New Zealand’s Icebreaker mobilises global sales

New Zealand’s pioneering merino wool apparel brand Icebreaker is shaking up the fiercely competitive world of outdoor apparel, equipping its global field sales team with an innovative laptop and iPad based solution called aWorkbook for assortment planning and selling. 

More than 80 of Icebreaker’s account managers and some distributors are using the system across 12 of the 43 countries Icebreaker is sold in to drive their assortment selling.  The project rolled out in just 4-5 weeks in early 2012.

aWorkbook, from UK based Hark Solutions, is a cross platform sales enablement tool designed for the apparel and footwear industries.  Using aWorkbook, sales representatives can plan an assortment for their customers, working interactively with a pool of data of the entire product line, to create a dynamic digital catalogue assortment for a customer. 

Sarah Sherriff, strategic projects director for Icebreaker said, “The sales team was looking for tools to help them sell more effectively and to improve their efficiency.  We knew assortment selling would build the relationship with our customers and that over several seasons it would have a positive impact on sales.  We had ventured into assortment selling, which for us was about making a better commercial presentation to our customers, rather than the old school way of selling.

“We were labouring away with PowerPoint slides of our products and it worked but it wasn’t at all dynamic and if you got feedback from the customer it wasn't easy to go back and change what you had done.  It took our account managers hours to do this for each sell-in presentation. It was a major time sink at certain critical points in the year.  

“We thought there must be a better way.  We looked at several options, some costing significantly more - from NZD 400,000 to NZD 4 million over three years.  The numbers were pretty ridiculous.  We thought there must be an app in the app store that does this, and we were so pleased to find aWorkbook.

“We didn’t want any barriers to adoption.  One of the benefits of aWorkbook was we could very quickly get some wins on the board for the sales team while we are installing both an ERP and a PLM system elsewhere in the business, which are consuming IT/IS resources but have little to no direct benefit for the sales team. With aWorkbook the sales team is more efficient in preparing for their meetings.

“Due to the other systems under development, we just couldn’t put in something that needed integration.  The aWorkbook rollout was about getting quick wins for the account managers versus doing nothing.  We found with aWorkbook the solution was relatively low cost, low impact for deployment, yet able to generate substantial quick wins across the business.  aWorkbook really suited Icebreaker’s philosophy of the rapid prototyping model.  We were very quickly able to get success with a small group and extend it.

Project status
Icebreaker has rolled out aWorkbook across its entire product line of over 900 products style colours, using it in each market worldwide.  The project was rolled out in 4-5 weeks, using the equivalent of just one full time project manager for five weeks.

“Working with Hark Solutions we were able to easily get our data into the system using XML and familiar business software like Excel.

“We’re using aWorkbook across 12 of the 43 countries Icebreaker is sold in.  Implementation was very straight forward.  Usually we have 500-1000 style colours per season and we’re now onto our second season with aWorkbook.  One of our distributors wanted it too so we have opened it up for them too.

“We’ve broken down our range into separate catalogues, creating one aWorkbook catalogue for each market due to varying pricing structures, imagery and brand promises from market to market.  In some markets it’s more relevant to show certain attributes.  aWorkbook lets us do that so we can slice and dice our assortment for each market.  For example some markets are more interested in showing silhouette, colour or perhaps price point ranges.  aWorkbook gives us the flexibility to approach it for each market.

“We went from project green light to deployment in the field within 4-5 weeks. We had this goal but we didn’t think we’d be able to do it.  Some of the time was just tidying up our data, we could have deployed it in just two weeks otherwise.  We dealt with Hark Solutions using Skype and email.  We’ve never met face to face.  We’ve worked in multiple time zones and Hark has been one of the best vendors we’ve ever worked with.  They’ve been brilliant.”

“We decided to go with one market at a time, and started with Australia first, and then rolled it out to the US, Canada and Europe.  We shared success from market to market and just followed their sales meetings and seasons.  We got success with a small group and extended it.  We didn’t have to launch it all at once.

The solution
“Running on iPads and laptops and desktops, aWorkbook digital catalogues are populated with the product specifications and photography for the entire product range.  The data structure gives us the ability to filter on product attributes likegender, product hierarchy (layering), consumer activity (run, hike, snow), inventory promise (replenishment style etc), colours and so on.   

“We also have campaign assets such as product photography, key looks, seasonal photography and videos, technical sales sheets and other reference materials for the sales reps.  Now we can break up our entire range for a customer and plan an assortment say just for outdoor, or just for running and plan what we want a store to take.

“We’re using it as soon as we can get 2D line drawings and information before we even think about the customer.  So it really starts during the prototyping phase, letting the markets select what is right for their market.

“Before aWorkbook all of this was in a bunch of different places.  Now its all in one hub. -- aWorkbook is the one stop shop to hold everything the sales team needs.  We’d like to expand further into product displays in store, for example which fixtures are required for different products.

“We're creating the rules in the business, not the tool.  aWorkbook is surprisingly powerful yet easy to use, even for the technophobes.  About 15-20 per cent of our users are on iPads, while most are using the app on laptops.  Back in the office, it also runs on desktop computers.  This cross platform functionality was really important to us and a major reason why we went with aWorkbook.

Use in the field
“Using aWorkbook, our account managers can go to a customer, such as a ski store, and we can just show the customer the physical apparel assortment relevant to them along with the accompanying PDF rather than flipping through the whole catalog. 

“The account managers love it because it saves them loads of time, and makes them look good.  It helps them focus on the thought process for each customer, rather than wasting time on formatting.  It makes them more efficient and helps them respond to the customer during a range showing.  We were able to train the account managers in just 30 minutes.

“One of our sales representatives said it was a million times better than PowerPoint.  I think they’re pleasantly surprised with aWorkbook we’ve quickly achieved something very cool looking, intuitive and yet incredibly powerful and flexible. 

“Account managers can use aWorkbook to generate a PDF of their assortment which can be emailed off to the customer, right from the app.  In the past we just had printouts from Powerpoint with a bunch of scribbles.  aWorkbook has changed all that.

“Not only that, but we can show more information to the customer than with a printed catalogue.  For example before we might just have one product photo in a printed catalogue.  In aWorkbook we can have a lot more, showing details of the product graphics or fabric contrasts.  Sometimes the physical product sample on hand is not final, so we can show the customer the final item in the aWorkbook solution.  It doesn’t replace selling, just gives us a few more assets along the way to the sale.

“For us one of the biggest shifts has been to use aWorkbook in Europe to sell using the assortment selling philosophy.  It’s a new concept for our team and that’s the biggest win for us.  It’s helping us sell in new ways and appear more professional, in a market where we’re just getting recognised.  aWorkbook helps us stand out from the crowd.

Future plans
“Different markets globally are at different stages of adoption of B2B tools so we wanted to start with some easy wins and build from there, so we started with the assortment planning functionality.

“Next season we’ll be using the order functionality more, where sales reps can place an email order from aWorkbook during their customer meeting, using the solution as a sell in tool for order capture,” said Sarah Sherriff.