Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Experience

Author: Srirupa Banerjee, Assistant Professor, SMOT School of Business, Chennai

With chains, retail stores, offers, shopping experience, standards, customers are at their receiving best. Choices galore, anything we need is available when we walk in to the well designed, well laid out store. Everything has been taken into account, our tastes our aspirations, our budgets, everything. We have even segmented customers from the usual men - women to ethnic - modern to segregating babies to blues and pinks. It has somehow become a matter of prestige to shop from the AC stores where the display is on the racks!! Even vegetables  and fruits which we haven't eaten in our lifetime , old and stale from the cold storage looks better in cartons  than the fresh ones on roadside.. Who would walk in the sun? If we can buy a cream and a shampoo along with vegetables then why not?   

A diehard fan of retail chains, I just want to write about two experiences of the recent past.     

Driving down with my 9 year old son for an ice - cream, we remembered, we needed a three pin plug for an X Box which was his latest prized possession. We both agreed that it would be available in the electronic retail showroom that has come up recently a little away from our home. However, the urge to have it just now made us stop the car at a quaint electrical shop where our parents used to buy 40 watt bulbs. (We pick up CFLs now from the retail chains now a days!) Both of us were unsure whether it will be available. My son could have ordered it online! However, we both asked him mumbling fumbling for words that we wanted a 3 pin plug. Just then I realized that we do not ask anyone anymore. We pick.

He gave us a box which we both agreed was too small. He asked us 15A? I looked at my son. He said 16A with a lot of confidence. The shopkeeper nodded, it will work. We were a little unsure and surely that showed on our faces. The shop keeper ensured that plugs cannot be bigger than this. We sort of agreed, still not entirely convinced. We paid and when we were walking away, after telling him we will exchange if it did not fit, he called us back. He took out a bigger box which had a 3 pin plug and asked my son to fix it.  1-2-3 bingo and it fitted. We both beamed. My son in his usual way said, “cool man”! The shopkeeper gave us an all knowing smile. I knew he didn’t want to send us half baked.

We left the store very satisfied... and I was sure to buy my CFL from him next time!

The second instance was at a fruit shop where we buy our bananas from.

Its a ritual, I get down from the car - he hands me over six bananas - I hand over the money - job over...     
This time a little girl stopped me. She was around 12. I have seen her before with her father helping out with general chores. She called out, “do you want a friendship band”? I was in a hurry, not too interested. She persisted, “aunty band?” I said, “No I don't want dear, you wear it.” She had a red band in her hand. She lifted it up and said, "You visited our shop 25 times today, so you get a red band.” I was shocked, surprised, 25 times? Who counted? "I count Aunty, I have a copy", she said and she showed me a nice note book covered in gift wrapping paper. Silver Maruti 800 - aunty - 25 times. I think I got more emotional than happy as I was getting my loyalty gift. I did not swipe a card, did not have an unique identification number, I did not even bother to look at her and all the days she was counting my visits? I felt happy and very small all at the same time. I kneeled down to see the proof of my visits. Hugged her.   
From then on whenever I bought bananas I would carry a chocolate along!! My count is 34 now. Waiting for 50 and the gift she has kept as a surprise. The red friendship band is displayed in my living room.

From a customer’s point of view and a management teacher, I have heard all the jargons endlessly. Customer satisfaction, relationship building, direct marketing so on and so forth… Can there be any experience better than this?

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

A Drug Called Sales

Author: S. Arun Kumar, Assistant Professor, SMOT School of Business, Chennai

As Dr Bones Mc Coy famously remarked in the Star Trek prelude...SPACE...THE FINAL FRONTIER and from then on started a roller coaster journey of a group of space adventurers who explore the unknown black ink space.....

For me in the real world I would like to tweak it to SALES...THE FINAL FRONTIER.....where every day thousands of budding, naive, experienced salesmen meet their unknown customers wanting the sale completed and conquering their careers...

After having been involved in Sales more than Marketing, I am very comfortable to call myself a salesman many years into my professional life.

It’s sad that in our minds we have categorized a salesman as the lowest rung of the corporate ladder whereas functionally his role remains unique and consistent from the bottom to the top.

