"From a marketing point of view, the biggest challenge is how to retain a consumer," says Krishna Mohan
The majority of Krishna Mohan’s career has been in sales. And unlike a lot of people who meander into their callings by chance, it’s a profession the MBA gold medallist from Osmania University (1990) wanted to get into.
“I enjoy meeting people and travelling, and those were the key criteria at that stage when I got into sales. Later, I found that sales is one of the most challenging assignments that one can have,” recalls Mohan.
On the demands posed by a sales profile, he says, “The first challenge was when I had to move out of my hometown Hyderabad to Jaipur, a place I had only heard of, to take up an assignment with Dabur as a sales head there. Since then, the time in Kolkata at Emami has been my second longest stint in one place. We’ve been moving every two years.”
Mohan believes that for a sales professional, that’s what makes the difference. He has worked in Jaipur, Indore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Chennai, Mumbai and now Kolkata. “You get different perspectives on local behaviour, get to meet different people, experience different work cultures,” explains the sales veteran.
His work experience of 22 years started with a stint at Jenson & Nicholson, but his FMCG journey began at Dabur in 1993. He spent around eight years at the company, rising through various assignments and geographies.
Mohan recounts a couple of interesting challenges from his Dabur days. “When I moved from Jaipur to Indore, at a very young age, one had to execute a lot of projects in the market all the time, under rough conditions. We also had to change the distribution structure at Dabur, from a unified structure into two divisions. It was not easy because the distributors had been with Dabur for generations, so to break them apart, and get into the FMCG style of functioning was the biggest challenge.”
Mohan also credits that experience at Dabur with teaching him how to negotiate well with creditors.
Post Dabur, Mohan moved to Godrej Consumer Products in Chennai in 2001, to handle sales operations in the South. He also worked for some time in Mumbai with the company. Then Mohan joined CavinKare in Chennai, and spent close to four years there, starting as the regional head, and later becoming head of sales for the complete portfolio - personal care and the foods business.
After a brief two-year stint with Welspun Retail, where he managed the vertical called Welhome, Mohan made the move to Kolkata as president of sales at Emami in 2008. In 2010, he was promoted to his current profile.
Mohan recounts some of the problems he has taken on at Emami, “Our brands are very strong, but the sales organisation was not as strong. The company did not think sales was a driving force – the practice was to advertise, create demand, and then cater to it through the supply chain. But it no longer works like that. The task for me was to first gain respect in the organisation for the function. Then, to ensure that streamlining was done on the processes. I’m not saying I’ve completed that task, but I think we’ve moved quite a way forward in the past four years.”
The streamlining was three-fold, explains Mohan. Emami employs - directly and indirectly - around 1400 people in the sales force. The first task was to introduce standardisation in how they work, their efficiencies, and performance measurement.
The second challenge was with distribution. According to Mohan, the distribution systems were a ‘little primitive’, in the context of talking to retailers about secondary sales (from distributor to wholesalers and retailers). That became a focus area too.
“Third, strategically, we have a very strong presence in the mind of the rural consumer, but we were never directly approaching them. We have been focussing on developing a separate channel for rural, which is very strong today and growing as well. We go to some of the smallest markets in the country in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Rajasthan. In other states, we’re just starting,” adds Mohan.
Emami has products in haircare, skincare and pain management, and OTC healthcare (post the acquisition of Zandu in 2008). Navratna, Boroplus and Zandu Balm are some of the star brands in the portfolio.
One to watch out for is new the entrant Fair & Handsome. According to the chief executive, it’s growing well. Says Mohan, “If the fairness cream market for women is worth Rs 2000 crores, with the country’s population divided almost equally, we feel that’s the market size that we can tap for the men’s line. There’s a lot of steam left there.”
OTC brands like Zandu Pancharishta and Nityam Churna have also seen investment in terms of advertising. “There are some more brands from Zandu which we would like to relaunch in the next few months,” discloses Mohan.
Efforts are on to increase penetration of Navratna Oil (According to AC Nielsen figures, the Navratna brand, which includes talcum powder and oil, is estimated to be worth Rs 350 crores). The brand building mandate rests with agencies outside Kolkata. “There is more talent in Mumbai and better facilities,” says Mohan, after some thought, when asked why.
On key challenges in the FMCG space, he notes, “From a marketing point of view, the biggest challenge is how to retain a consumer. The second is ensuring reach of the products and engaging the consumer, more so in rural areas. Third, is talent. Our location makes it a little difficult to pull people. Also the opportunities for kids today are much more. Sales and distribution is a tough job profile; the marketing role has a bit more glamour attached to it.”
Mohan’s mission is to see Emami turn into a Rs 3000-crore company in the next three years. That’s a steep climb from the turnover of Rs 1390 crores in 2011-’12.
“We need to manage our human resources, costs and risks efficiently and well. With the strengths that we have today, the good times for Emami are still to come,” he says.