Upat SA signed up with Skynamo the week before South Africa went into lockdown – and found it made an enormous difference, both during the hard lockdown, and beyond.
If you want fasteners, Upat SA is where you go. The company has the sole import rights to the Fischer, Stabila, Milwaukee, AEG, Spitznas, and Eibenstock ranges among others, and supplies four separate markets: direct sales to customers, indirect sales through hardware stores, resales through specialised resale stores or wholesalers, and they also supply the mining industry directly. It’s a full service to the construction industry – from DIY right through to large construction.
Nationally, including managers, their sales team is just over 40 members strong, says Charl Weber, National Product Specialist at Upat. And they’re spread out across the country at the company’s branches in Pretoria, Joburg, Nelspruit, Durban, Port Elizabeth, and Cape Town, as well as satellites in George and Bloemfontein.
Charl says he’s been aware of Skynamo since it was known as Honeybee, and has used it at previous companies, but Upat has only been using it since a week before lockdown began.
“We’ve had a look at numerous different systems, and we were working in a similar way to Skynamo, but on Syspro. The only difference is that our quoting system was online. But you had to be office-based to be able to do it. And our core reporting was on paper. It was very difficult to sieve the data. So reps always had to come into the office to do quotes and go back out. It was a nightmare. With Skynamo, we were able to join it all up.”
With any change process you can expect resistance, and Charl says the resistance was huge at first. “It probably took us nine months for everyone to settle down,” he says. “We have staff who’ve been with the company for many years, and always done things the same way. “So it took some negotiation, but we did it slowly, branch by branch and group by group. And once they saw the benefit – that it’s not a policing system – most of them embraced it wholeheartedly.”
Charl says the reps found it easy to use once they understood that Skynamo and Syspro were two different systems and what you did on Skynamo didn’t go to Syspro, and vice versa. “But as always the guys who do the big turnover and the big sales caught on quickly and they were flying fast,” he says.
From a management perspective, Charl says it’s helped the managers to see what’s happening at branch level, especially in Johannesburg. “We’ve been able to see that what we get achieved in Joburg is not necessarily possible in Cape Town, but what can be achieved in Cape Town is not possible in Joburg,” he explains. “To give you an idea, in Pretoria we can see 12 to 15 customers a day, and in Joburg, we’re lucky to do six – just because of traffic.”
For the reps, something that’s made their lives easier, he says, is the ability to pre-plan. “Once they’ve seen a customer, they can plan their next appointment and put it into the calendars so that they don’t forget stuff. Also, at the end of the day, they receive a report saying what was invoiced compared to what was ordered, so they can see what’s out of stock and what’s in stock. We also recently added the ability to see what stock has been ordered from overseas. So they can see immediately if something is out of stock, and when it will be arriving.
“That means, especially on our direct selling side, that you can negotiate with the customer and say, listen, I don’t have that item, but I can offer you this item. And you can still get the sale. In retail, it’s not so easy. But on our direct sales, that helps.
“Branches can also see what other branches are doing. So let’s say the guys in Joburg are using certain equipment, and the guys in Durban say they don’t want or don’t like that equipment. We can show them that Joburg is using it very successfully. It’s a very good information-sharing tool.”
Charl says all of the company’s catalogues and brochures are loaded onto Skynamo, which gives reps all the product information they need, literally in the palm of their hands.
"“That means the reps have the time to do a lot of new calls on new customers. It also gives them more time to spend with customers...”"
And he says Skynamo helped them immensely during the lockdown period, because they were able to stay in contact with customers and get things done a lot faster. It also meant a big increase in online sales, because whatever the reps were loading on the system, the marketing team could punt directly to specific industries. “I don’t know what we would have done in lockdown if we didn’t have Skynamo. We were fortunate to make this decision at exactly the right time,” he says.
Deliveries have also sped up, he adds. “Or let me put it this way: the problems with deliveries are identified faster. Now we can very quickly get into contact with the customer and tell them there’s a delivery problem. We also do power tool repairs, so we can very quickly inform a customer about what’s going on with their power tool repair: when’s it going to be delivered, and how long it’s going to take.”
Communication, too, happens faster now. “In the past, we would need to get everybody together to discuss ideas or launch a system. Now, once we’ve decided to do something, within 10 minutes we can have it up and running, and we can inform everybody and get feedback within that day.”
Daily admin has been reduced too. “We recently checked,” he says. “Our busiest person spends half an hour on the system a day, whereas before, they spent three to four hours a day on admin. Plus there’s the time they used to spend on the phone, phoning in their orders and following up.
“That means the reps have the time to do a lot of new calls on new customers. It also gives them more time to spend with customers, and makes customers feel like we’re not just rushing through those visits to get the sales before we move on to the next person. So visits are up at least 20%.”
Charl says what they have also noticed is that in the past, reps used to call on the same customer every week, but now they can be more strategic about things. So they call on bigger customers once every three weeks, and smaller customers once every six weeks. And since the marketing team has access to Skynamo, in the background, in between visits, they can talk to those customers and send them newsletters and brochures, and continue to keep them engaged.
One of the app’s most popular features, says Charl, is the mapping. “We are able to look at an area and see how many retail stores are in it, and see how many of them we supply. So we can very quickly see the markets for the volume of people in the area where we actually need to be focusing, and pick up if we’re not getting the turnover we should be getting there for the volume of people. It’s enabled us to be much more strategic.”