Sales and Marketing: Internship at Saint Gobain

There’s something eerily suggestive about Day Zero.

It’s the word ‘Zero’.

Or in other words, the number of interviews I cracked on that day.

While many of my batch-mates were basking in the hard-earned glory of having cracked the interviews of banks and consulting companies, for many of us, there were no consults, only consulks.

It was time to go back to basics. I mean literally.

Back to basics. Marketing basics. I ran to Kotler seeking forgiveness.

Two days, twenty-one GDs (at times getting confused about the very company that was conducting the GD) and 4 interviews later, I got through the interview process of Saint Gobain.

Four months and twenty seven days after cracking the interview, I was standing in front of the Saint Gobain office in Mumbai. The induction process lasted a whole day.

The Project

I had been assigned to the Gyproc division of Saint Gobain India Pvt Ltd, and my project was basically about meeting a set of contractors in the Mumbai region and trying to understand their purchase behaviour in the Gypsum Plasterboard Industry, specifically in the false ceiling category. These set of contractors are highly unorganised and are dispersed throughout the length and breadth of Mumbai. Keeping the confidentiality of the project in perspective, I wouldn’t write too much about it.

Brief Overview

As per the project description given above, since it involved meeting small contractors dispersed through the length and breadth of Mumbai, meeting them involved extensive travelling in locals, metro trains, autos (in no particular order and mostly involving all three) which left scars through the length and breadth of my body. In order to build brand preference for Gyproc, it was necessary to meet them informally and talk to them about their work, their lifestyle, their purchase behaviour, their customers, anything, everything.

It was important to understand all this since the Gypsum plasterboard market involves stakeholders who tend to be price conscious and it is still an evolving category at this stage. In the small projects category, which includes standalone flats, small office spaces etc., stiff competition from low priced imported products means that the influencers in the decision making process, i.e. the contractors, play a key role as regards the selection of the products to be used. Hence, there was an increased urgency to understand them. I had to come up with a marketing plan that sought to engage with, develop and educate the contractors.

That’s about the project.

Experiences

Four months and twenty eight days after cracking the interview, I plunged into the beautiful chaos that’s Mumbai. I put up at a cousin’s place in Navi Mumbai, and because of the morning rush in Mumbai locals, this is what I looked like after I managed to get on the 8:00 am local to Andheri, the art of which I soon mastered.

Tryst with destiny

The story, at least the beginning of it, was the same every day.

Get up. Confirm meetings. Get ready. Mentally train yourself to survive through the train journey. Try not to get angry. Stop yourself from killing the guy who trampled your well-polished shoes. Reach the designated place to meet the contractors lined up for the day.

Vada-Pao.

(Yes. Vada-Pao is a routine, like praying. By the way, one can have it for lunch, dinner, breakfast, or during snacks. It’s like the Aamir Khan of Mumbai’s street food)

Get back home. Collate. Sleep. Repeat.

Getting to the local station nearest to the rendezvous spot was only one part of it. The next part, which involved calling up the contractor to understand about the exact spot where he (yes, only male contractors) would be, pleading with auto drivers to take you to that unpronounceable colony, was equally daunting. And almost invariably, the meetings would happen in small tea-shops, paan-ki-dukaan, garages, dealers’ shops, or simply by the side of the road.

The scheduling, however, often had more faults than a tectonic plate. Last minute cancellations, refusal to meet even after reaching the designated place, the contractors refusing to pick up my call after confirming, all this meant losses. All that travelling was to no avail. The only loss that would’ve felt like a greater loss at that time would’ve been this.

So much pain

The contractors generally belonged to a small belt of three districts in UP. Most of them were friendly, accommodating and magnanimous when it came to offering tea, often to a fault. Sometimes, they would be so insistent about me having a cup of tea with them that I’d be scared about refusing lest I’d be denied answers. On most days, I’d end up having more tea than water. With so much tea inside me, I’d be like a walking Tea-bag. No, I’m not making any references to a vile yet popular character from Prison Break.

Vada-Pao.

Often, the meetings were at the opposite ends of the city, which meant a ridiculous amount of time spent in travelling.I was selling false ceilings, but there was no ceiling to the amount of travelling which happened in a single day. Travel involved travail..

8 weeks and a lifetime of travailing later, I believe I managed to do a decent job.

Top three learnings:

  • Being a fresher, this was my first work related experience, and it was quite an experience. Having no experience of dealing with customers, let alone the set of contractors that I was dealing with, I realised that sometimes you need to take that leap into the ocean. Learn on your own. Explore. Learn as you explore. My project guide said these exact words to me: ‘I could’ve helped you at a lot of junctures, but I didn’t unless you’d tried out something on your own.’

 

  • The project helped me learn and appreciate varied perspectives different people have about the same thing. In short, it made me realize the importance of understanding people better. Knowing your consumer is much more important than knowing your product. The same false ceiling means different things to the dealer, the contractor and the end customer, and the beauty of marketing lies in trying to understand each of them and reconcile their different viewpoints to be able to appeal to each of them.

 

  • Reach out to people. Seek help. There’s no shame in saying ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t have a clue. I was reluctant at first, but mended my ways soon. If not for my guide and other mentors, I would’ve been sipping tea in a dilapidated shop near the entrance to Platform 1 at Nalasopara for much longer.

 

Top Three Yearnings:

  • Mumbai’s too humid. The incessant sweating exacerbated the pains of travelling for long hours. At one point, it seemed my intern-ship would sink in my own sweat. But be careful what you wish for. Wishing for rains in Mumbai is a dangerous proposition.

 

  • An auto-rickshaw with a driver who didn’t say ‘no’.

‘Will you go to Garodia Nagar?’  ‘No’

‘I’ll pay 1.5 times the meter fare’  ‘No’

‘Please’  ‘No’

‘What’s your name?’  ‘No’

 

  • A vacant seat in Mumbai Metro. Got one though, in the last week of internship.

 About Saint Gobain

I wasn’t ever in the office long enough to comment on this comprehensively. But I can definitely tell you about the people there. People take extreme care of you in matters that require help. I was assigned a mentor from the sales team, and he was in touch with me throughout the project, often accompanying me to meet the dealers and contractors.

The work culture is extremely relaxed. No one bosses you around. There is hierarchy, but none of it functions in any way that resembles anything close to a bureaucratic set-up. Chilled-out would be a better explanation.

How to make it work?

There’s not much networking that can happen when you’re in the field for a major part of your project. Nevertheless, in order to do well, it’s important to keep your guide and other mentors in loop. Keep your team members updated. Seek their help. Make them aware of what you’ve done and what you plan to do. Plan ahead and schedule weekly reviews if possible.

Reflecting on my internship, I believe it was an enriching experience. I think a lot of learning happened, both professional and personal. Most importantly, it allowed me a glimpse of what lies in store if I end up doing Sales and Marketing, both highs and lows.

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