Friday, June 28, 2013

ASM's surprise visit- The Devil is in the details... Always

It rained on the previous day... my formals had become soiled. I decided to dress safe- meaning, wear my worst clothes the next day since it was raining heavily. I also wore floaters to avoid damage to my formal shoes.
Guess what? Hash turned up at the market at 12 noon. He had told me he would come along on one of those days but I didn't expect it to be a surprise visit. This was new for me.

Lesson learned: Always... ALWAYS... give a surprise visit when in sales. Why? Thats the only way to know if someone is working. It is very easy to sneak away. I could easily have told the DSE to cover up for me while I slept in the hotel or sneak away early (since most days Bala and I worked in separate markets). In my current organization, it does not create a big issue if a MT does this. The feedback does not even reach the HO. That was not the case in my previous organization. The news would be all over by the end of the day... nothing remained a secret. For example, my junior had stepped out of the market during lunch to go to the cyber cafe to check his email (his version)... maybe he went for half an hour only when the salesman was having lunch... or maybe he sneaked away. Who knows? Fact is, the BSM (Branch Sales Manager) was in the market that day and got to know about the cyber cafe trip. By evening the HO and the entire company knew it.

Hash was not happy with my attire. He admonished me for wearing floaters. This is what he said... btw, he was wearing floaters too:

Hash: I messaged my Boss (the BSM) that I will wear floaters to work today. After his approval I am wearing them. Always dress in formals.

Good advice BUT... later I got to know, the BSM hardly cared who is wearing what as long as sales targets were met. If targets were not met, he would have a problem even with the colour of someone's underwear.

Later, when I was an ASM I chose comfort over rules. I used to travel a lot. My work timings were 9 am- 6 pm and I travelled before or after that. I lived in jeans, kurtas and floaters.

The market work with Hash was a big learning experience. I had been going with the salesman everyday and it had gotten boring. He knew his job and was doing it. Language was a big barrier for me. How do I communicate with the retailer? Has taught me to follow up on the salesman's focus brand target and day's sales. After every 10 stores, he would ask the salesman to total the sales till then and check on how many jars of focus brand he has sold. It seems like a little thing but helped a lot. The salesman became aware of what he was doing... he started focusing more since he now has a target in mind.

He also taught me to merchandise. After making the bill, we did not just hand over the jars of candy/gums to the retailer, we opened the jar... removed the cover... placed in a location where it was visible very well. This was our way of giving him service. It seems like a little thing but much later (when I was an ASM), the ASM of Cadbury would compliment on how good our market service and touch was... how well the DSEs and ASMs were in touch with the market. He was trying to develop that in his team but it was difficult.

Hash taught me to check the bill the salesman was making. I realized the salesman had been making mistakes... he was not good with calculations and did not carry a calculator (having lost the previous ones which further infuriated the distributor). I had been working with this guy for a few days and did not realize this. Again, a small thing but that is the role of the DSE. The devil is in the details.

Hash gave me an insight on the brands, supply chain, distribution, competition etc. He admonished me for not interacting enough with the retailers. He is from Mangalore but had picked up some Tamil and could understand, if not speak very fluently.

At the end of the day, I was glad he had come. I got a better perspective on what sales is all about... what is the DSE's role. I am so glad he was my first boss. Someone else would barely have cared.
Everytime a MT has been allotted to me (twice in the last 4 years), I spend enough time with that person to help her (it has only been females till now) understand sales and her project. It is very easy to ignore MTs... after all, how many actually add value? Can they compare with someone who has been in sales for a long time? But I remember the time given to me and do the same.

The 1st call to the ASM- my first Boss

So, I called Hash at night to report on my day. This is what he said;

" I want you to call every evening/night after work and report on what you have learned during the day. The more questions you ask, the better... else, I will start asking the questions and then you better have answers".

Me- Yes, Hashidhar (that is his name)
Him- What did you call me?
Me- Hashidhar
Him- Please call me 'Hash' and not Hashidhar
Me- Ok

It sounds very funny in hindsight 'coz Hash was my colleague in West when I was ASM and he is sort of a friend now. And... he is not that strict. He is actually a good, supportive boss.