To me Sales is the barbiturate of my existence. It’s the adrenalin which gives me the excitement. It’s the diversion that gives me the enjoyment. It’s the sustenance that gives me my living. So for me Sales is everything. It’s an oft derided and suspicious profession as it is perceived to cannibalise the innocent lambs that fall prey to its wily tongue. But that is the whole point.....

“WITH A TONGUE GIVEN BY GOD IT WAS MEANT FOR TALKING YOUR WAY THROUGH LIFE” – this proves that it was a salesman in each of us which needs or needed to be nurtured.

From our infancy to the crypt, we are forever selling in different forms-the formal and informal way. Whereas sales is signified by the “gift of the gab”— it’s the whole package of the person who makes the offering interesting. The communication, the personality, the presence and the knowledge all go towards giving him the power – the power to command, the power to lead, the power to change and the power to convince.

No other profession can give you a badge of honour or put you in the doghouse in one single day-sales has that unique capability. It can make you a king or a pauper and makes you forever live on the edge of your capability...for people who love to get the thrill out of a gladiatorial life, it’s indeed a great push to ones ego. The arrogance and attitude, even though misplaced, stems from this fact that when one is able to be recognised as the person who can change the fortunes of the stakeholders, it becomes an alter ego of the persons personality. Indeed it’s a wrong approach as sales is a great leveller.

But having said all this, the blood rush and tingling sensation that runs through the body in seeing a sales order being signed by a customer after convincing him to believe in me and my product is indeed a feeling that cannot be equalled. It is this that makes it interesting to seek the next one and the chain continues.

But unfortunately the generation of today detests this activity because of the effort and toil that it requires. Man is an enzymatic animal but technology has a limited part to play in his thinking. The dependence on technology to replace the human element is winning the race for now, but can’t be guaranteed for the future. Since in the brain stem, enzymes that are activated to certain neuron impulse makes him act in the most unpredictable way which no machine can equal. Now it’s this capriciousness that makes one to always have a strategy which never remains static.

Just as every face of these 6.9 billion people are different through finely nuanced features, there is however a violent change in the personalities within. So a salesman indeed needs to put all his risks at play, read the customer instantly, play on his desires, stroke his ego, gently guide him not overpowering him, convince him with a wide knowledge base and increase his aspirations to seek a better quality for himself. It’s not reserving this approach only for those who one perceives to be the “PAYING PUBLIC” but for every one who walks into ones door whether he buys or not. More often a great product remains unsold due to bad salesmanship and an okay product gets a better value due to a good salesman.

One can never get tired of sales since otherwise one is tired with life...the next man is the next kill.

For a good salesman it’s the most refreshing and healthy way to a complete life...the interesting because of the unknown elements and the healthy as it gives one physical and mental exercise the work- life balance one seeks.

And finally as Jay Berger says

"Every sale has five basic obstacles: no need, no money, no hurry, no desire and no trust."

Acknowledging this, the person who can convert these obstacles into miracles owns this world. 

And Steve Jobs owned it briefly......why don’t you also, but forever?????

Friday, May 18, 2012

MBA'S Gold (or) Dust?

Author: Srirupa Banerjee, Assistant Professor, SMOT School of Business, Chennai

When things are good - Dogs are Gods and when things turn bad - Gods are Dogs"- anonymously said by me.   

Interestingly MBA's and their ilk are the flavor of the season, since now they are under the scanner with accusing fingers being pointed as to their relevance to understand and run corporate enterprises. But cut a decade back and the world was at their feet for making all feel rich and good. So what has changed?

As a reality still, MBA's are perceived to sit pretty in a “General’s” role rather than the “Jawans”. And that contributes as a fountainhead of the problem. They are viewed with mistrust and envy as it is felt they feel no pain but only stand to gain. It’s a different story that with supply outstripping demand there is indeed a sad decrease of quality which today finds all in a muddled mix - desperation on the part of an MBA to be open to all for nothing and the companies who think these knights wield the magic wand to change fortunes overnight - the outcome hurts all concerned and then fingers are pointed as objectives are mismatched… It’s indeed sad as the management course was envisioned to better the culture not destroy it.

