Internship to PPO conversion: Is there a winning formula?

I teach courses on B2B marketing, research methods, marketing analytics, and sales management. Most of the students walk into my office to seek advice on issues related to their course work. Sometimes, they have different questions as well, like the one I faced a week ago; What should I do to convert my internship into a PPO? I did offer some advice to the student and we closed our conversation.

That set me thinking; it was a great question and a very positive attitude! I started putting together some of my thoughts around what makes an intern a potential employee. What are the key markers of such interns that managers keep looking for? There are no straightforward answers, but, seemingly a set of values, skills, and behaviors does enhance the odds to get a PPO. Some of these are discussed below:

1.      Sincerity: Be sincere in everything that you do as an intern. Take your job very seriously as if you are going to make a big contribution. Let that be palpable to people around you.

2.      Punctuality: ‘First in last out’ is a good idea. Be there on time and extend your work hours for meaningful engagements. Do not just hand around.

3.      Enthusiasm: An intern must display excitement for learning opportunities. Complete each task with that spirit of learning and do not settle for anything less than a great output. Exceed expectations; that’s the keyword here.

4.      Stretch: Managers notice interns who are willing to do more, beyond the set assignments. Look for such opportunities to help/assist your mentor in any of his/her projects. Can I be of some assistance; that’s a great attitude to carry.

5.      Ask (intelligent) questions: Learn the basics on your own. Try and get information from published resources including company/customers websites. Ask questions to communicate that you want a deeper understanding. Take time and prepare your questions and do not expect ready answers. Offer your time if some data crunching or research is required to find answers.

6.      Research Skills: If you did your research method course with full involvement ( you understand what I mean), you are carrying few important skills with you. Use these skills to surprise your mentors. Appear resourceful, gather data and generate insights. Help your mentor to do things with data that he/she wanted to.

7.      Be Professional: Build relationships but respect the distance. Remember, the only way you can create value for yourself is by creating and delivering value for your mentor. You are competing with several other interns from different B-Schools; your winning mantra is to deliver superior value!

One more point: before you report for your internship ask this question to yourself; are you willing to craft a strategy to come back with a PPO? If your answer is yes, go ahead and work on your game plan. Those seven points would serve as guiding posts for you.

Best of Luck!Interns


Flat Sales Organization on Your Mind? Consider Self-leadership Training

Leadership for the sales team is considered to be a strong predictor of sales force effectiveness. Measured in terms of objective performance, relationship performance and customer performance, sales force effectiveness is a key indicator for firm’s long-term financial performance. And, for most of the firms, the responsibility rests with the sales managers who are mandated to lead their teams to perform better, year after year. However, as businesses move into greater complexities in an uncertain environment, there are stronger pieces of evidence emerging from various studies to suggest that salespeople who are more empowered to serve their customers are likely to be better performers.

One of the more powerful ways to empower your sales force is to train them with appropriate cognitive strategies. A set of such strategies is called self-leadership strategies or SLS. There are three dimensions through which these strategies provide enough drive and motivation to salespeople so that they achieve the desired sales outcomes. These dimensions are; (a) Thought self-leadership, (b) Behaviour focused strategies, and, (c) natural rewards strategies. These strategies in a standalone form or through an interactive mechanism heighten the sense of self-efficacy (the belief that one can engage with customers with complete knowledge and skills) in salespeople and they become more confident in dealing with complex sales situation with minimal supervision.

In a 2015 paper which was published in Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing, we presented the evidence to suggest that natural rewards strategies were the key driver of customer orientation in salespeople and they could achieve higher levels of performance by deploying selling skills and emotion regulation mechanism effectively. We followed up on our previous work and tested another model in our next paper (forthcoming in the Journal of Business and Industrial Marketing) in 2016. Here’s what we found; thought self-leadership enhanced the self-efficacy perceptions among salespeople and they could perform at higher levels (relative to salespeople with lower thought self-leadership) by effectively using their selling skills and adaptive selling behaviors. Clearly, in both the studies which used sales force as a sample, the relationship between SLS and performance was significantly positive and this linkage was mediated by skills and behaviors deployed during the planning and execution of sales calls.

One big reason that a company should invest in SLS training for its sales force is about enhanced effectiveness. The bigger and more important reason to consider SLS training is to build a sales team which delivers sustainable and purposeful growth in sales numbers, independent of supervisory influences. Another advantage is in the form of reduced supervision cost and therefore, as your sales force moves into a higher plane of self-leadership, you can have a sales organization with lesser layers.

