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IIBMS – E-Commerce Supports Field Employees at  Maybelline

Case – 2 E-commerce Supports Field Employees At Maybelline

IIBMS – E-Commerce Supports Field Employees at  Maybelline

The Business Problem

Maybelline is a leader in color cosmetics products (eye shadow, mascara, etc.), selling them in more than 70 countries worldwide ( The company uses hundreds of salespeople (field merchandising representatives, or “reps”), who visit drugstores, discount stores, supermarkets, and cosmetics specialty stores, in an attempt to close deals. This method of selling has proved to be fairly effective, and it is used by hundreds of other manufacturers such as Kodak, Nabisco, and Procter & Gamble. Sales managers from any company need to know, as quickly as possible, when a deal is closed or if there is any problem with the customer.

Information technology has been used extensively to support sales reps and their managers. Until 2000, Maybelline, as well as many other large consumer product manufacturers, equipped reps with an interactive voice response (VR) system, by means of which they were to enter, every evening, information about their daily activities. This solution required that the reps collect data with paper-based surveys completed for every store they visited each day. For example, the reps noted how each product was displayed, how much stock was available, how items were promoted, etc. In addition to the company’s products the reps surveyed the competitors’ products as well. In the evening, the reps translated the data collected into answers to the voice response system which asked them routine questions. The reps answered by pressing the appropriate telephone keys.

The IVR system was not the perfect way to transmit sales data. For one thing, the IVR system consolidated information, delivering it to top management as a hard copy. However, unfortunately, these reports sometimes reached top management days or weeks too late, missing important changes in trends and the opportunities to act on them in time. Frequently, the reps themselves were late in reporting, thus further delaying the needed information.

Even if the reps did report on time, information was inflexible, since all reports were menu-driven. With the voice system the reps answered only the specific questions that applied to a situation. To do so, they had to wade through over 50 questions, skipping the irrelevant ones. This was a waste of time. In addition, some of the material that needed to be reported had no matching menu questions. Considering a success in the 1990s, the system was unable to meet the needs of the twenty-first century. It was cumbersome to set up and operate and was also prone to input errors.

The Mobile Solution

Maybelline replaced the IVR by equipping its reps with a mobile system, called Merchandising Sales Portfolio (MSP), from Thinque Corp. (, now part of It runs on handheld, pen-based PDAs, which have hand-writing recognition capability (from NEC), powered by Microsoft’s CE operating system. The system enables reps to enter their information by hand-writing their reports directly at the clients’ sites. From the handheld device, data can be uploaded to a Microsoft SQL Server database at headquarters every evening. A secured Internet connection links to the corporate intranet (a synchronization process). The new system also enables district managers to electronically send daily schedules and other important information to each rep.

The system also replaced some of the functions of the EDI (electronic data interchange) system, the pride of the 1990s. For example, the reps’ report include inventory-scanned data from retail stores. These are processed quickly by an order management system, and passed whenever needed to the shipping department for inventory replenishment.

In addition to routine information, the new system is used for decision support. It is not enough to speed information along the supply chain; managers need to know the reasons why certain products are selling well, or not so well, in every location. They need to know what the conditions are at retail stores affecting the sales of each product, and they need to know it in a timely manner. The new system offers those capabilities.

The Results

The system provided managers at Maybelline headquarters with an interactive link with the mobile field force. Corporate planners and decision makers can now respond much more quickly to situations that need attention. The solution is helping the company forge stronger ties with its retailers, and it considerably reduces the amount of after-hours time that the reps spend on data transfer to headquarters (from 30-50 minutes per day to seconds).

The new system also performs market analysis that enables managers to optimize merchandising and customer service efforts. It also enables Maybelline to use a more sophisticated interactive voice response unit—to capture data for special situations. Moreover, it provides browser-based reporting tools that enable managers, regardless of where they are, to view retail information within hours of its capture. Using the error-checking and validation feature in the MSP system, reps make significantly fewer data entry errors.

Finally, the quality of life of Maybelline reps has been greatly improved. Not only do they save 30 to 40 minutes per day, buy also their stress level has been significantly reduced. As a result, employee turnover has declined appreciably, saving money for the company.


1. IVR systems are still popular. What advantages do they have over even older systems in which the reps mailed or faxed reports?
2. Summarize the advantages of the new system over the IVR one.
3. Draw the flow of information in the system.
4. The existing technology enables transmission of data any time an employee can access the Internet with a wireline. Technically, the system can be enhanced so that the data can be sent wirelessly from any location as soon as they are entered. Would you recommend a wireless system to Maybelline? Why or why not?

IIBMS – E-Commerce Supports Field Employees at  Maybelline

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