His love for her was so pure that he never betrayed her even when she was a slight possibility. He went to all odds so as to win her heart. Yes, FMCG is his love and he can go all night talking about it. Just over a few cups of tea, the doors of success were unlocked and he rolled his steps over the much-anticipated road.
“Congratulations Rohan Shukla! You’ve been selected for Summer Internship with Wipro Consumer Care & Lighting (WCCLG).”
This is what the mail from my college’s placement team read. I was on Cloud 9. Why, you ask? Well, FMCG Sales has always been the reason behind my MBA. Aaah! The sight of soaps, shampoos, food products, beverages stacked in a retail outlet, the fight amongst brands to outdo each other, the margins, the schemes and the merchandising strategies to make one’s brand more visible have always brought a spark to my face. All my friends had already started teasing me saying ‘Santoor mummy would be changed to Santoor daddy now’ (Santoor is a brand owned by WCCLG). I couldn’t wait to start my internship. The D-Day soon arrived.
I was hired as a Sales Intern by WCCLG in Bangalore. My project was aimed at increasing the distribution for all the brands of the company in the specified territory of Bangalore, under a single distributor. I had always dreamt of settling down in a city like Bangalore, where life seems to be superfast-paced every second. The city had its own ways to charm people, but for me, it happened in a completely different way. The struggle began right from finding a place to stay. I had found a couple of PGs on the internet. I spent the first evening visiting them and after a series of negotiations zeroed in on a decent one. The next morning, I had to report to the Regional Office (R.O) and meet my reporting manager, the Regional Sales Manager (RSM). He explained me clearly, the objectives of my project & what he was looking at in terms of the final outcome of the project. I had to physically cover the sales beat (a collection of shops in a particular area of location), also known as sales route in some FMCG companies. I had to visit every single outlet in my territory and check the existence of the outlet and explore the area for any new additional outlets that could be added to the beat where a sale could be possible (for any brand of the company). I also had to classify the outlets under various categories, i.e. Grocer, General Store, Wholesale, Super Market, Chemist, etc. On an average, I visited about 40 outlets per day. Although this happened to be the primary work, I was more interested in doing a competitor analysis in the assigned territory and thus, began the most interesting part of my internship.
I knew I had to put in extra efforts to do the additional work of competitor analysis, primarily because I had to spend about 10 hours every day covering the beats physically & going back to the distributor point to update the data for daily & weekly reports, all this being the objective of the project. It turned out to be more difficult & challenging than I had expected. The markets of Bangalore had retail outlets spread out in a wider area for every beat due to which I had to travel a lot in order to successfully cover my 40 outlets per day. As if this wasn’t challenging enough, my aim of gathering competitor information, working on an analysis of their distribution strategy & then doing a gap analysis of WCCLG’s distribution v/s competitor’s distribution seemed like a distant dream. But I refused to give up. I was looking for one opportunity, one chance. One fine day in the 3rd week into an internship, I struck gold. While covering my regular beats, I happened to meet a salesman of Hindustan Unilever Limited (HUL) who was fortunately, that day at that point of time, at the same outlet where I was. As I started speaking to him, I realized, he was a gold mine of information. He had been associated with HUL for the past 15 years as a salesman. I took him to the nearby tea stall and over a cup of tea, I tried to enquire on the details like the handheld device used by HUL salesmen for taking daily orders from the retail outlets, the kind of outlets that HUL caters to, the criteria behind selecting specific outlets as ‘star’ outlets, trade promotion schemes, margins, etc. Through him, I managed to get the contact of the distributor of HUL he was working for. I found time on a slow day & finished my beat quickly to meet the HUL distributor. I went there directly and spoke in the minimal local language that I could manage to learn by then (I picked up Kannada quickly because I was from Hyderabad, where Telugu was spoken in most parts). A few cups of tea and I had my grab on HUL’s distribution network for that area. I had enough information that could help me with my gap analysis that I had planned at the back of my mind.
By the end of 7th week, I had met few other competitor companies’ salesmen, distributors and in some cases, even the key Salesforce people like the Sales Officer & the Area Sales Managers. All these interactions reminded me of Café Coffee Day’s tagline “A lot can happen over a cup of coffee.” Well, for me, everything was happening over a cup of tea. Well, a lot of many cups actually. Soon, a mail arrived from the HR confirming the date for the final presentation to be presented to the VP-Sales. I said to myself, “Just a week left! Time to pace up the analysis.” I started staying up nights analyzing all the competitor outlet lists (distribution coverage) I had managed to get through the distributors I had met. Soon came the weekend and I was ready with the presentation. This was the second time I was meeting the VP-Sales in person. The first face-off happened in the internship selection PI in the college. There I was, in the Wipro Bangalore office, standing in front of the VP-Sales, Head-Sales Development & Group Manager-Talent Transformation among the others. Every second of the 30-minute presentation, adrenaline surged through my veins with the constant question-answer-discussion that went on. Although they didn’t express that explicitly, they seemed happy with the competitor analysis. Well, that’s the typical sales people behavior for you.
After the formalities with the HR, I came back to my room. As I lay on my bed, the market visits, the ‘tea meets’, the discussions with retailers, distributors, the arguments over margins, the misunderstandings of my broken-local-language-communications, all came rushing to my mind. My friends & seniors had warned me before I came here saying, “This is not everyone’s cup of tea. Most of your college mates would be interning in a comfortable AC office and you’d be rubbing shoulders with the salesmen in the summer heat. You would start hating your life. Are you sure you want a career in sales?” I just smiled at them and said “Probably more than anything else.” I’m glad that I’m still smiling because I know my answer to their question still remains the same. FMCG, my love, thou shall not be betrayed!
Editor’s note- If you also have an interesting story to share, you can now participate in Your Internship Story Contest 2016 and win cash prizes and goodies worth Rs. 1 Lac!