Pinaki Nandy, chief sales officer at tiles major Orient Bell Ltd, has traversed FMCG, telecom, and building materials industries in a career spanning 24 years. For Sourcing Hardware’s #SalesLeadershipSeries, he offers insights on how organisations should manage sales teams and channel partners in the digital era.
You have worked in the FMCG, telecom and building materials industries. What are the distinguishable and overlapping sales techniques in these sectors?
I think that the basic tenants of sales remain the same. A salesperson’s core objective is to deliver profitable and sustainable sales growth by driving the breadth and depth of sales. He may achieve these objectives by different means that vary from organisation to organisation. Let me give my example: I have worked in the FMCG sector for nine years, where I burnt my fingers to learn the hard way of distribution. The sector essentially requires increasing the width and breadth of distribution but does not teach a salesperson how to sell. A salesperson’s job ends after distributing products to as many places as possible to make his products visible to consumers. After this process, off-takes are taken care of by the marketing team.
When I moved to the telecom sector, I found that off-takes are not taken care of to the extent of an FMCG marketing team, but depend on a telecom salesperson’s ability to manage the influencers or intermediaries, who can speak on his behalf to consumers. In the telecom sector, I had to learn how to take channel partners into my confidence to ensure they lay their hands on my products for promoting to consumers.
When I switched to the building materials sector, I realised that intermediaries play a crucial role in off-takes of products; it is not that advertising campaigns would start moving products off the shelf. The sector presented more challenges to me, as its intermediaries are just retailers but also contractors who exert influence on the decision-making of architects and government department machinery. So, there is a multi level of influencer management.
At Orient Bell, you are not only dealing with channel partners but also influencers such as architects. What amazes you in this function?
Well, architects are a different set of people; you cannot manage them in the same way as retailers and contractors. I have noticed that many salespersons make mistakes by stressing on their offerings rather understanding requirements of architects. I think that it is important to gain an understanding of the requirements of architects and then try to create a roadmap towards delivering products, thereby getting your products more and more endorsed by them. In my earlier organisation at AkzoNobel, I had applied this understanding in building the business from scratch to a certain level — and I am doing this here. I feel that many organisations try to preach design and aesthetics to architects. I think that architects have mastered these aspects and do not appreciate such pitches. A salesperson should focus on informing about the value proposition of his products; he should help architects in selecting the right tile that go well with the interior design they conceive. This is the area where Orient Bell has focused on since the last eight months.
In your tenure of over two years at Orient Bell, how have you driven excellence in sales?
In the first year of my tenure at Orient Bell, we defined the parameters on which our sales teams would be appraised. We made sure that the parameters and goals were tangible in nature, leaving no scope for subjectivity; we made clear the expectations around delivery. We eventually started building on these set of goals and later publishing the status reports to gain an understanding of where teams stood. So, it was about bringing some method to the madness. Besides, we wanted to win markets, so we looked at convenient transportation means to be able to swiftly reach locations spread across a diverse geography.
The company is digitalising various aspects of operations. How are you doing it for the sales department?
Let me say that all credit goes to our organisation. I have worked with many companies across industries, but I have not seen them as digitalised as Orient Bell. We might not be the largest of organisations but are quite evolved. This is due to the steps taken by our managing director Madhur Daga, who has a software background and understands the importance of speeding up digitalisation in the organisation to attain the next level of growth. We have imbibed his vision for desirable outcomes.
A lot of companies are only now talking about salesforce automation. Orient Bell got into the automation around four years ago. We are presently upgrading the process for the next level of usage. The technology helps me to log in to my laptop and see where my sales team is? What expenses are they incurring for travelling and the distance covered? The idea is not to police but to gain clarity and help manage their journey plans, and to observe emerging patterns that may impact the business.
We had launched Darpan a year ago. The tool enables our salespersons to check in real-time on their mobile phones about sales achievements and order collection status. They do not waste time in scrambling people or checking in to their laptops, or calling up people to get data and status reports.
We have also automated our order process; all orders are punched in by salespersons in an app, enabling us to know the order to delivery time. Besides, we have a robust channel partner app, where retailers would get everything they require from the organisation. There is scope for improvement in the app and we working towards rolling out its 2.0 version by the end of the year. We have also come up with marketing app tools such as Quick Look that enables our teams to figure out the right tile to show to consumers and customers.
Channel partners are regarded as the backbone of organisations in your industry. How challenging is it to retain and motivate these partners?
Unlike other industries, a channel partner of building materials industry has to make major capital investment and requires space in warehouses and showrooms; not everyone can walk into this trade. The consumers know very little about tiles; they would consider ceramic and vitrified tiles without even understanding the difference between them. The trust is on the brand, but more on the channel partner from whom a consumer buys tiles. So, channel partners are ambassadors of the brand.
It is important to have the right set of channel partners in your fold. I think that the best way to manage a channel partner is to be in his shoes to know about his business requirements. I believe that there are three major factors. First, profitability in terms of absolute margins and ROI that a channel partner makes. Second, the product – technology is not very different from one company to other, but pitching to him with designs that cater to the taste of his universe of consumers. Third, service; they look forward to what we call OTIF or On-Time in Full; so whenever I need inventory I get it on time; whatever stock I need, I get that in full. Channel partners also expect accounting transparency, and in case of complaints from customers, the company should take complete ownership and resolve the issue on their behalf.