including customer names, addresses, phone numbers, key client contacts and more.
- Add multiple stops: Routes optimized in eSpatial can include up to 100 stops. You can easily add or remove stops when plans change.
- Scheduling: Program start and end times into each stop on your route to give drivers ideal benchmarks. (These can also be edited on the go.)
- CRM integration: You can map data straight from your CRM and use it to create your routes. This helps keep your data aligned across the business.
- Sharing features: Optimized route maps can be shared via publicly accessible links, in private groups or one-on-one, depending on your needs.