The fast and furious Indian telecom market

internet_for_all_medium_03

“It’s a rat race out there. Only those who adapt fast, survive.” These are the words of Kamlesh Prajapati, a Retail Sales Executive (RSE), for Uninor in Ahmedabad, Gujarat.

Kamlesh Prajapati and 5,556 RSEs like him are the hands and feet of Uninor. Every day, they reach out to 320,000 retail outlets – taking stock of inventories, addressing grievances of customers and channel partners, and ensuring that this comprehensive distribution machine is working smoothly. RSEs are the face of Uninor in the vast and crowded retail space of Indian telecom. That is a responsibility that they take very seriously.

New targets every morning

A regular work day begins at 8 a.m. By 9 a.m., Kamlesh and his team of ten field sales staff are ready for the “gate meeting” with their Territory Sales Manager (TSM). His name is Sachin Sahani and he and the other TSMs are Uninor employees, while the retail sales executives are on the payroll of the company’s distribution partners. Sachin meets them at the distributor point, Tara Electro.

The distributor point is a spacious room equipped with a backend support team managing the distributor management systems. Looking like no less than a military training camp, the room is replete with target plans, strategy charts, route maps and performance graphs of the team. The gate meeting is a daily interactive planning and discussion forum, led by the TSM. Each team member shares his targets for the day on the whiteboard.

RSEs are the face of Uninor in the vast and crowded retail space of Indian telecom. That is a responsibility that they take very seriously

Full transparency drives performance

The whiteboard is the blueprint of their game plan, and RSEs are meticulously following up on their individual and team sales targets. It has sections for each team member, listing the details of the retail outlets visited by the RSE every day, the number of new retailers he must get on board, the daily and monthly activation targets, as well as the number of E-load (Uninor credits) and recharge vouchers he aims to sell that month. The whiteboard at the distributor point is a constant reminder of their individual targets.

“This open system of target setting creates healthy competition within the team and motivates team members to improve their performance on a regular basis,” says Sachin.

Once the gate meeting is over, the sales force hits the streets. The RSEs visit all retail outlets in his area…up to 40 outlets every day.

In the Indian market, relationships drive business. The RSE shows keen interest in the retailer’s affairs and gives personal attention to each retail outlet he visits

Putting feet on the street

With so many retailers to visit, time management is crucial for the RSE. “I have a well-mapped route that I follow every day on foot. Even though we’ve been provided bikes to commute, I prefer walking. Some of the markets I visit are in small bylanes, and walking through is often easier,” says Kamlesh.

“Before I reach the outlet, I call the retailer to inquire about the status of SIM cards and E-load stocks with him. Now, we obviously get this information on our handheld devices, but by making this one call I put Uninor on top of his mind before I meet up with him. We have to be realistic – the market has 11 telecom operators, and how many names can the poor chap remember? He sells what he remembers, and to remain in his memory we need to give him constant attention,” adds Kamlesh.

Keeping the house in order

03

Once at the point of sale, no time is spent on logistics. Awaiting his imminent arrival, the retailer keeps the Customer Application Forms (CAF) ready for collection. Kamlesh adds, “If he didn’t know I was coming, we would lose time while he is putting them together. This way we get down to business immediately.”

CAFs are the documents that prove that there is a genuine customer behind the subscription. In a multi-SIM environment like India, one can usually be sure that the customer has several subscriptions, but the documentation of each individual is crucial. Kamlesh personally checks and stamps each form. “If the information we get is not correct or is incomplete, we gather the missing information or we bar the customer.”

It is an industry challenge in Indian telecom to validate the documentation on every new subscriber. “The sales team must work continuously with our channel partners to ensure that our numbers reflect reality. This is not only company policy and a regulatory requirement, but also good business sense,” comments the TSM, Sachin.

Micro-segmenting

In the Indian market, relationships drive business. The RSE shows keen interest in the retailer’s affairs and gives personal attention to each retail outlet he visits. The key, Kamlesh explains, is to understand the mindset of the retailer. “He is most concerned about his own gain. I have to sell the product to him highlighting his growth prospects rather than just our offering to customers.”

RSEs develop simplified communication material for each retail outlet. In addition to the regular merchandise created for all product campaigns, they also make personalized posters for different outlets, depending on the segment they cater to. “The product languages for the customers and retailers are different. And that is only because the benefit for both varies. Our charts are basic; they highlight key features of the product, the monetary benefit for the retailer and the validity of the scheme,” he says.

Trouble shooter and smooth operator

The remaining time during a retail outlet visit is spent discussing new products and resolving challenges. “Retailer issues are sensitive and mostly credit related. If I don’t find resolutions to their queries or challenges from the channel helpline, then I do constant follow-up with the Sales Manager and keep escalating the issue until it is resolved. Showing genuine concern is important to retain retailers’ faith in both me and Uninor.”

Kamlesh identifies his outlets according to the push and pull theory. While some outlets are risk takers and can easily convert customers, others just cater to what comes to them. Kamlesh breaks up his targets accordingly amongst all his outlets. “Each outlet gets different treatment and I have a different rapport with each retailer. I have to maintain a certain level of comfort with each one to ensure that we retain their business,” adds Kamlesh.

Having almost covered a stretch of 4.5 kilometers, we make way for Kamlesh to continue with his routine. “In my patch, I feel the market is very positive about our progress so far. That doesn’t mean we can sit back – this market changes every single day. That keeps me on my toes. It’s the only way to win.”

Uninor

Eight months after entering into India, Uninor started offering its services in December 2009 with the biggest ever launch in Indian telecommunications history. Today Uninor operates in six circles in India, and is committed to making long-term investments in the country’s mobile market. This way Uninor plays an important role in improving network stability and coverage in the country.