Right in the middle of the lockdown, Shree Shakti Enterprises Pvt. Ltd. came up with its unique ‘hands-free handwash system’. The device comprises two taps and a basin, with two pedals at the bottom. Pressing one pedal by foot dispenses soap, while the second one lets out water. Though the company earlier sold kitchenware such as pressure cookers and plates and bowls, it came up with this new set-up to help solve the issue of people not wanting to touch anything in public, when the pandemic was gaining momentum.
Walmart then went on to test the commercial viability of the product, which costs between INR 15,000 and INR 25,000. Finally, Walmart procured 15-20 % of these manufactured machines. And besides corporate in India and para-military canteens, there are also export orders coming in from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and Bhutan.
The intent of giving the above example is clear. When the demand for traditional products and services goes down, companies need to change their direction. And without a doubt, the blueprint for selling in an age post-COVID includes seeking out new product lines, switching to newer channels of distribution, and experimenting with different state formats. Sales operations have been digitalized on a large scale now, with remote selling through webinars and virtual reality becomes the new trends.
Digital sales are now the new phenomena. In its report titled ‘The B2B Digital Inflection point: How Sales Have Changed During Covid-19’ which is based on a study that was conducted by McKinsey and Co. across B2B businesses in 11 countries; almost 90% of the sales have shifted to a phone/web sales/ video conference model. Though some people are still skeptical about it, more than half of them believe that this is more, or at least as effective, as the traditional sales models that were being formerly used.
Closer back home, the pandemic has provoked a lot of companies to rethink their existing distribution strategies. With increasing concern about issues like hygiene, social distancing, and visiting places that are not so sanitized, a lot of selling is bound to get disrupted.
There are some wider questions too that need to be answered here. How sustainable will this practice continue to be once the pandemic ends? Would not people just want to go back to their old ways?
Some believe that this modification that the world is currently witnessing would not stay on for long. The basic human need to believe only after seeing and for physical contact would not go away. Many businesses need a physical presence and live demonstrations, and while these might reduce considerably, they will not be altogether done away with. Take automobile selling for instance. Car inspection and a test drive will still be needed, but a consumer might do a lot of research online before opting for the test drive.
Akzo Nobel India Ltd is a paints and coatings company that operated out of DLF Cyber City. However, operations were getting expensive for the company, since leases in that area come at a premium. In November 2019, the company moved to another business hub in Gurugram itself, the Golf Course Extension Road. This saved them 30 % concerning office rentals and other ancillary services like car parking and maintenance, etc.
With the COVID 19 spreading like wildfire, companies are looking at fresher ways of managing their distributors and retailers. A physical ordering process is now being replaced by a digital one. Till a few months ago, the sales team of the company scheduled face-to-face meets with their retailers, contractors, distributors, real estate developers, etc. Customers placed an order through the CRM tools or the call center. In the overall sales process, the use of technology was just 30%. The company is now working on developing an app that will provide consumers with an easy-to-use interface. This will reflect details of the order placed, the promotions that are running, etc. Overall, this will digitize the sales process by 80%.
Even real estate is now going in for a digital spin. PropTiger, a real estate advisory, makes extensive use of the online platform. It generates leads on its site, and the representatives from the company then get in touch with interested property buyers through e-mails or phone calls. The company’s brokers get in touch with the potential buyers, who then ultimately visit real estate sites before finally choosing a property. A major part of this buying process has shifted online. Webinars are organized, wherein buyers are shown videos of the property and the locality that they want to buy. During the webinars, the marketing and sales executives even take questions from all customers. The company also manages to showcase 3D visuals of the property and even walkthroughs. Consequently, physical visits have reduced greatly, and investors need not physically visit the site any longer.
Due to the lockdown, the manufacturers of Cycle Agarbatti are facing a headwind in getting their products to distributors. The material movement has also been significantly hampered. And this has caused turbulence since fragrance ingredients are procured globally. At the same time, front line selling techniques have changed for domestic products. Orders are now being taken via phone calls, and the firm’s website has witnessed a 100 percent rise in traffic.
Large format channels will be the new important target for the country, but why is that?
Consumers are now consolidating their purchases to reduce physical visits to stores. Earlier, the average was four visits a month to the grocery store, which is now being reduced to one or two a month. It is then expected that aggregators and bigger-format stores will flourish.
Even the famous kitchen solutions and food storage brand Tupperware is now looking at multiple channels to sell its products. For years, the products were sold through a direct selling model, wherein women sold the products to their friends, relatives, neighbors, etc. Last year, however, the company began to open physical stores and started with e-commerce sales. Now that physical interactions are taking a backseat, the firm is making the switch from direct selling to social selling.
The 70,000 direct sellers who were associated with Tupperware are now going online on a digital platform. Each seller has been given a URL, which they can circulate among their peers, through Whatsapp and other social media contacts. When buyers click on the URL, they are taken to the web store of the company, from where they can make the purchase. All promotions and offerings are linked to this URL. Thus, the company delivers the product directly to the consumer, and the sales force gets paid based on their sales, without having to physically step out.
Even after the pandemic, this mode of selling is likely to still go on. Earlier, these sellers could reach out to only 30-100 households. Through social media, they can reach thousands. Not only do the sellers now make more money, but so does the company too!
FabHotels is a famous hotel brand. And while the pandemic closed doors and business avenues for a lot of businesses, it has flung open new gates for FabHotels. The company is now working with state administrations to accommodate suspected patients, as well as those who are quarantined. At the same time, it is generating business from large hospitals, by providing accommodation to their front line workers. Founder and CEO revealed how 450 of their 600 hotels are non-operational right now. Hospitality and travel were the first ones to be hit by the pandemic and will be the last one to recover. Catering to the new demand will help to keep the head above water for some time at least.
Meanwhile, five star and luxury hotels are doing something unthinkable. They had always dismissed home deliveries of food since it did not suit their status. Unlike smaller independent restaurants, they instead offer a unique gastronomical experience that cannot be replicated at home. But now the tide has turned. Even upmarket hotels are now partnering with delivery companies to send home deliveries.
Difficult times do call for such unexpected measures. A top five star in Gurugram makes around INR 75,000 every weekday through these home deliveries, which can cover at least the salary expenses for the staff.
Corporates are now looking at potential newer opportunities that are sustainable and will help to prepare for a contraction in the economy. Similarly, many will recalibrate their business models.
Selling will perhaps never be the same again now!