A Mind-Boggling Internship Experience at Microsoft Gulf – Summer Saga 2014

Coming from an IT Background along with 1 year of MBA education in an IIM, I could not have asked for a better place to do my summer internship program. People say internships are the time when a student gets to understand the stark realities of the field which he wishes to enter and continue for the rest of his working career. My internship at Microsoft Gulf based in Dubai, the headquarters for the Middle East and Africa (MEA) division of Microsoft was unarguably the most fascinating learning experience I have had in my short career thus far.  I was travelling to Dubai for my internship and became the envy of all my classmates.  There are no words to express my feelings on entering the office premises on Day 1 and receiving the company ID card. The first meeting with the manager began casually with both of us having self-made coffee and him forcing me to remove my tie despite my reluctance. Just when I started to wonder that it was just the first day and my manager wanted me to relax and be casual, he wasted no time and began his explanation on how the Microsoft software OEM business works in the Gulf and what was exactly expected of me over the next 8 weeks. #Amazing initial feelings#

Just as I was starting to feel fortunate and happy to work inside such a well-equipped company premise, my manager warned me that every minute I spend in the office hereon is waste of precious time. “Welcome to the world of sales” were his words (with a crafty smile) after noticing my reaction (filled with shock, of course!). Little did I realize then that I would not be in the company premises for the following 7 weeks. My first day at office turned out to be just the first of the three days I had spent inside the office premises throughout the entire internship period. Yes, the project was in the field of sales and marketing.
#Sales = Field work#

Acceptance of Challenge – Being the only intern, I had to listen to the manager’s words carefully as I did not have an accomplice to fall back on in case of any mishap. The outline of the project was to map the entire IT reseller (retailer) market of U.A.E and determine the current reach of Microsoft’s OEM Software products: Windows, Office and Server. I was expected to perform primary research by visiting every reseller selling IT products and providing IT solutions and services in the Gulf. The expectations were to cover the major markets in U.A.E initially and the other emirates if there was time in hand. Thankfully, my manager kept stressing on how challenging this project is and how it would help me as well as the organization in the long run. Those words motivated me to start on the much feared ‘field-work’ with more confidence.
#Self-motivation – crucial for sales#

My roadshow – With initial guidance from experienced Microsoft OEM Partner managers, I set out to carry out my primary data collection from Microsoft’s major market in the U.A.E – Bur Dubai. The organization provided me with a personalized business card that helped a great deal in convincing and earning the respect of ‘most’ of the IT resellers. The major data collection involved in knowing the particular reseller’s main line of business, his source of purchase for MS products (Distributor or Reseller), Average quantity of each OEM product purchased per month and the frequency of purchase (Daily/Monthly/Weekly). Additionally, I also took up the initiative to promote a couple of the reseller incentive programs which were applicable if the customer (reseller) purchased from one of Microsoft’s four authorized distributors. #Self-Initiative#

Facing challenges head on – The task may seem simple and straightforward. However, it had its own set of challenges. The market in the gulf shuts down from 1 pm to 5 pm and this was the timeframe where I was not allowed to do any productive work. My work thus had to be divided into morning and evening shifts wherein I visited an average of 25 resellers per day. There were several instances of a particular reseller not able to provide information either because he was busy with his customers or because of the non-availability of the concerned personnel. I had to re-visit these resellers as they were reluctant to provide information through phone. The comforting factor was the domination of people from Kerala in the IT market. Coming from a nearby state in the form of Tamil Nadu, the nativity factor helped me in not only getting accurate information but also develop a good relationship with them. There were very few who were not comfortable in speaking English and I managed to deal with them with my basic proficiency in Hindi. Travelling to these places was not a problem with the metro rail connecting most of the places in Dubai.

The work was incomplete with obtaining primary data. The entire information had to be fed into an excel document with both the contact and purchase details for the particular reseller. In this way, I was providing the organization with a complete database of the entire IT reseller market in the U.A.E. #Information is Wealth#

The data collection process got even more exciting when I was tagged with one of Microsoft’s distributors for visiting the resellers located in other Emirates namely Sharjah, Fujairah, Al Ain and Abu Dhabi. The 4- hour up and down travel with a distributor contact person was the time I learnt a lot on the ground reality and how the distribution system works in the Gulf. I got a picture of how the strategy varies for each distributor. While one of them focused on the big customers who buy in bulk, the other focused on the retail-type customers and hence made their presence felt in comparatively smaller markets like Fujairah and Al Ain. The person provided invaluable information from a distributor’s point of view and expressed his concerns with respect to Microsoft products especially in the smaller markets which were dominated by piracy. Having no other competitor, Piracy proves to be the only threat for the Microsoft software products even though it has been reduced drastically in the past four years. #Distributors – Varying Strategies#

Enjoying the experience – On completing the entire data collection process, I felt my apprehensions completely overturned. Being a totally introverted personality, Primary research through field work is the last thing that one would want to indulge in. In the end, I felt it to be the most enjoyable aspect of the entire internship. I enjoyed it more than the excel analysis work I did in my last week using the collected data. Exploration of the working of the business, venturing into new places and meeting and discussing with new people varying scenarios of demand and supply gave me an enjoyable and learning experience which I would have never obtained by sitting within the company premises. This is when I realized that field work does actually serve to be the prime source of learning for any person entering into sales domain. My greatest learning was that the entire business of an organization can be learnt through excessive field work and market research, changing my negative perception about it before actually undergoing the experience.

Using what I learnt – The fact that I could relate the 4P theories in marketing and understand the working of the entire supply chain from a vendor to retailer made my learning complete in the two months. The biggest learning as mentioned earlier is that there is no substitute for field work when it comes to sales and customers are made and retained mainly through a personalized approach no matter how far the technology improves. The entire experience proved to me that one might never like or dislike a particular domain unless he tries it out real-time. As it turned out eventually, my least preferred domain turned out to be my favorite after project completion.

The primary data collection was done and analysis of the collected information was the need of the hour in the last week. The manager was surprised and happy to see the amount of data collected as I managed to cover the resellers in all the seven emirates by working even on a couple of Saturdays although it was not necessary. On providing the final results as well as my recommendations based on the data analysis as well as customer feedback, the top management felt pleased as it was practical and feasible and according to the need of the hour. “Great to see that you delivered as is expected from an Indian IIM grad” were the final words from my mentor. I could not have asked for anything more pleasant to come from the horse’s mouth himself. Those words made me feel fully resourced and  inspired for my upcoming year at IIMU. There was a spring in my step as I winded up my presentation. #Final Presentation#

Return back to base – With a heavy heart, I had to return all the company’s properties including laptop, ID card and laptop bag. Two months had passed by in a whisker and here I was standing, wishing to re-join the organization after graduation. The organization’s top management has obliged by promising to refer me in once I graduate. I had lived a dream for these two months and there is no better feeling than when your hard work pays off at the end. I slipped away from the company premises after bidding a final goodbye hoping and promising to meet them again with the same spirit next year as a full-time employee.

Jahid Hassan

Yet to explore completely ;)