Volatility and uncertainty have become a way of life for all of us today. However, at the time when COVID-19 hit us in late March 2020, no one irrespective of any government or industry knew exactly how to respond to the challenges thrown at us.
If you have ever worked in sales, you know that it is not an easy job, people in the function may tell you that they love it but there are some days that you just want to pull your hair out. It is even tougher when the entire world, governments, health officials, friends and family members advise against and discourages one from moving around, and sudden closures of markets, manufacturing & logistic constraints leads to erratic and volatile demand & supply.
It is therefore a time for gratitude and reflection on the past to review how the great ICL team took the challenges head-on when COVID-19 hit the country and overcame them to deliver uncompromised results in the face of this once in a 100 year situation.
In the first phase, the senior management team got together and took vital decisions and gave strategic direction to each division and clarified their responsibilities to support the frontline sales operation. Clear roles & responsibilities were cascaded down to all divisions/ subdivisions and even to individuals who played a vital role in this situation. Management also took the decision to prioritize the work force and direct whether they should work from home or physically attend the factory, office, or field sales operations. In addition, products depending on market demand were prioritized and Raw Materials (RM) & Packing Materials(PM) inventory was increased accordingly. Procurement was advised to look out for alternative suppliers to make sure that necessary RM & PM are in place to support Production and Sales without any disruption.
In terms of factory operations, there was a huge challenge as the work force was reluctant to report to work due to the anxiety of the unseen virus. However, the senior management and factory managers provided leadership, direction and motivated the workforce by providing food & accommodation in the factory premises and safe transportation to & from the factory. This helped to keep the factory open through these very challenging times to ensure sales initiatives were fully supported.
So, how did sales translate this strategy into action in the marketplace? As market closures continued, shoppers could not buy their essentials as usual, distributors were scared to commence sales operations and their work force did not return to work. In addition, there was ambiguity regarding which essential commodities were allowed for distribution during the curfew enforced around the country and the media coverage of the international & domestic situation discouraged people from leaving home. Overall, this situation created huge anxiety and the entire sales operations came to a standstill for a few days.
However even under these trying circumstances the unstoppable ICL team and sales force remained active everyday through telephonic communication reviewing the market situation closely and took proactive action to respond to market needs before any of the other competitors.
All front liners were advised to link up with all key customers in their respective territories and actively engage and find out their needs. Area Sales Managers (ASM’s)/Field executives were directed to link up with all distributors and encourage them to commence distribution. ASM’s & Distributors were encouraged to find their own ways to get the curfew passes before any of the other FMCG companies and that was the starting point for the sales team to safely connect physically with customers. The team connected with all customers who initiated homedelivery as they were the only customers operating at the time. Customers responded very positively and appreciated ICL’s service since they were the first sales team to approach them under this situation. This gave a huge boost of confidence to the team and 96 out of 116 representatives came to their distribution locations. The ICL Modern Trade (MT) team initiated actions to include ICL brands on the MT priority list since the retailers were offering only limited products to the shoppers in these unprecedented conditions. The team discussed with MT customers and convinced them to increase inventory to avoid stock outs, block the competitors and serve our loyal shoppers.
As the lockdown continued, ASM’s and Field executive worked fearlessly and even delivered stocks to customers in their personal vehicles. Since most of banks were closed our dynamic sales force personally collected dues from dealers and distributors to bank and make sure the company collected money on time and cashflows & supply chain were managed well in the circumstances. Finally, to ensure operations remained on track the Sales leadership team conducted zoom meetings every morning at 9am with production & procurement to understand stock availability followed by a call with Field Sales team leaders to ensure coordination, smooth & accurate flow of information and resolution of issues.
The above actions are a few examples of the hard work and sacrifice put in by the ICL team and Sales Force to safeguard company and shopper interests even when faced with risk to their own & their families wellbeing. Moreover, this hard work paid dividends within a very short period, as trade and consumer confidence got a boost due to the availability of our product portfolio at their doorstep. Also we were able to cater to new emerging categories such as Hand Sanitizer within a very short period of time. All this led to record sales numbers month on month and the best performing individuals and team were felicitated in our sales conference at the end of the year.
In summary it is a very proud feeling to be part of such a dynamic team and sales force that exhibited such resilience, fearless commitment, and passion to succeed in such trying circumstances.
February 23, 2021