A cross functional experience

by Musheer Ahmad on Thursday 9 August 2012, 11:33 PM | Category: Summer Internship Contest| View: 14430 views

Did you know that apparel industry organizes trade shows like automobile industry? Did you know that apparel industry has a huge number of SKUs due to color and shade variation?
My summer internship gave me a chance to have a look at some of these interesting facts and the experience turned out to be enthralling. I interned with one of the oldest apparel brand in the country. The selection process had one round of group discussion followed by one written round followed by the final interview round. I made through the first two rounds easily. And then came the final round which was the interview with HR Director. Guess what! The final round turned out to be the easiest where she just asked me about my expectations and made me the offer. I gladly accepted the offer knowing that the organization is good, the role offered is good and the location is Mumbai. What more can I ask for?
The start date of internship was just after the examination got over. I had to run from the examination hall to catch the train so that I can reach in time.
April 9, 2012 — I reached office with a batch mate and reported to the General Manager, People Processes. First she asked us for our introduction and she took great interest in my subjects as I was from HR batch. Then, she explained us about different businesses of the organization and their expectations from us. Immediately we were assigned different businesses and project was handed over. I landed in a new business which was a new premium apparel brand launched sometime ago. I was given a cross functional project along with an intern from IIM, Indore. The project aimed at designing and implementing a process which would track, measure and evaluate sales force activities. Then I was introduced to my project guides by the HR. One was Vice President of the Sales team and other was Senior Marketing Manager. Since my project was cross functional, HR was also involved in giving direction to the project.
On Day 1, my project guide explained me the new business and what is going on in the sales team. Since the whole team was new, there were no processes in place and we have to develop everything from scratch. It was definitely a challenging job at hand. 
During the first week, we started with study of current processes which were very crudely defined and we interacted with different departments and other stakeholders to get a view of everyone's expectations from this project. During this process, we realized that different people had different expectations and this project was already in lime light because of its business significance. The importance of the project can be realized from the fact that apparel business is a sales driven business and lot depends on sales person but the management had no idea of what the sales force was doing on field. And since this was a new brand, expansion of sales network was of utmost importance if business has to grow. Definitely some monitoring mechanism and standardization was needed.
Next week we started visiting the market with a sales person who looked after Mumbai region.  We shadowed him for a week with the aim to understand different distribution channels and the activities of a sales person. This is an experience which anyone would least expect in an HR internship. But I enjoyed the process of sweating it out in the field. And it gave me a true picture
of the issues which sales people face in standardizing their schedule and sticking to it. Apart from that, we interviewed many dealers about their needs and what they expect from a sales person. 
Next two weeks, I went to sales trip of Rest of Maharashtra and saw the pattern of selling time versus non selling time of sales people. And my fellow intern went to Karnataka to visit the market. After we came back, we shared our findings and discussed possible approaches of standardizing the sales process. We also came out with the conclusion that there is a lot of difference in the expectations of top management and the way actual field work happens. To eliminate the gap, we conducted a meeting with the top management and shared our findings. This way we were able to make their expectations realistic and reduce the amount of control they wanted on sales people.
After getting an essence of the market, the design of the process started. We used beat plan as a means to standardize the visits. However, we have to customize it to suit our needs. We classified an area under the sales person into clusters and on the basis of business potential of the cluster we assigned visit frequencies. However, we gave freedom to sales person to decide the order in which he would visit the clusters. To bridge the information gap between the management and sales team, we proposed a cell phone based system to feed in sales information directly into the system. This ensures that real time data is collected from field and business decisions are not taken on basis of hunches. To further facilitate decision making, we incorporated business intelligence module, new business development module into the design. Our design made sure that field knowledge of sales person is used by management while taking business decision or before rolling out any promotional events. We also designed a travel cost module which produces a cost-benefit analysis of the visit. 
This design was made keeping in mind benefit of sales team as well as management. It helps sales team to plan their visits based on potential of a region. It helps HR team to evaluate the performance of the sales person based on objective data collected throughout the appraisal cycle. Hence, it eliminates recency effect and other inaccuracies from performance appraisal making the process fair and easy. The best part is that even if a sales person lefts and a new person joins the team, he would just go through the data and start from the point where last person left. He does not have to start from scratch and hence it saves lot of time. This design also made sure that management can know when a sales person is over burdened due to increase in business (be it increase in store number or geographical expansion) and when they need to hire more resources to cover the whole region.
We completed the design in 3 weeks time and this was only possible due to the support from our project guide. My project guide was supportive and encouraging and he gave us time to hear our ideas. He was open to craziest of ideas but then we discussed the feasibility of ideas and came out with best approach. After completion of design it was time for the acid test. We have to make a presentation to the sales team who were against this approach from the start. It was a big challenge ahead of us. But then, it's the ability to face such challenges that brings out the real manager in you. We pitched the idea and showed the sales team how it benefits them and to everyone's surprise the sales team agreed to implement the plan. 
Next step was to prepare a proposal to get top management's approval to implement the system. We had meeting with few software agencies to get quotes for the implementation of the system. Once proposal was ready, we presented to the President of the business who appreciated the whole effort and gave nod for implementation. This took us one week as it is really difficult to get money approved from management but nevertheless we succeeded. And the system implementation was started when my internship got over.
The key to make your summer internship experience beneficial is to build contacts with different employees and build a rapport with them. This helps in getting information lot easily. If you pitch new ideas, then have sound logic behind it. If you can evaluate the situation financially it is best. Reach an agreement with the guide on the scope and the deliverables of the project at the start of the internship. This helps in your evaluation. Also internship is the best time to evaluate the organization if it suits you. Make your internship a fun and learning experience. And who knows, at the end, an offer might come too!

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