More speed to your sales organization!

Managing the Residual Impact of Marketing

Marketing is about meeting customer needs profitably by engaging in exchange transactions. In a way, marketing can be viewed as a sales outreach by organizations to various members of the consumption community or customer segments and therefore it extends to the larger society. The exchange which occurs through the marketing process impacts the transacting parties primarily but it does leave a significant residual impact on society with  ethical ramifications. This is true for both settings; product or services; with co-creation of customer value at the core of the marketing process. Essentially, every transaction has a broader impact on economic indicators such as GDP and a narrow and focused impact on company’s revenues. However, the very nature of exchange  is social and therefore, as several marketing scholars argue, its outcome must be evaluated in terms of ‘fairness’ and rightness on all parties involved in the marketing exchange. Marketers have been accused of being not sensitive enough towards these measures of ‘fairness’ and or ‘rightness’ for evaluating the impact of marketing on the society. This lack of ‘responsibility’ virtue has been discussed, debated on platforms across the domains and various stakeholders of the business discipline, including the marketing theorists.

Clearly, responsible marketing is all about being sensitive and mindful about ethical consideration in marketing decisions. Recently, the momentum towards creating wider acceptability to this idea found a new push as compelling arguments appeared in leading marketing journals on mindful consumption, public policy implications of marketing decisions. There has been much talk on this and too little action to support the notion that the idea has gained some traction. Very recently, an important development was reported in newspapers. Reading that report, one does get a sense that responsible marketing as an idea is taking a good shape. Read on…

Two years ago, Pepsico CEO Indira Nooyi was visiting India and during her meetings with Indian government officials, a concern was raised over high sugar content in the drinks marketed by Pepsico. Though it took two years to respond to that concern, the strength of response compensates for that. Here’s an excerpt from the ET report that appeared on 18th October.

” PepsiCo will reduce sugar content in its juices and carbonated drinks in India by 2025 as part of a global pledge announced by Chief Executive Indra Nooyi on Monday amid a backlash against such products over an obesity epidemic and illnesses such as diabetes. Several countries are also considering a sugar tax to reduce consumption of sugary drinks.As part of the initiative, the company will introduce smaller sizes and bring zero-calorie drinks to India with close to two-thirds of the company’s beverages having 100 calories or less per 12-ounce serving.“We have started the sugar reduction journey across colas, flavors, and juices. We will be replacing sugar with natural and artificial sweeteners across our portfolio, and will also reduce portion sizes of beverages in bottles and cans,“ PepsiCo India Chairman D Shivakumar told ET. Pepsi began selling colas in 150-ml cans, the smallest in the domestic market, in February. “These are now being extended to other brands such as 7Up, Mountain Dew, Diet Pepsi and Mirinda. This is about portion control,“ Shivakumar said. “For the next 10 years, we will focus on products, planet, and people.“pepsi

Managing Change Through Effective Self-Leadership


While the rapid changes are the reality of all the domains of the business world, in no other function it is more palpable than in Sales. The sales force, therefore, is always charged with not only the responsibilities for current growth but also with the mapping out of future upcoming trends in business. Logically, the onus squarely lies with the sales leaders who find themselves engaged in a pitched battle at three levels; (a) external environment – customers, competitors, regulations etc, (b) internal environment- culture, team, cross functional tensions, and (c) the self. The ordering of levels are based on my own experience and as that of several sales leaders, I have worked with in my 25-year long sales career. Self comes last and is often neglected! Remember, leadership is about managing energy, first in yourself and then in others.

Therefore, if you want to provide the leadership that can effectively respond to internal and external changes, look for your own vitality quotient – VQ. Your VQ is the degree to which you tend to mobilize your vital functions (your Power to-live) in order to ensure the accomplishment of your Project-to-live. This degree is measured in terms of your intensity of Will-to-live. Leaders should be able to self-assess themselves by activating system 2 thinking which is characterised by a great deal of deployment of effort and attention. Self-leadership as a toolkit can be employed by sales leaders to help them strengthen their VQ and make them more effective and brave while dealing with change. Self-observation, Self-goal setting, Self-reward, Self-punishment, Self-cueing (positive and negative cues) are few behaviour focused strategies that can be deployed to achieve a higher level of self-awareness and control. The other set of strategies that helps leaders in sharpening their self-influencing abilities are self-talk and mental imageries. Lastly, focusing on the enjoyable/rewarding aspects of your leadership position can result in a stronger feeling of competence, self-control and a strong sense of purpose.

