A Foundation of Innovation and Academic Rigor
ZS Associates is rooted in an academic partnership that began in the early 1970s. In 1973, Andy Zoltners completed a PhD in integer programming algorithms at Carnegie Mellon University, devoting a chapter in his dissertation to sales territory alignment problems. Andy subsequently accepted a teaching position at the University of Massachusetts (UMass).
The following year, Andy crossed paths with PhD student Prabha Sinha, who was exploring the use of higher math in meal planning for the military. The two collaborated on the Multiple Choice Knapsack problem and co-wrote a paper on the topic. Eventually they realized that this line of thinking was highly applicable to the problems of sales force sizing and resource allocation.
Over the next several years, the pair worked with a number of companies, gaining practical experience applying modeling techniques to sales force problems.
In 1982, Andy presented his and Prabha’s mathematical models for sales force sizing and territory alignment to the Pharmaceutical Management Science Association (PMSA), using an early Apple computer to display sales territories on-site. Executives from many of the attending companies were stunned by the model’s ability to quickly solve sales force sizing, sales resource allocation, and territory alignment issues and see solutions visually in real time, with one exclaiming, "I’ve been waiting my whole life for this!"
By 1983, both Andy and Prabha were teaching at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. They lectured by day, and by night they worked on the many client projects that came their way. Already having consulted to eight companies, the two professors concluded that there was an opportunity to help many clients address critical sales force effectiveness issues, and so they incorporated ZS Group, Inc., on September 21, soon renamed ZS Associates, Inc.
Growth Through Focused and Practical Problem Solving
1985 saw ZS double in staff, from 12 to more than two dozen, and the burgeoning consulting firm soon outgrew the standard midnight computer runs to Northwestern’s computer center. Andy and Prabha, realizing the need and opportunity to expand, collateralized an IBM 3481 mainframe computer purchase with their homes. That same year, the firm released the first version of its automated territory design software.
By 1986, ZS had helped eight of the world's 10 largest pharmaceutical companies size their sales forces and align territories in the United States, Canada, or Europe. The two-year-old, 25-person firm had already worked on nearly 100 projects in a dozen countries.
In 1987, ZS was selected by a global corporation to help reorganize, downsize, realign, and redeploy its US sales forces. It was one of ZS’s largest projects to date. However, providing great analytics were simply not enough for this project – the people-oriented aspects of facilitating placement decisions proved to be critical as well. Providing change management processes and supporting tools for the human resources side of sales and marketing became a key element of the firm’s placement work.
Additionally, ZS began working on incentive compensation design and administration, helping clients determine optimal incentive plans for their sales teams as well as publishing performance reports and calculating attainment on an outsourced basis.
In 1990, another international company chose ZS to help develop sales force strategies and deployments for its recently merged sales forces in a dozen key countries. This was the first of many such near-simultaneous, multi-country projects for the firm. The same successful model was repeated through the 1990’s with multiple clients.
Expanding Capabilities to Serve Clients’ Sales and Marketing Needs
In 1993, ZS introduced a new sales force effectiveness and productivity framework. This framework – and future versions – has since been leveraged extensively by the firm to help clients determine their key issues and improve their business performance. The company also began to develop data warehouses for clients, as well as a range of analytical services. These projects were the genesis for ZS's services in client capability building and outsourcing.
In 1997, ZS began to apply its data-handling capabilities and rigorous analytics to the marketing research function. In subsequent years, this new marketing research area grew together with ZS's already established forecasting practice and expanding expertise in broader marketing issues, to take shape as ZS's current marketing services practice area.
In 1998, ZS introduced specialized software, processes, and dedicated teams to focus on the growing opportunity in administering sales force incentive compensation programs, an area the firm had been addressing for some time. In addition to providing outsourced services, our work in this area enabled clients to successfully administer their incentive compensation programs in-house.
In 2002, ZS launched the Marketing Research practice in 2002, which eventually evolved to an even broader Marketing solutions area.
In 2004, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) awarded Andy and Prabha the Marketing Science Practice Prize for outstanding implementation of marketing science concepts and methods, recognizing the sales territory alignment system they had developed and implemented through the work of ZS Associates. Their winning paper, Sales Territory Design: 30 Years of Modeling and Implementation, was subsequently published in the INFORMS journal, Marketing Science.
By 2007, ZS’s headcount had topped 1000 employees. Also in 2007, the firm completed more than 2000 projects – a first for a single year – for almost 300 clients in 28 industries in 38 countries. The projects were in 30 different categories/issues: more diverse than ever.
ZS’s Silver anniversary in 2008 marked 25 years of extraordinary growth:
- From one small office in a college town, the firm grew to 17 offices around the world – nine in North America, five in Europe and three in the Asia / Pacific region.
- Building on ZS’s original MAPS® territory alignment software, today’s Javelin™ Software Suite supports a myriad of sales and marketing needs.
- An early focus on the pharmaceutical industry has expanded to B2B organizations in nearly 30 industries.
- The client issues ZS addresses have evolved from sales force size, structure and alignment to include a full spectrum of sales and marketing issues, providing consulting expertise, client capability building and outsourcing services.
Building on Our Tradition of Growth and Innovation
ZS Associates is imbued with a passion for learning, innovating, and helping companies succeed. We are committed to delivering the best solutions to solve client problems – and developing outstanding people to do it – a hallmark that continues to define the success of ZS today.