Sysco LABS

Sysco LABS leverages customer behavior insights to help field reps transition customers to self-service


Equipped sales reps with visualizations that helped drive a 46% gain in customer-placed orders

Derived insights faster from customer analytics to drive better account management and customer self-service

Launched field training on using the new dashboards as part of overall dashboard deployment

Global food service supplier Sysco operates 326 distribution facilities worldwide and serves more than 600,000 customer locations. The company's modernization efforts in recent years have focused on innovations in e-commerce that enable customers to self-serve their inventory needs in lieu of relying on assistance from a sales representative. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that evolution was put to the test, as Sysco relied on self-service methods to help its customers stay in business, while also protecting against its own losses.

Introducing data-driven ways to help customers help themselves

The journey to this success started in 2019, when Sysco LABS, a tech subsidiary within the company, rolled out the Sysco e-commerce app, called Sysco Shop, and formed a product analytics team to better understand customer orders placed across the mishmash of tracking systems being used for sales accounting. Based on this data, they began using Tableau to visualize order activity more clearly and in greater detail, and to enable insights for the sales and sales leadership teams.

We stood up a sales-facing dashboard showing all orders placed by customers and internal associates,” said Megan Oertel, director of product analytics at Sysco LABS. “This helped us promote the self-service model, because we could see by account or by geographic area where our e-commerce platform was being used, which customers were engaging with it, and where they needed help from the reps.”

The sales-facing dashboard helped us promote the self-service model. We could see by account or geographic area where our e-commerce platform was being used, which customers were engaging with it, and where they needed help from the reps.

Enabling self-service for customers provided several key advantages to Oertel's team and to the Sysco business overall. Sales associates now spend less time keying in customer orders and more time on value-driven activities. Shop incorporates cross-sell and upsell opportunities into the shopper's experience, rather than relying on sales associates to initiate those discussions. Most importantly for Oertel's team, having customers do the shopping for themselves makes it possible to track their behavior. 

“If they don't shop, we can't tailor our offerings to what they need,” Oertel said. “We need the data. If the shopper is in there clicking around, only then can we surface items directly to them, give them targeted promotions, and change the flow of their experience to make it more personalized and intuitive.” 

To promote better intelligence about customer needs, Oertel's team set up event tagging in Sysco Shop to capture and analyze business data, such as what customers search for and how those searches relate to what they end up ordering. This data is then streamed into other visualizations using Tableau, offering insights into customer behavior, improving the customer experience, and enabling Sysco sales reps to take meaningful, timely action. For example, insights into how many customers went directly to their saved lists without searching or browsing for additional items informed successful new campaigns and UI enhancements, such as product suggestions, email reminders, and enabling hover-over in the UI for getting more information about a product.

Currently, Oertel's team stores all Sysco Shop data in an Amazon Web Services (AWS) S3 and Amazon Redshift cloud solution. Tableau connects easily to AWS and to sales personnel data stored in Microsoft Active Directory and Salesforce B2B Commerce Cloud to enable personalized experiences for all sales associates, enabling them to readily visualize and investigate data that is specific to their accounts.

Gaining adoption with an ace deployment team

The Sysco LABS Deployment and Demo Center delivered trainings, webinars, and recorded guidance to get field reps familiar with the dashboards so they could help customers shift more easily to self-service shopping and ordering as needed. This team works closely with Oertel's analytics team to drive Tableau and Sysco Shop adoption across the Sysco enterprise. Six Sysco delivery managers (SDMs) on the deployment team engage with more than 1,000 sales associates and support personnel at 12-14 locations in each of the six sales territories, providing resources and support in the form of:

  • Ongoing education sessions and in-person trainings, such as presentations at general sales meetings.
  • Awareness of upcoming Sysco Shop application enhancements and their operational implications.
  • Proactive email, phone, and training campaigns to provide support and foster a sense of community.
  • Webinars and demonstrations, including many that evangelized the Tableau dashboards when they were first rolled out.
  • Understanding the advantages of Sysco Shop over the old ways of looking at data that many sales associates preferred.

We're using the strengths of Tableau to help non-technical users easily ask questions from the data directly, instead of having to submit a request with our team.

These efforts were complemented by thoughtful metrics the deployment team derived for keeping adoption on track, particularly with their own personnel. “Our SDMs have their compensation directly tied to the success of our technology platforms,” said Amir Mahboobi, senior director of deployment at Sysco LABS. “We track KPIs related to adoption and usage of the platform by customers, which in turn, enables our sales reps to spend more time with our customers, creating value for them.  We also track softer factors, such as the gain in competencies each sales associate achieves over time with the SDM’s help.”

Oertel emphatically endorses this approach. “As we learned from following Tableau Blueprint, changing the culture is an essential component of rolling out any transformational solution like this one,” she said. “And even though product analytics is just a small part of Sysco overall, we've made a big impact, and we wouldn't have been successful without the efforts of Amir and his team.”

For companies looking to build their deployment and adoption competency around Tableau-based e-commerce analytics solutions, Mahboobi offers the following advice:

  • Define clear deployment and adoption metrics and track them across sales, sales leadership, operations, and support.
  • Provide a steady rhythm of ongoing communications that keep all users apprised of the latest Tableau dashboards, including success stories of how they have been beneficial in real situations.
  • Tailor all adoption and support assets to the audiences they serve. In the case of Mahboobi's team, this included regularly offering videos that were kept to 2-3 minutes each to maximize seller engagement.

Success is in the numbers

Widespread adoption of Sysco Shop was successful, and the business results have been significant. As of early May 2021, over 70% of orders in the e-commerce ordering platform were placed directly by customers instead of by sales consultants or support representatives, representing a 46% gain in customer-placed orders within one month after US-wide deployment. The analytics team also sent weekly emails to more than 7,000 personnel promoting the e-commerce data.

Beyond enabling customer self-service, Oertel's team is committed to helping business units across Sysco with getting their own access to insights in real time through Sysco LABS dashboards. “Our goal is to keep our analytics function lean and focused on ever better ways of making insights available from data,” she said. “To make that possible, we're using the strengths of Tableau to help non-technical users easily ask questions from the data directly, instead of having to submit a request with our team.”

Our digital transformation has focused on analytics that ultimately produce a better experience for our customers. By empowering our sellers with e-commerce customer behavior insights from Tableau, they can make sure all of their accounts are aware and knowledgeable about shopping and ordering on our site.