Be a Better Leader and have a Richer Life

I came across this wonderful video on HBR Video’s that is based on a HBR article by Steward Friedman. He shares some great ideas about how we can go about integrating our professional lives with our personal lives together so that we not only achieve balance but also do better in both aspects of our lives. 
The short 7 min video explains the premise and covers all the topics that he covers in the article. 
I have always believed that we have now entered a time when having separate personal and professional lives is getting more and more difficult. There is a lot of overlap of our personal and professional space, goals and time spent. This means that we need to quickly learn a way to manage all three of them to ensure that not only do we get good at managing all of these but also are able to use them to develop ourselves in a way that both our personal and professional lives continue to improve. 
I do have a plan for myself. Do you have one?

Building High Performing Sales Teams

Are you under constant pressure to deliver an ever increasing sales targets?

Do you want to explore if there is a way that you can build a culture that enables high performing sales teams and guide them to consistently push the limits and deliver quarter after quarter?

Then join me in my quest to find out what it takes to build such a culture.

In my opinion, there are three components that contribute to building a culture that enables a high performing sales teams:

  1. Sales Process – Do you have a clearly defined sales process and do your sales execs follow the process
  2. Manager’s role – What role do managers play and how they are measured
  3. Sales exec’s incentives – How are your sales execs incentivize and measured?

Now lets check each one of these components in detail.

Sales Process:

Having  a clearly defined sales process is key in enabling your sales team to perform at extremely high efficiency. Some questions that will help you realize the strength of your sales process are:

  • Do you have a clearly defined sales process, with clear accountability on who is responsible for what? 
  • Who brings in the new leads? Who qualifies these leads?  How do you qualify these leads?
  • What is your go-to-market strategy? Does it include coverage of the entire market?
  • Is there a sales methodology that you follow
    • SPIN Selling
    • Challenger sales
    • Solution Revolution
  • Does your sales team know the process that they are supposed to follow? Are they expected to follow the process? Do they follow the process? What happens if they do not follow the process?
  • Do you have a win/lose analysis for every opportunity at the end of each opportunity’s closure?
  • Do you have a system to capture leads, opportunities (CRM system)? How simple is this system to use? Does it always have up-to-date information?
  • How often do you appraise your sales team – Annual, Half-yearly or quarterly?

Manager’s role:

The role of the sales manager is the most critical in sustaining high performance in any organization. Their actions, interactions and influence on the sales executives will determine if you are able to build a high performance culture in the sales organization. Some questions that you need to reflect upon to understand if you have solved this puzzle are:

  • Are the sales managers just measured on sales quotas? Are they measured on the success of their direct reports? 
  • How do they deal with a sales executive who has not met his sales quota? Do they apply more pressure on him/her? Do they sit down and try to understand the reason for the miss & then coach him/her?
  • How do they deal with someone who achieves his/her sales quotas but does not follow the process or could be potentially a bad influence on the culture?
  • How do they run their team meetings & forecast calls? Do they use these opportunities to coach, recognize and explain good performance? Or do they focus on the transactional details about the deals in the pipeline?


Arriving at the best sales incentives is a tough job. Hence, most companies end-up having simple incentive structures, primarily incentivizing with money. We now know enough that money, by itself, is not a great incentives. Though sales executives expect to  be incentivized based on the revenue that they bring in, high performing sales teams realize that money along is not a great incentive. Some questions that you need to think about incentives are:

  • Is your sales incentives aligned to your long term strategy? For example, if your strategy is to increase market share & profitability, are the incentives aligned to the strategy? In this case, do you incentivise a sales executive who brings in a large deal but with low profits and a sales executive who brings in a relatively smaller deal but with higher profits, equally? 
  • Do you consider other alternatives of incentives like a paid vacation, or paid education or an interaction with a celebrity or the opportunity to fulfill any of their dreams? For example, if I have a dream to publish a book, can my organization help me publish the book if I achieve my sales quota? I would value this much more than getting some additional cash. This would also enable me to be much more engaged with my organization and result in a lower turn-over.

In order to build a consistently high performing sales team, you need to have a good mix of all the three elements.

These are my thoughts. What do you think? Do share your thoughts by commenting below or by tweeting to me at @rmukeshgupta.

Are large Indian retailers battle ready?

In their current state of operations, Indian organized retailers are in no way equipped to compete with the likes of Walmart, Tesco or Target.

Let me re-count to you my experience based on which I have come to this conclusion.

Last week, I went grocery shopping with my wife to a large format retail store in Bangalore. I was appalled at the thoughtless design of the store and the lack of the willingness to serve the customers in the entire staff.

In my opinion, there are 2 key performance areas which are critical for a retailer to succeed in a market like India:

  1. Supply chain efficiencies
  2. Customer’s shopping experience

This retailer failed on both counts (to provide the goods at the cheapest price or to provide a high class immersive retail experience).