I took a quick shower and left for dinner. KC had mentioned a rooftop restaurant and Sarvana Bhavan. I wondered if I should invite him or will it seem too forward? I didn't want him to get the wrong idea. Most guys don't know the difference between 'friendship/camaraderie' and 'interested'. I decided to take my chance. I knocked on his door and asked him if he wanted to come for dinner. He agreed. I insisted on Sarvana Bhavan 'coz I planned to have b'fast there and wanted to know its location. Many years later, KC would tell me that he had wanted to go to the rooftop restaurant.

Sarvana Bhavan was a delight... fast customer service, very good idlis/dosa, numerous chutneys and cheap.
I returned to the hotel and dropped dead. It had been a long and hard day.

My schedule for the next 2 weeks was like this:
- 7 am: Wake up
- 8 am: Rush for b'fast to Sarvana Bhavan
- 9 am: Reach distributor point (mostly at Royapettah)
- 9.15 am: Leave for market
- 9.15- 4/5 pm: 60 calls
- 5/6 pm: Reach distributor point... fill report...
- 7 pm: Leave for hotel
- 8 pm: Reach hotel... call Hash (cross fingers that he does not answer the phone)
- 9 pm: Quick shower and dinner at rooftop restaurant with KC where we discussed our day
- 10 pm: Dead to the world

The distributor I worked most with was at Royapettah. It is difficult to pronounce and the autowalas did not spare me. They would pretend not to understand it... even after I got my pronunciation perfect. Every morning was spent haggling with them. Frustrating!!!

The distributor had 3 units which were cycles with a flat stand to carry stocks. The territory was small enough for the salesman to cover it on cycle. It also reduced the cost of fuel and help the distributor earn more margins. It also limited the amount of stock a salesman could carry because there is a limit to how much the cycle unit can hold.
Here is the challenge for the DSE/ASM:
- Should they convert the distributor to a auto or let it be on a cycle? Which is better? What if sales are low because it limits how much stock a salesman can sell in a day? Most distributors try to keep their costs as low as possible... even at the cost of sales.

There was a salesman who was very young. For him, it was a very unique situation- a female coming to sell candies with him and spending all day. While working in the market, he would stop at a shop and buy me a cold drink. It was quite embarrassing because he earned less than 10k/month and I did not want him spending money on me. Insisting did not help. He would force a cold drink on me and not let me pay. On one of the days we went for lunch to a small place where food was cheap and served on banana leaf. I was quite a sight but being fair in Chennai meant that I was noticed everywhere and had gotten used to it. I guess it is because of this that I don't care what people think or say. I have always been like this but have developed a thicker skin due to this experience.
It was June and monsoons had started. It would rain while we were in the market and then we had to find shelter. The cycle carrying stock would be covered with a plastic. Also, the salesman would not be able to ride on the bicycle when I was around 'coz I was on foot. Walking all day is very tiring and kudos to this person who didn't mind it at all. He told me of an incident when he was selling to a retailer. The cycle with stocks was behind him near the road. Someone came and stole a whole carton of candies which made the distributor furious.

Next Post: Hash's surprise visit

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Down Memory Lane


A new world beckons

Tom I leave for the unknown... have had to pack my luggage without a clue as to where I will be, for how long and doing what... I hate to leave... home is such a good place, the most difficult decisions of my day have been what to cook for lunch/dinner... And as things started getting exciting (with bro's JEE and AIEEE pouring in) I have to leave.
Mom has been cracking jokes about how she is losing 3 maids (me)... and bro is going to miss my laptop. Kya ajeeb log hai!!!
Cheers to a new life and good-bye to the old one... no matter how it turns out, I know I will survive

SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2007


Hi... I am sorry for the silence. It is very much unlike me. I have joined work... which involves travelling... after a week of induction at Gurgaon, I am in B'glore for 4 days and then off to one of the Southern states for 2 months of sales stint.

