AH! Finally a blog to share my story, after getting a rejection mail from Internshala’s “Your Story Contest” saying this story couldn’t make the cut. Now let’s forget that and cut to the chase with a few questions.
Are you someone without any prior work or project experience? Are you someone seeking to improve their proficiency in Hindi? Is loneliness hard for you to cope with? If so, then this is definitely the story for you.
SPOILER ALERT:- This Is A Self-Censored Story! So No Major Spoilers and Limited Specifics! Get in Touch With Me For An Uncensored Account. 😉
Ever since I got placed in Perfetti Van Melle India (PVMI) for Summer 2015, the idea of selling confectionery like Mentos, Center Fresh, Center Fruit and Alpenliebe excited me to no bound. Phrases like “Zubaan pe rakhe lagaam” and “Kaisi jeeb lap lapayee” were going to be a part of my lingo. After all, the child in me screamed candy. However, I clearly recalled the bittersweet words of the company spokesperson who visited our campus for the Pre-Placement Talk.
“Anybody who gets to intern with us will have to do a sales project, which will be very tough as you will have to travel far and out everyday. And you will have to work really hard to earn a Pre-Placement Interview (PPI)”
At the start of my MBA journey, I struggled to string together simple sentences in Hindi given my South Indian upbringing. I knew understanding the language alone wouldn’t be enough. So a lot of “mehnat” was needed for the summer ahead, anticipating my project location to be anywhere but in the South. I certainly have to give credit to my college friends, Google Translate, Hindi films and my basic inquisitive nature to be able to speak the language more comfortably today albeit the occasional errors in gender and my accent. Abhi dekho! Meri Hindi teek hai na?!
Interaction with last summer’s PVMI interns from my senior batch gave me a hint of the possibility to work in the South, which would have meant their Bangalore sales office. Even my mom hoped that I wouldn’t be based too far from home as this was going to be my first summer away working full time.
Fast forwarding to March 14, 2015……my mom was heart-broken. I was allotted to work on Alternate Sales Channels from April 13 to June 6, 2015 (8 Weeks) with my reporting and project location being Mumbai. My Hindi was definitely going to come into the picture. Since Google failed to throw up any solid definition on alternate sales channels, my seniors suggested I would have to sell candies to army and educational canteens and that I would have to work in the city itself. Well, my seniors were certainly right about the second part. Four of my other marketing batch-mates were given General Trade Sales in PVMI which normally involves travel to rural areas.
After a comfortable week at home (Trivandrum, Kerala) that followed my second semester exams completion, the time had come to depart to Mumbai on a 2-day train journey. En Route, I received a motivational mail from the Gurgaon Office HR addressing all the interns to make the most of the internship opportunity to learn and welcoming us officially on board Perfetti Van Melle.
My induction day remains “unpleasantly memorable”, as I started off on the wrong foot quite literally. I pulled my hamstring on the local train journey from Goregaon to the PVM sales office in Vile Parle East, resulting in me missing the induction scheduled at 10 AM. I had to reach 2 hours later as necessary treatment and rest for my hamstring in the First Aid Room of the railway station were given. My arrival at the office couldn’t have been any better than receiving a nice PVMI candy hamper as well as my prompt acquaintance with 4 other co-interns, who were allotted General Trade Sales. I learnt from the Mumbai HR that there were only 4 out of 35 PVM interns in Alternate Sales Channels (Modern Trade as it is better known as). As soon as I got to know the names and contact numbers, I formed a separate WhatsApp group to keep in touch with them as it would have mattered a lot in times of difficulty and confusion.
It was indeed a privilege to be assigned to the Area Sales Manager of Modern Trade for project guidance, considering he’s an alumnus of my institute and he greeted me with a fistbump. I mean what a better way to be introduced to your mentor, a fistbump! He expected nothing less than me going to the market and getting my hands really dirty. Well, I can proudly say I managed to get my hands very sweaty for the project duration (read: humid weather). The following project deliverables were instructed:
- To Identify Modern Trade Outlets in Mumbai, Pune and Ahmedabad and to List outlets in a given format for PVMI to start sales with
- To Formulate a method of calculating the sales potential for PVMI in an outlet
- To Understand the Importance of Cross Category Visibility and to Identify which cross-categories are favorable for PVMI business in established outlets
The initial two weeks involved accompanying company sales officers to outlets like Metro Cash & Carry, HyperCity, and Big Bazaar in different areas of Mumbai in order to observe and learn the fundamentals of Modern Trade Business before diving into my project deliverables.