Before we move ahead with this line of thought, let me share my impressions  from my visit:

Customer Experience perspective: 

  1. Store design: This store was spread across 2 floors. The layout of the store was such, that you need to go to the 1st floor (non-grocery items, a.k.a, high margin items), walk all the way across to the other end of the floor, then come down to the ground floor for groceries. What this meant was that, even if I only wanted to buy groceries, I am still forced to walk through the non-grocery floor, hoping that I shall be tempted to pick something based on the promotions offered. Though this helps the retailer try and maximize the revenue per shopper, this leaves the shopper in a bad taste.
  • Cart design: The only shopping cart that they have for usage is a large size cart. There was no option of a handbag or a smaller cart. Though not bad by itself, this was a problem with the way the store was laid out. I had at least a dozen customers bump into me and me bumping into another half a dozen customers, as the space between ailes was so narrow.
  • Motivated and trained employees: The store had minimal support staff. There was no one to help. I had a few questions on the placement of a product of a particular brand. There was no one present to help. The staff whom I did find, were not able to help as they were as clueless as me.
  • Check-out experience: Now that I had collected everything that I wanted to buy in my cart, I went to the billing counters. There were about 16 billing counters. However, there were about 6 – 7 customers already waiting for billing in each of these counters. What this meant was that I had to wait for another 45 minutes to get my items billed and get out of the store. The billing clerk tried on his part to be as quick as possible, but to the dismay of the customers, he was not able to scan the bar-codes of 1 out of every 9 or 10 articles. This meant that he had to manually type these codes (I think about 16 numeric characters each) in order to complete the billing. Also, there was no separate counter for fast track billing (maybe for 5 items or less or cash billing). So, even if you only had to pick one item, you still had to go through the entire grill.

After such an experience, I doubt if I shall think of going shopping in the store  again, as I have a myriad of options for where I can go (including online stores) shopping for grocery and these options will only increase with FDI in Retail cleared.

Supply chain efficiency perspective:

  • Stock-outs: From my list of groceries, there were 3 items (cooking oil, a specific brand of Jam & a specific kind of spice) which were in a stock-out position. This was on a Saturday evening at around 6PM. Now, it is very well known that the biggest lost opportunities for retailers is lost sale due to stock-outs.
  • Price: I happen to go a mom & pop store near my home to buy these 3 items that were not available at this store. I also saw the retailer selling a couple of items (a specific brand of whole wheat atta) to a customer at a price that was lower than the price i bought at the store earlier in the evening. So, not sure if they will be able to compete on price either.

This is not just the state of this one retailer in India. Most so called organized retail stores (multi-brand, multi category stores) have more or less similar problems. Some more serious than others.

Now, the question is,  if and when players like Walmart, Target or 24×7 arrive in India, will these retailers be able to compete with them? I am not suggesting that these retailers will get all of this right. However, if i were an Indian retailer, I would not bet my survival on the assumption that they will also face similar problems. I would be ready with a strategy to compete/co-opt with these retailers before they can hurt me.

What next? 

So, the next question that beckons is the following – what can retailers do to counter this threat?

Strategically, they need to pick a field where they want to be the best. Whether it is  competing on

  • Cost (low cost or luxury or premium)
  • Customer experience
  • Speed (how fast or slow do i get new products lines on the shelf)
  • Niche (define and win the niche)

It doesn’t matter, what strategy they adopt; they will need to improve on both the supply chain efficiency and the customer experience part, as these will be the necessary battle conditions, without which, you will no longer be in the competition.

These are my thoughts on the state of organized retail in India. Do you agree with my assessments?

Please do post your thoughts as comments below or tweet your thoughts to me on twitter (@rmukeshgupta).

PS: Something extra for all you people. Watch this prank by the Improv  team at a Best buy store

Future of customer service in a social world

In the good old days, if we had to contact our bank or for that matter any business, we used to reach out to our phones and give them a call.

The call would then be routed to a call center (usually, after about 10-15 minutes of listening to some music that would be played while we waited for an agent to get free and take our call).

This, of course would be after having had to find our way through the maze of options (which used to be so complicated that it required us to be entirely focused on the options, blacking out everything else in life).

Then the times changed. Emails got ubiquitous and we could write an email to contact with the business. However, we still used the phone as the primary means for contacting someone at the business who could help us solve whatever it was that we were trying to solve.

The businesses still continued to invest in the contact center (some continued to have this in-house, while most of them out-sourced this to some organization in India or Phillipines or wherever they could get the lowest cost labor).

Then the times changed again! The social media revolution started and we got Facebook, twitter and all the other social media tools. The marketing teams in all these businesses wanted to ride on this wave and created twitter handles for their organizations.

This was an important moment!  

People now could tweet their complaints to these businesses directly and openly! Most important aspect was that this was out in the open which could potentially damage the reputation of the business. So,  businesses would be forced to respond to ensure that the complaint doesn’t get out of hand.

This indicates a definite shift of customer behavior. Now, whenever, I have a complaint or want to contact a business, the first thing to do is to check if they have a twitter handle. If they do, then tweet my question or complaint to them directly instead of going through their call center.

