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Q&A: Business Analytics Supports Sales Consultants

As a rapidly growing young company, Rodan + Fields chose a BI analytics software solution early in 2012 that is facilitating that growth.

In 2007, Rodan + Fields was a leading clinical skincare brand in high-end department stores. The company has since withdrawn from department stores and launched a program that uses independent business owners in a direct sales model. Sales volumes now far exceed what department stores were able to achieve, according to the company.

Direct sales brings its own challenges -- the rapidly growing company must support its in-the-field sales consultants with good data. That means information that can help consultants know what is selling well, and why -- along with data to help the company itself determine what factors are influencing the performance of its independent salespeople.

Earlier this year, Rodan + Fields Dermatologists considered a number of analytics applications and chose Birst Inc.'s business analytics software to help it achieve its goals. Birst stresses a quick-to-deploy and easy-to-use model, making it an understandable choice for the skincare company, which has limited IT staff.

Birst's data warehouse automation capabilities, for example, will allow the organization to save significant time and resources out of the gate on the design and maintenance of a data warehouse -- traditionally a significant undertaking for any company.

Birst is "making it possible for us to quickly access the critical information we need to make business decisions that support our consultants and the success of their businesses," according to Lori Bush, president and general manager of Rodan + Fields.

In this interview, Bush describes what led to the choice of Birst, the agile development process it is enabling, and what the company is doing -- and hopes to do -- with the solution.

BI This Week: What business problem or problems were you addressing with this project?

Lori Bush: Our business outcomes are highly dependent on the success of our independent sales consultants. They need to both build a customer base and recruit new direct sellers to join them in the business. For that reason, understanding how our compensation plan and motivational programs affect consultant performance is key to continuing the rapid growth we've experienced in these early years of our company.

What about Birst makes it a good fit for your issues?

Two key things: Implementation and usability. We initially licensed other mid-market software, but with our limited technical team, the resource requirements to set it up proved to be too onerous. Although Birst did not yet have the market presence of the other supplier we considered, we felt the potential return on investment was there, and moved forward without looking back.

You selected the product just six months ago; how are you using it now, and how will you be using it after you've had more time?

We're already using the product as a management dashboard for business trends and texture. We believe the real wins will come as we integrate metrics from our various Web, mobile, and social tools to identify the relationships between consultant behavior and business outcomes.

What data warehouses, data stores, or other data sources will it access?

We currently integrate information into Birst from many different sources, and plan to add more as we continue to build out services and data offerings to our business users. These sources range from Transactional Ecommerce Databases based in Microsoft SQL and in MySQL, to spreadsheets that maintain small regional and list data that we lay over other information to provide both a global and local view of our business.

How will the development process be "agile"?

Our BI team meets either weekly or bi-weekly with the main business users from various departments to plan additional data integrations and to address reporting needs, as well as review progress made since the prior meeting. Thanks to the flexibility of the Birst product, many of these sessions are interactive -- the subject matter experts and the BI team can quickly and easily modify existing reports and dashboards or even create new ones with minimum effort.

Who will use the product? How much training do you anticipate?

We currently have basic and advanced users as well as BI developers accessing and working within Birst. Basic users have access to interactive dashboards and reports, based on business group security, that have data filtering and mining capabilities. Users can easily filter and drill through to the information they need to make timely and strategic business decisions.

Our basic business users receive a one-hour introductory training session on the tool, then they are up and running. Our advanced business users have the ability to create simple reports through a drag-and-drop interface. These users receive an additional two-hour training session that teaches them the data model and basic functionality of how to write and access these reports.

The members of our BI team who are the core development and maintenance team go to a one-week "boot camp" training class given by Birst. There they receive one-on-one mentoring for [creating] pixel-perfect reports, complicated calculations, data integrations, and data modeling within the tool.

What else would you like to do with business analytics?

We're investing in customer loyalty programs. We expect to use Birst to help us better target and retain those customers that provide the greatest value to our independent consultants.

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