Tom is my B'day and I had been praying I would not sent to a rural area atleast for that day. Last year on 11th June, I was on the train from Chennai to A'bad. The best part of the day was when I reached home a few minutes before midnight. I promised myself I would make up for it this year... don't see that happening. No problem, I will have the gr8test b'day ever next year.
Do you remember about the time you learned to swim? The water seemed scary, didn't it? You were worried about how cold it would be... wat did you do then? Just closed your eyes and jumped into the pool? Thats wat the last few days have been like. Before leaving, I was freaking out... just wanted to run away (always feel that way before beginning something new)... but then I took the plunge... 


Current location: Chennai
Arrived on: 15th June
Duration of stay: 2 weeks
Next destination: Madurai

Weather: Pleasant... humid... (it rained the day I arrived. God is gr8!!!)
No of friends here: None
No of aquaintances here: Not sure

Work timings: 10:00 am to 7:00 pm (excluding time spent commuting)
Time spent commuting: 2 hrs (approx)
Office: hahaaha!!! The market is my work place.
Dress code: A conservative as possible... it doesn't help that my skin color makes me stand out anyway (A shopkeeper asked the salesman if I am a foreigner... yeeks!!!)

Food: Strictly South Indian... North Indian food is quite bad out here.
Nuisance: Auto-walas and lecherous men (Thankfully, I don't speak a word of Tamil)
Language: Use sign language to communicate... my Tamil is limited to "cheri" which means "ok".... and "ille" which means "yes" or "no"... I am not sure which.

TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2007

I wish...

  • People would stop talking to me in Tamil after knowing that I don't speak the language
  • People would not call me once I am asleep... catching up on sleep in the distributor's office is very unprofessional
  • The weather would stay this pleasant
  • I would not have to fight with the auto-walas morning and evening
  • The Punjabi dhaba would cook some authentic Punjabi food (minus ants in the lime juice and plus some spices)
  • Men would stop staring at me when I am in the market supervising the saleman
  • I could watch a movie
  • I could go home

SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2007

Non-conversation material

Some incidents that can only be felt (since they don't make gr8 conversation material)

  • Working in all sorts of places: slums (mostly), posh areas (rarely)... meeting people from all walks of life
  • Watching a kid sail a paper boat in the puddle of rain water (One of my fav activities as a kid... had even tried to fish with a stick and rope in a pond)
  • The distributor leaving the office in the rain to offer you a lift to the bus/auto. I was touched. 
  • Women in the slum gheraoing you (like they do to foreigners) and trying to communicate in Tamil while you reply in English
  • Having your close friend as your neighbour all over again
  • Dressing in your worst (the rains soiled my formals on the previous day)... and your boss decides to accompany you to the market.... IN HIS FORMALS... eeekss!!!
  • Trying on all the pretty clothes at your fav store (Wills Lifestyle)... but buying nothing... I always do that... 
  • Detailing your day's events to the Known Stranger (known as K.S, henceforth)... over dinner on the roof-top restaurant while it is raining. 
  • Watching with glee as your bro gets ready to join college (switching to lens, shopping for clothes, gyming, getting a weird hair-cut)... the golden days
  • Craving for Pav Bhaji

The Most Important Training Begins

I woke up with a jolt. It was almost 8, I had to bathe and reach the market by 9. I rushed. There was no time for b'fast. I called the DSE (Distribution and Sales Executive). My phone did not have too much balance. He was leaving for the market and I was to meet him there. I remember reaching late.
There I was - no food and no sleep. I just wanted the day to end so I could crawl under the covers and sleep.
The DSE was Bala. Whenever anyone talks about sales, below are the qualities you are expected to have:
- Be gregarious
- Outgoing
- Talkative
- Be able to connect with people

