Posted on 21-10-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Studying the socio economic life in India with hands-on research in various parts of the country, from metros to remote rural, I’ve found a new trend among Indian youngsters since 2000 which I’ve written about. I’ve named them the Zap86 generation. This new trend has nothing to do with American Gen X and Gen Y. Gen X are those born from 1960s to 1980s, after the Baby Boomer generation born in USA post–World War II. Gen Y, also known as the Millennial Generation, are the children of Baby Boomers or Gen Xers. They have a neo-liberal approach to politics and economics and portray characteristics of increased use and familiarity with communications, media, and digital technologies.

There is a difference between how the free economy of advanced, war-affected countries impact people verses how people become in the protected economy of underdeveloped countries. India never did have any influence of Gen X and Gen Y in the Licence Raj. These terms are mistakenly used here. Setting a new trend is not the monopoly of big countries like the US. The Zap generation of India is a completely new indigenous trend that will have enormous influence in the world. In the next 10 to 20 years, this new Zapper generation will challenge everything in India.

Because of economic and industrial advancement in the West, there is barely any difference of understanding between a 60-year old grandparent and 15-year-old grandchild. But this is not the case for those born in India from 1986 onwards with their parents and grandparents today. When economic reforms were introduced in 1991 these children were 5-year-olds, old enough to influence different lifestyles. This impact together with the 1991 proliferation of digital technology, and India’s history through the centuries, combined to form the Z disruption, a departure towards the free economy and liberalized ideas of the Zap generation. In historical perspective, Indian society’s mental and social shift have highs and lows that can be drawn like the letter Z as illustrated here. So Z disruption represents the new India. In metro and urban areas, Zap behaviour is highly expressive. In rural and small towns, even among lower income groups it is prevalent but may not be expressive, but this will also change with time. In India, education, industry and politics still do not understand the Zap generation and Z disruption complexity.

Here are the 3 generations Zap, Compromise and Retro.

ZAP generation: Common characteristics of Zap generation born in 1986 onwards (1982 born can be considered as reverse spin-off)

- Influencer in society

- Master of speed of technology

- User of code language

- Risk taker

- Decision maker

- Spender

- Sexual liberation

- Flirtation with jobs

Compromise generation: Common characteristics of Compromise generation born between 1967 and 1982 are:

- Adaptor in society

- Dominated by elders

- Risk averse

- American influence

- Dominated by children’s demand

- Investing mentality

- Not open about sex

- Prizes job stability in private sector

Retro generation: Common characteristics of Retro generation born before 1966

- License Raj values

- Influenced by Zappers

- Avoids any risk

- British influence

- Sacrificing tendency

- Savings mentality

- Suppressing thoughts of sex

- Security of routine Government job

Zappers are on the move, while Compromise and Retro generations will fade away.

To download above article in PDF Z disruption and the future

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/z-disruption-and-the-future/1019844/0

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Posted on 14-10-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

Street vendors in India can be as customer savvy as any famous marketing guru we read about. With barely any basic schooling, definitely no higher education, they live and operate by their wits. Their livelihood tools are speed, being hands-on, thorough understanding of who their customer is, a persuasive personality with a ready smile, keeping an eye open and using some differentiating method to score over other street vendors, and the ability to be at the right place at the most opportune time. What more do you need to be able to sell?

Those who live in economic crisis often figure out a way to earn life’s daily basic needs, perhaps that little extra too, with smart tactics. Invariably in Mumbai’s traffic jams are young vendors peddling books and magazines, some pirated, others genuine. Their offer spans English and vernacular fiction, biography, management, sudoku, comic books, magazines on films, automobiles, sports, home decor and almost porn that’s always kept discretely. One day I observed a street bookseller proposing a set of publications, rushing from one car window to another car window, and every time reshuffling the order of the books in his two hands. This aroused my curiosity; I had to unravel the secret of his selling approach.

In another Mumbai trip, at that ephemeral traffic signal, I again saw deft shuffling of books within the short, valuable time the street seller has to sell his wares. Here he works within the discipline of street lights, adjusts with the time car passengers take to read book blurbs, and simultaneously extract money from them while they’re on the move. I bought 3 books from a vendor called Mohan and negotiated to have a chat with him at the street corner. To my question of why he shuffles books, Mohan laughed saying he changes the book display order even for different passengers on either side of the same car. Then in all seriousness he explained about understanding diverse kinds of customers. They have to quickly identify the customer type from looking at the car, how the driver is dressed, the back seat passenger’s mood at that intersection, whether irritable, bored, happy chatting with co-passengers or on the mobile phone, pre-occupied with the computer or reading. Even the colour of the newspaper makes Mohan smell a specific prospect for a specific book. From Mohan’s description of passengers, their attitude towards book purchase when travelling with companions of dissimilar age and gender, I understood he literally possesses the fine art of customer identification. I realized that within an instant he can gauge customer behaviour and character under diverse conditions. He shuffles his books depending on on-the-spot recognition of customer type. How many frontline sales managers of corporations do you know who can absorb such sales techniques and apply them in their jobs?

Around that time I was conducting an executive training program for a corporate client on the customer handling process at the point of purchase of high value products. After in-depth customer research across the country we’d designed a highly relevant program to train professional MBAs on how to proactively read and anticipate customer behaviour and character when they come for a big ticket purchase for personal use. Along with soft skills techniques, they were taught to gauge within 3 to 5 minutes of the customer entering the store, what that customer stands for. The intelligent MBAs gave fantastic answers on theoretical questions. In the real life act, they had a hard time winning the game. Barely would the customer speak, when they’d start hard-selling the product’s technicalities like robot salespersons. After the training and customer interacting evaluation we presented the management 2 kinds of scores on how participants absorbed the training session. As per the Indian university-centric score, participants got high marks. But in the developed country standard score, they failed miserably. If these employees try taking on the global challenge at the time of deployment, how can they deliver the global standard?