Leaders who are self-lead, are “Engaged” professionals  carrying leadership point of view throughout their routine and strategic functioning. They could be facing challenges at various levels: company, industry, government or society, their response to such change situations clearly reflect the leadership point of view and their answers to the following question is always a resounding YES!

Can you see what needs to be done?

Do you understand all the underlying forces at play?

Do you have the courage to initiate action?


Audience Engagement Score: Towards a Sustainable Metric


With the emergenceEngaged of technology aided decision making in marketing, information on your customers has taken the centre stage as a key input for effective customer engagement. The customers are interacting with the marketers on multiple platforms – offline as well as online and these interactions leave a trail of data that marketers are using to understand, decode and predict consumer’s buying behaviour. The customers, therefore,are also exposed to messages transmitted through different media platforms and data on these interactions are held with the customers in a collective manner and data on individual platforms with respective media entities. For example, a marketer knows that a customer is interacting with newspapers, television, social media and other digital media during the course of her daily routine, and he also has data on such interactions on digital medium. What the marketer does not know clearly is what the medium mix is in a customer’s daily life? In India, where the print and television are still the most preferred medium and digital is making a fast inroad into daily lives of consumers, this information on customer interaction with different mediums, both in terms of gross engagement and proportioned engagement, will be critical for data-based marketing decisions. The imperatives are in terms of revisiting the audience measurement traditions – readership survey for newspapers, TAM for TV audience and different web-based analytics tools to measure visits and actions. Few points are presented here with respect to newspaper audience measurement :
Shift the Focus: The medium is no longer the focal point. The customer is. Therefore, the unit of analysis has to be the customer and her consumption/behaviour as she interacts with marketers on various medium. It’s like knowing about the customer’s daily life in a way that is most useful for marketers – what, why, when and where? All in a snapshot.
New Metrics: It’s no longer enough to know which newspaper brand/TV program is read/watched by what kind of readers/viewers in demographic terms. If only we shift the focus on the consumer of the medium, we can then find out more about the consumer in depth- who is your customer and why you should be interested in her! What makes her a great customer?
Audience Engagement Score: Its time that we moved to measuring audience engagement that provides marketer the data on how a consumer is dividing its engagement across several media that he or she consumes. A robust sample design and a survey can throw up such aggregate scores for each newspaper’s readers. Higher readership bases with low engagement scores are less meaningful as compared to relatively lower readership base with significantly higher engagement scores.
Shift the Goal Post : By adopting such metrics, newspaper marketers can focus on engagement building with its readers and not focus on ramping up readership alone. Their advertisers obviously are interested in highly engaged audience only. Therefore, the goal post in marker leadership would shift from “ highest number of readers” to “ largest number of engaged readers”

The Science of Selling

I started my sales career in 1989 and the first lesson learned was : sales is all about numbers. Those days numbers essentially meant collecting information on markets, distributors, retailers, competitors and customers. The data thus collected and stored in computers were used for churning out diagnostic reports and answered questions like :

  • Has market share gone up or down?
  • How does the sales trend look like month on month?
  • What about calls productivity? Lead generations? Conversions?

Late 90’s and salespeople were exposed to dreaded terms like CRM. Dreaded? Yes, because that necessarily meant that they collected more micro level data from the market and make sense of customer reports, credit reports and productivity reports in greater details. While all those understanding was more about trends, what went wrong etc, the corrective measures arrived at were largely based on Manager’s own understanding of issues and his/her intuition. Needless to mention that such decisions were accepted without much of buy in and transparency.

Today, we are operating is a much more complex business environment and uncertainty is  all pervasive including selling. One of the ways that sales as a function can wade through these complexities is through better use of data and smarter way of data analysis. I argue that a good sales force is not good enough but a sales force that uses analytics generated insights is the way forward. I am discussing two types of analytics that are of immense value for an insightful sales team. Consider some of the decision dilemmas of a salesperson:

  • How  do i prioritize my sales leads?
  • What are the channels of communication my customers are comfortable with?
  • How much time my customers have for me?
  • How do i customize my offering to a particular customer?

Many of the questions like these can be addressed using prescriptive and predictive analysis which can further help the salesperson to be more productive on several outcome measures such as objective and or relationship performance. The sales management processes can be made more efficient with the help of these tools and several issues related to territory planning, sales force deployment, key account management and sales cycle management.