Bala is none of the above. He is tall, dark and completely no nonsense. I never saw him indulge in small talk. He is all business- very professional.
It was a very interesting market. The company had just launched a brand called 'Foot pop'. It was a lollipop in the shape of a 'foot'. It came in 2 flavours- strawberry and caramel. Every box had an assorted mix... also, the box was a very funky one. This what we were supposed to do- after the retailer has purchased the box, tear it open and it would automatically transform into a merchandising option. In a shop, confectionery is placed in a jar. Since 'Footpop' was being sold in a cardboard box instead of jar, the retailer would stock it in another empty jar. To prevent this, the box got transformed into a something which could be placed in the shop. Cadbury would later (2008) launch their chewing gum in a cardboard box instead of jar too.
Anyway, the product seemed perfect- kids love anything quirky and innovative... the foot shaped lollipop seemed like a winner. Except, it wasn't. Parents did not want their kids to eat a 'foot'. They thought this would encourage a bad habit and make kids suck their foot. Yeah, I know... how dumb!!!
But, the product bombed. I spent those 2 weeks selling a lot of 'Footpop'.
The Brand Manager of FP was Bala's ex-boss (previous ASM Chennai) so Bala sold FP like a crazy man. Plus, there was an incentive on it.
This is how he worked- we would enter a shop, he would give a menacing look (his normal facial expression), the retailer would back off, he would just start opening jars, place them on the shelf and ask the PSR to make the bill. The retailer would comply obligingly. Chennai is a credit market. A jar of confectionery costs 100 bucks. The retailer would pay 50 bucks, sometimes even 20 bucks, every week to the guy who came for collection. Bala knew the capacity of every shop and would not bill beyond that. For example, a retailer pays Rs 20 every week to the distributor... he will be happy to buy 5 jars at a time but the distributor would not want to give him 1 jar at a time. This greatly affected sales but thats the market reality.
I spoke to the ASM at night and narrated my ordeal- how I could not find a hotel room etc etc. He admonished me for not calling him. I could have gone to his hotel. Well, I didn't think about it... it did not even strike me. He was from my B-School but I had only spoken a few sentences to him in office... did not know how to call him at 5 am.

I am posting some posts from my old blog when I was in Chennai. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chennai Times- Most important day of my life

I had to go to Chennai as a Sales Officer. This meant living on a SO's allowance (thankfully, not the salary). I had to stay in a hotel for Rs 350 per night and Rs 110 as DA (daily allowance). The 110 was supposed to cover my food and miscellaneous. Apart from that, I could claim laundry and travel expenses (on actuals). The HR female gave me few contact nos of hotels. Such cheap hotels do not book in advance. I had to reach Chennai in the morning, search for a hotel, get dressed and reach market by 9 am... a daunting task. I was also given the contact no of a Summer Trainee who was working on a project in Modern Trade. He was staying on the same allowances. 
A and I left our excess luggage at the office... the caretaker would shift it to the guesthouse. We carried only 1 bag. A also carried his laptop. I had left mine at home. There was no point in dragging a laptop everywhere. 
After work I met Tangy at Crossword. He gifted me a set of green wooden bangles. I still have one of the pair (the other one broke). That was my only b'day gift that year. The bus was at 10 pm... I reached the boarding point and called the trainee. He was kind enough to book a room in the hotel opposite to his. He was staying at a hotel- JJS Guesthouse for Rs 375/night. I did not want to pay more than my allowance. I was obviously on a pocket money from dad and wanted to spend as little as possible. 
The bus left at 11 pm. Reality about buses from B'glore to Chennai- the drivers are crazy and reach the city at the oddest time. I reached Chennai at 4.30 am. No kidding. I called the trainee who was kind enough to answer his phone at that hour. He gave me the directions to the hotel and was waiting outside when I reached. 
That is how I met my husband. 

I had expected meeting my husband to be more dramatic but if someone would have told me at that moment that we would be married someday I would have laughed. KC's reaction would have been same. 