For one, today, MBA education is termed as irrelevant and out of sync with sub cultures which I agree partially. No doubt it needs to be made more topical and sensitive to Indian ethos and ethics so that the melding of fresh inductees into a system is viewed more as an accessory rather than being viewed as a class apart. 
But to that I would like to add my view...I will just take one aspect of our permeating culture. Whereas, we do not recognize corruption as a way of life, it is indeed an ubiquitous part of our daily existence at all levels. Now no program can teach this aspect in the classroom and impart training to students to convert this into an art, as in some forms of governance this seems to be the only way for advance in ones career.

So the early visualisers wanted management education to have a basic framework to build its structure on, since India was essentially a family driven, patriarchal system of governance and hence needed to rely on professional guidance to take on the changing globe. This meant we necessarily plagiarized successful business models and tried to replicate the same here. When we embraced globalization in a big way, overseas companies needed to identify with set methods of governance at least in the corporate world, rather than the unique but effective myriad ways that business was conducted here. So graduates inducted into the system changed things over time for the better and brought in a newer work culture which was driven by professional productivity rather than profitability alone.

But indeed over time we needed to build in Indian sensitivities into business programs because when trade and exchange happens if one doesn't understand inter personal dynamics, it would collapse as the human element in management is paramount to any theory or postulate that one propounds.... India suffers more so, as we lack people with original thought. Unless we invest big time in Research and pursue fellowship programs in management, the level of understanding to chart new territories towards policy planning in emerging areas and industries would be sorely lacking. 
Its however left much to a fresh MBA with or without prior work experience to come into an organization not flaunting his badge rather letting that badge do the talking with a contribution accepted to all, by surreptitiously implementing class room taught  into the work space experience.

 From a personal viewpoint I need to add that, yes, there has been a great amount of static in the system over the years. I passed out 25 years ago from a top B School and the only perceptible difference was the undeniable penetration of technology from then to now. But if you see around the bend, we will notice the gods of yore remain current in spite of a cathartic change that has happened in the global village. This spells good and bad for an MBA graduate...good in so far as we have an anchor as an icon and bad as that icon can sink you with the same old thoughts.   

The quicker that one endears themselves to technology and improves communication, it’s my considered opinion, that half the battle is won. For in technology is built in speed and knowledge and proper communication breaks any number of barriers.

And just to learn from India’s IT experience, even though we had not invented the computer nor the software that was associated with it, Indians evolved as masters of the game because of their cognitive and intuitive skills. The same needs to be channelized towards the next layer of business and that is management.

To change curriculum, all at one go, would be a knee jerk reaction. To go against the grain, I would like to say “Managers are not made but are born". As one can't teach old dogs new tricks, we need to really work on our youth at an impressionable age to infuse them with positivity and leadership aspirations. This can be affected if at school and graduate levels academics is reflected with the same touch and feel of an MBA program so that they are exposed to the rough and tumble of business where they are ultimately going to park their lives. What currently happens is graduation is gone through as a ritual and an MBA is viewed as an extension of the same experience. An MBA is however, to be viewed a life skill course just like medicine as it would eventually hold one responsible for many lives by their acts of good or bad management.

Summing up the debate the MBA will be a creature of the times we live in who can only be wished away but not washed away. He can draw comfort that as long as business exists he will occupy a very integral part in its existence.  For that he needs to possess the quality of a cat with nine adaptable lives rather than a dog with one wasted one!

Monday, May 14, 2012

SMOT's 18 Month Program - Why is it different?

The focus of Business education should be to create lifelong learners and make managers of today, leaders for tomorrow. The 18 months PGDBA program gives the students the time advantage – which means the student will be industry ready 6 months ahead of his friends and peers. One of the Critical Success factors of SMOT is the management’s flexibility in accommodating courses and programs based on academic council suggestion.

Salient Features
Faculty from academia and industry Endeavour 
Up-to-date course content 
Lifelong learning Center 
State – of – Art Wi-Fi campus with a corporate ambiance
QME – Quality Management Education at an affordable cost

TARGETS - U should LOVE IT, no choice to LEAVE IT!

Author: S. Faiz Ahmad, CEO, SMOT School of Business, Chennai

William Tell had been given the onerous responsibility of shooting the apple on his sons head with a cross-bow. If he had missed he would have been beheaded for manslaughter in addition to losing his son. However, by splitting the apple, he made life difficult for Man as he was showcased to prove how a target, however stiff, can be achieved if ones is good at their skill. In the management almanac he is to be etched in palladium as his feat signifies where one can be pushed to achieve anything under trying circumstances and still do it exceptionally.