Getting analytics in daily sales life : Few steps to consider

  • Before you start looking for a consultant, identify people in your team who understand business very well ( Do not care if they know nothing about analytics….). Let this small group come up with questions that are critical to their success and they want these answered in clear terms.
  • With this small group’s ideas, get these issues validated with the team members.
  • Now is the time to look for data scientists.
  • Test the analytics model with live data and share it with the team – let them play with the output and get excited with new insights.
  • Now broaden the scope of analytics to answer questions that sit on the intersection of marketing and sales. Your sales team would love this. After all who does not want to how the buyers are going to buy in future?
  • Contrary to several other consultant’s ideas, my suggestion is that you employ analytics in your sales management decisions only after the sales team has validated and adopted the new paradigm of selling. Once you understand technology, you do not fear managed by the same!

Selling is all about people, relationships, skills and managing emotions. The great thing about analytics that it does not substitute any of these but it simply moderates ( positive) the influence of attitude, behavior, skills and orientations on sales performance. The data science enables better decision making in the daily lives of salespeople and then, they ride on insights, more than just a shoeshine and a smile, to the customers offices and serve them well. Then they pursue the real purpose of selling.

Missed Opportunities : An Organizational Perspective

Much has been written about the success of new ideas that turned into huge business entities in both technology and non-technology segments of the industry. These are amazing stories of power of imagination, grit, perseverance and ability to withstand failures and getting up one more time to get closer to success. Consider global brands such as Apple or Indian e-commerce giants such as flipkart – these companies rode on the huge entrepreneurial drive and a belief that it could change the ways consumers behaved! In fact many of these companies believed that consumers could go wrong in the choices that they make and if they are given the right choice, consumers will question their own judgments about the product price, quality and experiences. However, if we look at traditional business conglomerates, specially in India, one wonders why these companies could be missing opportunities one after another. Several reasons can be proposed to dissect the phenomenon and some of these are explained below:( Self-limiting ideas and suggestions to overcome these)

1. Change is a  process : Organizations like to believe that change in technology has to undergo adaption process. Rightly so but for few exceptions wherein it does not necessary have to go through all the stages with a defined transition period. Internet and digital technology is one such example. Two years ago, most of the media companies considered this as a developed economy phenomenon. Today, even the industry forecasts recognize the explosive growth that digital media platforms are looking at. The change is much faster than expected and by the time this realization sets in, its too late. Consider tradition newspapers facing competition from news apps. Today we may like to laugh it off, but sooner than tomorrow we may see that in action!

Think about it : Only if Shoppers Stop knew that technology will change the way people buy, wouldn’t they be the largest e-tailers in India? What they believed in was the power of incremental innovation.

2. Incremental Innovation is Good Enough: For sure it is. It allows organizations to be on a steady growth without taking too much risk at the same time introducing products and services that keep meeting customer needs in a more effective way and results in cost efficiency. Nothing wrong in this philosophy but for one : it s a good idea for focusing on your current business/industry. But if you are looking at riding the next big wave of change, the organizational energy required to fire up imaginations is simply huge. Organizations then need to promote a culture of radical thinking to spot opportunities and expand the planning horizon to may be next two decades!

Today, while we continue to debate the future of print media,  futuristic media organizations are looking at media convergence as a way of incremental innovation. The best ones are busy identifying next big wave of opportunities enabled by technology such as Education! Watch out for Bennett University.

3. Thought Bondage : We are the best in the business! Yes you sure are but this is the era of indirect learning, the benchmarking framework has moved. The best practices of business are industry agnostic and beyond geographical boundaries. Thought leadership has just been redefined and a lack of it could lead to though bondage and cripple growth in an organization. In many organizations best practices benchmarking is a no go,even for  its own functions e.g HR, Finanace, Sales etc.  As Prof Rajesh Chandy suggests, ” Its all about spotting opportunities beyond one’s horizon”.

And one of the effective ways to break the shackle is to visit your people strategy.

4. People are HR and not strategic imperative : Its interesting to follow start-up hiring and the kind of emphasis they place on people. Tradition organizations are process driven and are largely obsessed with the idea of people as operation resource rather than that of a strategic resource. To complicate the people issues further, organizations promote ‘personality cult’ that limits the scope of institution building. As Devdutt Patnaik observes, ” Many great leaders are often Banyan trees, who do not let anyone else grow under them. They hire mediocre people and so create an ecosystem of mediocrity, which listens and obeys. They do everything in their power to kick out talent so that they are never threatened”.

Traditional organizations can afford this ( or can they?). Mediocrity strengthens the status quo,never questions it and thrives in that ecosystem till extinction.