Anyway, so he took me to the hotel opposite to his. Everyone was asleep and I was asked to come after 7 am. It was 5 am... how was I supposed to kill 2 hours? We then went to his hotel... his friends had checked out a day earlier and he was sure there were vacant rooms. Even here I was asked to come after 7 am. KC suggested I kill time at his room. Where else was I supposed to go at 5 am? I was not comfortable being alone with a guy in his hotel room. I decided to find another hotel. I went to every hotel whose address the HR female had given me. Guess what? They all charged atleast 500 bucks/night. I was so screwed. All the while, KC called me and urged me to come back. He was sure I would find a room there. But stubborn headed that I am, I wanted to try all the other options first. I went to the hotel where I had stayed during my summer training. I was a trainee at Taj Coromandel and they were not paying a stipend. Few months before the actual project we had gone to the company for a 7 day stint. It was a shady hotel but cheap at Rs 300/night. I didn't mind staying there 'coz my batchmates were around. This time the hotel felt shadier and I was reluctant to take a chance with safety. I came outside the hotel and wondered what to do. 2 guys approached me and asked if I was looking for a hotel. Thats when I freaked. I took the nearest auto and rushed to KC's room. 
His room was tiny, it had 1 bed which took up half of the room, a TV, a bathroom and a tiny stool. I perched myself on the stool... it was very tiny and I longed to sleep on the bed. But KC was sitting on it... he could hardly invite me on the bed. We watched TV and talked for the next 1-1.5 hours. At 7.30/8 am, I tried to negotiate with the manager on the room rate. I did not want to pay Rs 375. Due to the language barrier I brought down the rate (or so I thought). KC was surprised... he had been staying for 2 months and was not offered any discount. 
I rushed to the room, slept for 10-15 mins, got dressed, called the Sales Officer- Bala and rushed to the market. 

Next post- My most important training begins

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The South Times

We were not given our final locations till our arrival in the regions. The HO decided which trainee will go to which region. The BM/BSM (Branch Manager/Branch Sales Manager) decided on our final locations.

A and I landed at around 8.30/9 am. There was a cab waiting for us. The South HR Manager asked us to check into the hotel... freshen up... have lunch and then come to office. We were relieved. We were prepared to go directly to office and this was quite a relief.

We were booked into a very good hotel. Generally, people stayed at the guesthouse but since the ASM (Area Sales Manager) were in office it was full. In the afternoon, we reported to the regional office which is located very close to the airport. We met the other ASMs during lunch- Hash and Sash. I remember both of them very clearly. Hash was from my college and this was his 2nd job. He was handling Chennai metro. Sash told me a funny story much later... when training was over and I was his colleague. He was sent a summer trainee. The ST (summer trainee) was supposed to call the BSM every night and brief him about his day. On one of the days, the BSM asked Sash to call him and take the daily report. So, Sash called him... and the ST started on his learning ... Hash put the phone near his bed... went to the loo... washed his face... changed his clothes... picked up his phone and said; "Good... good work. Keep it up!!!" and hung up.

A and I were given a manual on all the terms used in the company.... the margins... calculation. This is the most important thing to know in any organization. We spent the day writing everything down.
The plan was that we would be in Bangalore for a few days... then I would go to Chennai and then to Trichy. While A would be at coastal Karntaka... we would be informed about our next stint after that.

BM: Well, we wanted to send you to Madurai but then took some pity and decided on Trichy

The next day I went to Bangalore market with the BDE. I don't remember him very well. He spent most of his time on the phone 'coz he was handling 2 territories. There was an area vacant and he was responsible until a new DSE joined. I reached the distributor point at 9 am. The distributor was an old lady... The only other woman distributor was in Mumbai. The office/godown was on the 1st floor. The delivery guys would pick up the cartons with jars of confectionery and throw them out of the window. The cartons and jars were strong enough and did not even get cracks.
In confectionery, the most important thing are details... and distribution. Even you don't have a strategy to grow your territory but plug all the inefficiencies it will be enough.
The 1st aspect was loading of the van. You need to have stocks to last through the day. This is difficult since there are so many brands and SKUs. A DSE (distribution and sales executive) has to check the sales on the same beat the previous week and ensure atleast those stocks are loaded. If run out, it a loss of sales.. you cannot come back to pick up more stocks.
I spent 2-3 days doing 60 calls per day. It was very, very tiring. On my b'day I was hoping the DSE would take a hint and let me leave early. No such chance... I completed my 60 calls... went to the hotel and dropped dead. I was so tired and a little feverish... a lot of calls went unanswered.

Lesson learned- Always take the day off on your b'day. I generally am on leave on my b'day. Why not? It is an important day and deserves its due.

Next post- Leaving for Chennai