Summer Saga – Summer Internship in Market Research

“We have a product that nobody wants. Make it a star.” pretty much summed up what my project was. I had to come up with a miracle cure for the billion dollar baby of a billion dollar company. Easy enough right? I mean, I am from an IIM and miracles happen all around me. For example, I miraculously survived the mess food for a year. Heck miracles are nothing out of the ordinary for me, little miss IIM. Or so I thought.

The beginning of the internship began with the magic words “you will be working out of Bangalore” which meant home to me. There was a week-long celebration back home where all the aunties planned on feeding me enough to make me a planet.

Enthused and overjoyed I travelled to Chennai where the induction was to take place. The small marketing office housed maybe 50 people, 40 out of which had no idea who we were. The sudden appearance of 8 well-dressed, uber confident and arrogant children sparked a Brownian movement in the Chennai office. Whispers of “yaar ma adi?” “trai-knees a?” “enna panre inge?” followed us everywhere we went. There was so much confusion created that several people walked into walls and artfully placed plants and glass pieces. Eventually we were directed to the conference room where all the big names of the company spoke about the intricacies of the business.

We were then given our project briefs and were introduced to our tor-mentors. My mentor, a middle aged balding man with an eye twitch, seemed so nice and sugary that sunshine, rainbows and stars shot out of every word he spoke. I was in awe. He explained that a product that they had recently introduced in the market was not selling. Extensive research and market study had gone into the conceptualization of this product. The product catered to a need that customers weren’t aware of. The company worked on the assumption that people being rational would shift to a product with more benefits with little or no fillip. The introduction, way back in 2002, began with a bang – TV advertisements and print ads were done and an enormous sales force was deployed, armed to the teeth with samples.

Fast forward 2014, most of the Spartan army sales force had lost their jobs. The product, a key ingredient in the construction industry, was poised to penetrate the residential as well as the commercial segment. But by 2014, the commercial segment was saturated while the residential remained largely untapped. My project was to find out what stopped industry big names from advising their clients to upgrade and to design tools of communication that would aid them in this endeavor.

Here’s the thing though, I had no idea how to go about this. One week of intense prayers and 1000 candles-in-Church later, I was nowhere. This was when I remembered the charming gentleman that was my mentor. Surely he would help me, get me out of my darkness? Here is when I first encountered the non – IIM bias that non-IIM’ers tended to have. I was given an extremely unhelpful and ambiguous structure, the primary step of which was to design a questionnaire.

So I set about designing the questionnaire that I never used, packed my tiny suitcase and set off to do some IIM-style market research. I targeted a sample of 100 construction industry honcho’s in 6 cities and was able to meet 80% of that number. Most sales and marketing interns might gasp and ask me how I managed such a feat. The answer to which involves a lot of prayers, fasting and sacrifices to the sun god Ra. It was complete hell.

My first target location was Mumbai and it began with a Julie Andrews style “I have confidence in sunshine.” Which was when the following happened:

1.   Someone stole a Tupperware water bottle from my bag, leaving a ton of cash untouched

2.   Met 3 out of a targeted 25 interviews – my ego took the first hit. “I’m from an IIM! How can people NOT want to be interviewed by me?”

3.   Remembered that Mumbai dabba wala’s are 6 sigma

4.    Had my life’s first weekly review which went something like

Mentor – “so how many people did you meet?”

Me – “3”

5 minute pause

Mentor – “THREE?!”

Me – “people haven’t heard of an IIM”

By now I had dropped the IIM-God attitude and adopted a please-help-an-unfortunate student attitude. Desperate, I resorted to guiltily blowing tons of company money on travelling to far off locations and simply sitting in offices without moving until I was granted interviews.

Eventually I went on to research Delhi, which was where I found my courage. The “crimes against women” capital of the country saw me walking around unfazed and determined (my insides were jelly) during late nights scouting for interviews.

Finally the data collection phase ended. With so much data at hand, I expected the company to maybe throw me a mid-sized party where I would get to enter on a chariot wearing a flaming red dress. Instead I was given a cubicle that rivaled an STD booth and was told to strange stuff like “Analyze Data” using “software”. Confused, delirious, tanned and annoyed, I began and completed my report.

The final presentation saw me walk in like a gladiator and slink out like a worm. The national sales head was impressive, to say the least. He pointed out flaws that I would never have noticed and in one hour gave my research an entirely new direction. While my IIM ego was deflated, I couldn’t help marvel at the corporate culture. This being my first experience, the clockwork functioning of the corporate world was something completely fascinating. It was then that the national sales and marketing head took us all out for dinner. The humility and the family oriented culture of the company could impress anybody. Walking in completely indifferent, I walked out with a deep respect for the organization.

Some lessons that I took away are

1.   To always wear comfortable shoes – ladies forget about the heels

2.   When a college committee tells you to buy IIM visiting cards, shut up and listen to them

3.   There is no such thing as a good mentor – discredit any sunshine and rainbows you see

4.   Have your mother on speed dial for that emergency “OMG mom I’m going to quit” moment

5.   Have a recorder ready – you’re bound to forget 90% of the holy “verbatim”

6.   Be persistent to the point of a restraining order

7.   The sun is not your friend. Overdose on sun screen lotion

8.   Always, ALWAYS carry enough cash. You never know when you’re in Manesar with 40 bucks short of your auto meter, thinking up ways to escape

9.   Always be ready to get insulted and always be ready to shrug it off

10.  Most of all, always have a sense of humor about the whole thing. Because otherwise you’ll have to be put into an asylum with your imaginary pet rabbit Henry