Over the years, Man has indeed gone soft...in historical times he had to literally fight to be recognized - he needed to kill, plunder and loot to achieve his target for recognition. Now with much water flowing, he has become a soft target in a comfortable womb, where he is called on to use only his grey cells and not his sinews and muscles to get to the same objective.

Leaving all other matters aside we definitely need a target or a goal to make our life meaningful to complete. No person who needs food to enter his stomach, to provide him sustenance, can shun this fact.”A beggar works on a $10 target to probably have a buffet whereas Buffet works on a $1000 target of so that he can have an exclusive A La Carte”...so all live their own aspirations to make it big so the Target remains ubiquitous in their lives.

A target is not a passionate belief but should be based more on a scientific model. It needs to be governed by set principles of the environment where we first need to have a very clear mission of where we need to go. Like the fabled Alice asking where a particular road would lead when she was at the crossroad, the answer was very subtle to say - It depended on where she wanted to go. So a target for anyone is where they would desire to be in life or work.

From there they need to understand the market and its needs and position themselves likewise. If they pitch too high it would remain unattainable and too low would mean uncompetitive. So to get to the realistic target is always as elusive as the Scarlet Pimpernel.  A target must always be beyond the realm of a person’s capability. It should challenge him to the maximum which makes the brain work to devise a strategy to get there.

But the biggest barrier in target achievement is the sense of ownership. The commitment of a person is when he owns up his target and devises a plan to get to it. And to get to it there needs to be certain steps that he should work on:
  1. Consider the target non negotiable
  2. Know your product /service thoroughly
  3. Understand your competitor-strengths and weakness
  4. Pitch against your comparable competitor
  5. Know your own customers and build a loyalty base within for repeat buying
  6. From the above point we need to understand their demographics to seek the new TG 
  7. Break the target into bite size nibbles. Depending on the product, a time line chart for achievement-day, week, month, quarter
  8. Never discount an inquiry but consign it to a database for further reference.
  9. Do not find excuses for non achievement.  At the same celebrate your achievement and talk about it openly
  10. Always have a back up strategy in place and don’t trawl the same line if it doesn’t give you success
From the above it’s evident that once we take the plunge into the competitive world of Comparable Achievement, we have lost our “innocence” and inherited the world of “power play dynamics”. It’s a huge boost to ones ego and always keeps those involved fully charged.

But in the modern world, targets have meant undiluted stress. And to accentuate the problem, when economies pass through troubled times, the expectations reach gargantuan heights to keep the business running and more often than not, human resource are the first line of expendables  to  be ejected out for non performance.

Marriages fail, health fails, self esteem falls and business fails. It may always look like a no - go in tough situations for the weak heart but for the brave heart the worst times are the best times. While others have accepted the defeat, actually the real potential exists in prizing out and preying on man’s insatiable needs which remains latent at all times. 

And finally whatever may be ones blood group—with targets it’s always........B+


Friday, May 11, 2012

Brand & Quality in Management Education

Author: Prof. V.G. Sarangan, Professor & PGP Chairperson, SMOT School of Business, Chennai

Every other person in the field of Management education would instantaneously agree with the view that effectiveness and efficiency of the graduates, coming out of any B-school / Department of Management studies of a college or University, has been on the decline. Of late, such an opinion is fast getting firmed up in the minds of employers. Why so? 

The spontaneous response that would come out is the ‘proliferation of Institutions’ that have made this course utterly commercial and a ‘money-spinner’ while ignoring the ‘value-additions’ that the course ought to have made in the personality of the graduates who went through the rigor. To me, this logic of excess commercialization has not been completely convincing. While I agree partially with the fact that ‘value-additions’ are not happening, the commercialization would not have happened if the demand for seats was not there. 

This leads us to think whether we were totally wrong in estimating the demand for professional managers in the country and to a certain extent, outside India? Did we pitch it at a very high number, while trying to understand the macro-economic growth indicators? Is it a fall-out of the downward revision of growth statistics that happened towards the start of this decade? Or could it be our (Indian) usual ‘thinking as a herd’ attitude that drove the educationists (!) / ‘academic entrepreneurs’ to get into the ‘rush’ to start and offer the course without creating a proper infrastructural back-up in the form of teachers, course materials, research reports, and a good workable pedagogy? Is it any one of these factors or a combination of some of them or a hideous concoction of all of them that has contributed to the eventual decline in the professional quality of young managers? 

