SKILLMAN, N.J. -- Consumer Products Inc. here is equipping its salespeople with a software tool that enables them to perform detailed category analyses with a few mouse clicks.
"Our people are calling it 'Cat-Man in a Can,' " said Randy Scott, manager of sales technology at CPI, a Johnson & Johnson company that markets baby care, first-aid and skin care products. The nickname refers to the software's automated category management capabilities.
The software system's rollout to the full sales force for CPI's baby care and first-aid businesses began in May, following two months of beta testing with a few qualified salespeople, said Joe Kossow, category manager for the first-aid category.
"This tool helps both retailer and manufacturer to look at the category the way the consumer sees it," said Kossow.
"There are far more accounts embracing category management than we would have resources internally available to meet. This software automates the task for CPI's field managers throughout the country whose accounts might not automatically qualify for custom analysis," he said.
"For some extremely large retailers we can still do custom analyses," Scott added. "But there is a large group of accounts in the middle that want category management help." The software -- technically a series of graphical "templates" into which a personal computer can pour Nielsen data and other information -- was customized for CPI by Interactive Edge, a multimedia design and production firm in New York.
Zel Bianco, president of Interactive Edge, said the system is a version of its CMS-Pro product, a "data/presentation software engine" that his company began marketing to consumer products companies earlier this year.
Despite its internal nickname at CPI, the software does not just produce "a series of canned Nielsen reports," said Kossow. "It is an expert system," he added, explaining that field reps could use the tool interactively to develop sales presentations that match up with each account's ability to use information.
"The premise is to try to remove the tasks of data extraction and calculations from the hands of our sales folks," Scott said. "We'd rather let them spend the bulk of their time looking at what comes out, drawing conclusions and observations, so they can use it to educate their customers about what is going on."
"This tool crunches the numbers. Our account managers have to look at it and think. It helps them become better business managers, not data-pullers," Kossow concurred.
The software imports Nielsen scanner and panel data and overlays account information by category and market to create a series of up to 70 user-configurable charts. It allows account-to-account share comparison, all-commodity-volume gap analysis, sales history and a robust variety and contribution analysis, among many other features.
"We push close to 20,000 numbers into this template. Then we might use 1,000 numbers to derive two or three key pieces of information," said Scott.
The whole system is designed in the familiar Windows format, so that chart parameters can be selected with a few clicks of the mouse. While a few computer-savvy field people can learn it intuitively, all require some training.
"We are now training CPI's sales force on this application. The objective is to teach them to understand the analyses. How does it work, and what do the results mean?" Scott said.
Almost one third of CPI's sales force had not yet undergone the training process by press time. However, early trials with retailers have already yielded tangible benefits, Kossow said.
"At one New England food account where we didn't have captaincy status, we made a presentation using this tool. After the presentation, the account quickly conferred captaincy for baby and first aid," he said.
In another instance with a major chain drug account, the tool helped CPI recommend and reset certain aspects of category pricing for first aid, he added.