This indicates that businesses are now required to monitor both the social media channels (twitter, Facebook, etc) and also maintain their call centers (for their customers who still would like to talk to someone who don’t have a social profile yet and would hence like to talk to someone at the business.

Now, there is a choice for the business:

–       Continue with the status quo and manage both the social and the call center channel

–       Re-look at the contact strategy

While most of the businesses so far have been taking the 1st option, more and more businesses are now looking at the 2nd option.

Some options that businesses have if they decide to re-look at their customer contact strategy  are:

–       Make the social channels the main channel for all customer contact and use the call center as the secondary channel (primarily used to escalate). There are some distinct advantages that this strategy offers:

  • Improved customer service :
    • You are now forced to have an exceptional service (as the reputation of your business is at stake, and in the open), which in the long term will help the business.
    • When other customers see that you are providing a great service, this improves the brand value of your business and creates a positive spiral.
  • Reduced cost:
    • You could use technology solutions for monitoring and responding the queries on social media.
    • You could re-deploy some of the call center agents in more productive roles and reduce the overall cost of managing the service team.
  • Improved brand equity:
    • By making the social channels as the primary channel for contact with customers, you are now enabling or ensuring that your customers connect with you on these social channels. This will enable you to identify your customers, their influencers. You can now participate and engage them in productive dialogues.
    • This will also make your social foray sticky in your customers minds.
  • Opportunity to re-design the way you do business:
    • There has been a  lot of talk about social businesses and how social channels have now provided an opportunity for businesses to re-design their work culture. Businesses can now become more agile and nimble on their foot to enable them to adjust to the changes in their environment.
    • This probably could have the biggest impact on both the topline and bottom-line of your business.

– Completely do away with the customer call centers.

  • The only medium for customer support then becomes the social channels and email (if you still want some cushion).
  • Businesses can have immense cost savings (due to moving away from call center operations and at the same time increase the engagement across the social channels.
  • Having a separate channel for service and brand on the social channels can increase both stickiness and brand transparency.
  • There is an element of risk involved here. If you don’t get this right the first time, every time, there lies an opportunity for a PR disaster. However, if done well, there is also the upside of tremendous positive word-of-mouth, which in my opinion is a big enough upside to take the plunge.

Though this approach has a lot of advantages if done well, it also has the potential for a PR disaster if not handled well. We have already seen many such social media provoked disasters (McDonald’s #McDStories, FedX story, etc).

So, it really is a difficult thing to manage. However, it is always such difficult things that when done well, set you apart from your competitors.

Do you think that businesses should adopt this strategy of completely moving away from the call centers?

Do let us your thoughts by sharing them as comments here..

PS: Some interesting point-of-views that I have come across on this topics are as below:

  1. The Psychology of people using Twitter as a customer service channel
  2. The power of social customer service by David Howell.
  3. Delta airlines show that a separate customer service handle on Twitter can improve response time
  4. How FedEx turned a disaster into a PR win
  5. Are Twitter and Facebook changing the way we complain?
  6. SAP’s primary support channel on Twitter
  7. Bank of America showcase their Twitter customer service by following up on complaints.

Customer centricity & Chief Customer Officers

In the recent times, we have started to see a lot of organizations pay a lot more attention to their customers and have inducted Chief Customer Officers into their C-Suite. The rationale being that organizations need to be much more customer centric and need to understand their customers better and having someone responsible for this will go a long way in creating the necessary f0cus within the organization to achieve great customer service.

However, in my opinion, having a Chief Customer Officer in place does more harm than good! Listening to customer’s and acting on it becomes someone else’s responsibility and also creates a scenario where everyone else in the organization is let off the hook from keeping customers in the focus  all the time.

This strategy can only work on one condition – the CEO, re-designates himself as the Chief Customer Officer; with no remains of a formal CEO!

This when coupled with a change in the attitude and the topics that the CEO, now the CCO does on a day-to-day basis, will clearly show that the customer is really at the centre of the world for the organization.

However, true customer centricity will still elude the organization, if the compensation plan changes along with these changes. How employees performances are evaluated and how their compensation increases plays a very strong role in re-enforcing the culture that any organization tries to build.

So, if you are thinking about become customer focused organization, here is your step-by-step plan:

  • CEO to formally re-designate himself as the Chief Customer Officer and changes his roles and responsibilities as well.
  • Everyone else in the organization still continue to report to the CCO.
  • Change the compensation plan for the organization to ensure that customer centric behavior is rewarded (both monetarily and through promotions).

Do you agree with my opinion here? Pls do leave your comments and we can continue the discussion!

You could also tweet your opinions to me @rmukeshgupta.


PS: Some very interesting resources that I have seen around this topic are :

  1. A 8 part series on “What the CEO Needs to Do to Ensure Chief Customer Officer Success.” (1 of 8)
  2. There is a YouTube Channel called – The Chief Customer Officer Council.
  3. Coca Cola recently announced a Chief Customer Officer. Some information about it @
  4. Interesting book written by Jeanne Bliss called – Chief Customer Officer – Getting past lip service to passionate action