So once, Mr Sunil Mittal, Chairman of Bharti Airtel, had told us that there were 10 layers between himself and Airtel’s customers.
The CEO, Hub Head, the Circle CEO, Sales Head, Zonal Business Head, Area Manager, Territory Manager, FOS (feet-on-street), Distributor, and finally, Retailer. The last 2 elements were not even employees of the company, and the last one typically was a multi-brand retailer. In such a scenario, communicating to the customer our company’s vision (and hence strategy and hence products) was a tough job. Reminded me of the “Chinese whisper” game we played at parties where a message was told in the ear of the next person in the chain, who did the same with the person next to her – the message received by the last person in the chain invariably had almost no resemblance to the original message.
In my current “Direct Sales” business, my Chairman has only 5 layers like the above. But it has still been a challenge with converting our vision into reality. However crisp we make our selling script and however voluminous the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) we develop, the guy-at-the-front improvises and tells the client what he feels is the correct pitch. And, well, he is not alone in this. The Team Leader above him chooses which products out of our bouquet he feels his team should focus on, irrespective of the decision from the central team. The Regional Head decides to go for “revenues” more than “client acquisition” because while recognizing that client acquisition will be sowing the seeds for the future, if one does revenues for the next month, he is a hero in the organization.
My solution – keep the strategy simple to understand and to communicate. No message should have more than 4 bullet points. Use acronyms to summarise a set of strategies (yes, this works!). Communicate directly to the frontline – through email, townhall concall, vide-conferencing, Skype, Twitter – minimize chances of re-interpretation.
What about strait-jacketing the elements in the chain so that they can communicate only what we want them to? No, on the contrary, give a 25% breathing space to each link in the chain to use the famous “improvising Indian brain” and to let him fight the “Not made here” syndrome. Keep the main message in the 75% non-compromisable part.
Stick to the basics. Inspite of paying lip service to sales processes, I am appalled at so many Direct Sales businesses not having basic sales scripts, smart FAQs, ready reckoners. Put lots of brochures for prospective clients so that the sales person has to stick to the script. Do “sales audits”, if you cannot do “mystery shopping”.