So what is Modern Trade? It is any outlet with a minimum of 1500 Sq. Ft. and is characterized by electronic cash tills and customer self-servicing. Other fundamentals included visual merchandising, store layout, categories and assortments, and visibility tools.
The next three weeks were spent listing outlets in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, followed by one week each in Pune and Ahmedabad for the same. I couldn’t simply list any store or outlet in the cities. Frankly, the toughest part was finding the outlets that matched the company’s criteria of a “Modern Trade Outlet”, which extended beyond the term’s definition given above and hence I ended up listing two to three outlets daily on an average. Each day starting from 9:30 AM to finishing around 7 PM, my patience and stamina were put to the grind against the heat and humidity. Such was the time I felt like Gatorade sports drink had found its most important customer!
The fun part was applying my Hindi during work. In my hardwired South Indian accent and well rehearsed demeanor, I often started with:
“Namaste sahib. Mera naam hai Suraj aur main Alpenliebe company se hoon. Aap kaise ho? Teek hai, main ne dekha hai ki hamara maal aapka dukhaan mein nahi hai aur main ne bhi suna ki pehle nahi bech rahe the, toh business chalu karwane ke liye main ne aaya hoon……….”
Of course, I cannot forget asking “Kem Cho?” (How are you?) if it was a Gujarati store manager. Such pleasantries did help me sell my company’s offers to most of the store managers, especially during peak hours when they are normally least bothered to see a salesperson like me.
As for my work on Cross Category Visibility in established outlets, not only did I find it essential to converse with store managers of a HyperCity or a Big Bazaar for collecting monthly sales data of different food categories, but it was just as essential to channel my observation skills on consumer behavior in the store too. For example, if I observed a significant number of customers carrying staple products in their trolleys before approaching the confectionery section, I could recommend pairing a PVMI brand with a Staples brand in the store to give PVMI Cross Category Visibility.
At last, my final presentation in front of a team of sales managers and the Head of Alternate Sales Channels at the Gurgaon sales office on June 5, 2014 was one of the biggest experiences for me as it was not only a test on my deliverables but on the fundamentals of Modern Trade Business. Though I was unable to make the cut to the next round of presentations owing to given *reasons* (contact me to know more!), it was a relief when my mentor reassured me that I did “a good job” and that I had clearly worked hard on my project. He said this whole experience would be the differentiator for my final placements in college. *Touch wood*
Well here’s something to be taken seriously. Let me not forget to mention that such an opportunity taught me to survive on my own in strange places. It was my first time staying for such a considerable time in both Mumbai and Ahmedabad. It is essential to talk to the right people for the important things apart from doing your own research, especially regarding the accommodation in the three cities, travel, food and so on. For the duration in Mumbai, I stayed in an AC dormitory with people from different walks of life, while I was in my college hostel in Pune. Traveling in the crowded local train of Mumbai was an everyday challenge that I have still not been entirely accustomed to. Ahmedabad was the most challenging at 45’ Celsius. An AC room would have costed at least Rs. 1000, while my daily lodging budget was Rs. 550. A good night’s sleep had become a luxury for that week given the climate.
All in all, I am extremely grateful to PVMI for this opportunity; to my mentor and the Sales Officers for their guidance; to my sales professors for their inputs; to my co-interns for their empathy and companionship; and finally to my family and friends without whose phone calls and WhatsApp messages I would have felt so lonely being on my own. I had missed my regular social life during the internship. With all these experiences, I can be better prepared mentally to join the corporate world after my MBA.
For any specific details, kindly get in touch with me. Otherwise, wait for my autobiography whenever it deserves to be written. 😉