The next, often publicized argument of ‘supply’ outstripping the ‘demand’ due to the recent  influx of more than 4000 institutions in the field of management education all over the country (within the last 8 to 10 years!), thereby making MBA a common course or ‘just another’ qualification, is even more unacceptable. Precisely because of the single reason that even if half or one third of the said 4000 institutions had concentrated on the ‘deliverables’, as many Institutions claim to have focused on, the graduates would have come out as better professionals and the ‘demand point’ in the cycle, would have gone up again by the sheer effectiveness of such fresh ‘professional employees’. The market for any product or service has got the potential to correct itself very quickly. 

Logically extending the thoughts, it is quiet evidential that the two major factors that contributed to the decline of quality are (I) a heavy compromise that has been made in the process of selecting the aspiring candidates and (II) a gross negligence on creating a strong reserve of academic resources in any form whatsoever.  Leave out the top rung institutions at this stage for a while. They get the ‘creamy’ segment of the students aspiring to join them. Even among them a filtering is done and the best is taken; trained (incidentally, what value addition is really taking place is a million dollar question here!); placed in well paying big organizations and that group in return takes care of juniors. The cycle is very well ‘maintained’ there. 
The institutions or departments of colleges at the next levels face the real challenge. They have to admit the students of ‘above average’ to ‘good’ levels; give them extremely good inputs; make them equal or in many occasions better; encourage employers to recruit them and see to it that their ‘products’ are consistently performing even during challenging times. It is very obvious that they cannot do so, year after year, unless their academic resource base (materials, methods and members of faculties) is very strong. Hence it is very much clear that a focus on the second factor of excellence in academic resource would supplement the deficiency if any, created by the first factor of compromise in selection of students. 

Only in cases of institutions where both the factors are not cared for and a very short sighted approach is prevailing the ‘product quality’ will be continuously affected.  Such institutions are more in number and they send out large groups of name sake ‘graduates’ who contribute to the generally negative thought process of the employers as well as the society. Sooner or later the negative spiral would set in for such institutions. But even before that, the ‘spoilage’ or damage they do to the employment market and to the admissions process of some of the committed second or third level institutions would be very heavy. 
It is the duty of teams of thinkers, objectively minded academicians and social group leaders to bring out this anomaly to the forefront and highlight the significance of setting up and adhering to some quality norms in both selection and deliverables. Initially, there would be stiff opposition to any change. The promoters of academic institutions may like to wish away the first factor under the disguise of ‘healthy minimum numbers’ and ‘economies of scale’, the second one may be left unattended with a counter argument that ‘duly qualified’ faculty is difficult to get and the research work in Management studies are at a ‘fledgling’ stage. [Incidentally, for management education, the post-graduation in that field is enough a qualification to teach according to the higher education monitoring bodies and more of practicing managers are welcome rather than pure academicians to give values of problem solving.]   

My questions to the people who profound such defensive arguments is that “were you not able to understand this phenomenon when you started the department or the institution?”; “were you not able to predict at least that we would get to this stage very soon?”; “ having considered the proposition of offering MBA education as a pure business or commercial venture, don’t you know that like any other business the ‘input quality’ is what ultimately determines the long term acceptability of your ‘product’ in the market?”; “what has been done in or by your institution or department to sustain the quality?”  Interestingly, there are some Business schools who are - small but committed to the cause of quality education; who have developed excellent teams of regular, adjunct and visiting  faculty members (sometimes, equal to the number of students in the classes!); possess a very well-designed curriculum which is up to date; an affiliation or association with an accredited Indian or Western University; a very consistently decent placement record of over 90%; and a fairly supportive, affordable fee structure and a good set of satisfied alumni and last but not the least an excellent infrastructure- awaiting a good level of admissions. They should be given a chance to prove that the ‘professional quality’ cannot decline if there is an equal commitment from the Institution as well as the student community towards achieving excellence in their pursuits and no relenting at any cost. In fact, such institutions only add ‘value’ to the individuals and the nation over a period of time.