I’ve heard comments on why do we need Western standards in India? On the other hand Indian companies talk of going global. How can that happen when people are reluctant to drive as per global standards? This is our country’s real crisis of collective mediocrity. When stuck in a business bind, we hire appropriate manpower with high-flying degrees. The job market is still open for people from reputed Indian institutions, but what they can deliver is not questioned, it’s the degree that matters. On customer centricity, how come Mohan is ahead of the professionals who attended our executive training program?

In the political arena, all parties fight in the name of poor people like Mohan, you barely understand who’s left, right or centrist. They try blocking reforms even after the 1991 economic liberalization brought in massive positive change. Eg. all politicians love to have a foreign car. They profess to be anti American, but to their states they aim to bring IT development centres where USA is the major customer. So how do you understand why they are anti-FDI, when FDI will enhance capability and competence of our people? Their actions make it clear that they’re not interested in guiding the likes of Mohan who are so starkly visible everywhere. In reality instead of facilitating Mohan gain a decent livelihood, they just want to keep poor people poor and uneducated while politicians stage the Indian political zigzag drama at the country’s expense.

Watching Mohan on the street endorsed my belief on how essential customer experience is in formulating the art of sales. In his small, street-smart way he was making his livelihood. But aren’t the lessons he gives us on self urge, motivation, instantly addressing customer behaviour and character, his sales approach, invaluable? Actually, if you listen to his procurement process you’ll be even more surprised on how he manages his inventory cost.

To download above article in PDF Mohan’s art of selling

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/the-art-of-selling/1016372/0

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Posted on 07-10-2012
Filed Under (BUSINESS) by Shombit

From Discomfort Zone column by Shombit Sengupta in Financial Express and Indian Express

From wherever in the world I’d happened to be for my work, I never did betray you, my valued readers, by being absent on this column. Thank you for encouraging healthy debates as I enter my 4th year today of continuous writing for you. You’ve endorsed my belief in the sustaining factor; you’ve excited me with your positive criticism, throwing new ideas, contradicting or approving my writing, and narrating your experiences in letters to me. In appreciation, merci infiniment (I’m infinitely grateful).

A reader once wrote that he looks forward to Sundays. He said he and his sons read DZ which makes the paper worth preserving. You can’t imagine the emotion he stirred up in me; he actually named my column DZ! Being a creator of brands, here was my reader gifting me a branding proposition by calling my column DZ. What more can a professional designer ask for?

Around the time I wrote on the importance of self confidence in http://www.indianexpress.com/news/lack-of-confidence-can-make-you-a-fossil/880889/0, Subroto Bagchi, Chairman of Mindtree, had interviewed me in Forbes India (http://forbesindia.com/article/zen-garden/artist-shombit-senguptas-insights-on-branding/28852/0) where I’d spoken of those of us from an underprivileged background having the stark choice of self confidence or nothing. I was luckier than most as my brush, palette, colors and canvas never let me down. Among several touching responses I received on my self confidence piece, let me narrate how one reader just couldn’t eject himself from his salaried chair. He said he’d always wanted to be an entrepreneur but superb performance at his job catapulted his career much ahead of his peers. As a recognized leader, he took hard decisions and accomplished risky moves at work. Whenever he considered quitting to start his own venture, he’d experience a quick flow of adrenalin, dream big, but somehow taking a simple risk in his own life escaped his willpower. This lack of self confidence to resign gnawed at him inside, he secretly felt a coward, but publicly he was that super fast-tracker others emulated. His point was that being successful under a secure monthly salary is the killer that deters his independent entrepreneur ambition. Looking himself in the eye, his yes/no hesitations flummoxed him. He blamed our social system for his undisclosed misery, saying that nobody, not the family, his best friends, nor well-wishers, allowed him to take this risk. That echoed the Bengali phrase, "sukehe thakte bhute killai" meaning when you’re economically comfortable, why provoke a slap from the ghost? Life in the comfort zone is what the establishment encourages, he concluded, making compromise after compromise, even as your dream falls by the wayside.

From earning 500 francs gratuity every month as an impromptu sweeper instead of the French government regulated minimum salary of 3500 francs, I got a creative break in 1976. Then life changed quickly. I changed several jobs to reach the top Creative Director position in 1983 in my domain’s most reputed firm in Paris. My remuneration became incredible, perhaps the highest in our profession. But my dream was to be an entrepreneur living in Europe. I was lucky again to get wonderful support and confidence from erstwhile colleagues like Gérard Godard, Jose Ruiz, my favourite photographer Bernard Binette, Isabel Monod, a client from a brewery company whom we’ve unfortunately lost to cancer. In the first six months of starting my company, I divided my take-home salary by 4, even though most clients paid me in advance. Self-made entrepreneurs I’d studied as role models always thrived with discomfort. Self confidence was strengthened when my company made good profit in year one, 1984. In my case entrepreneurial confidence grew severely thereafter.

From personal experience I realized that confidence comes from discomfort. I’ve kept colors, brush, palate and canvas intact in my chosen consulting profession because when you bring newness into an enterprise, it’s like working on a vacant canvas. Irrespective of the country, there’s invariably resistance to giving a new stroke in the corporate canvas. My team and I often inject huge discomfort in client enterprises, and they’ve been rewarded with great business results thereafter. Sharing the discomfort process is a fabulous journey I wrote about in my book, Jalebi Management. The best part is having people in an enterprise collectively experience discomfort. Their subsequent confident leaps in initiatives take forward the subject to success.

Of course we sometimes face roadblocks. Recently an Indian client continuously pushed us to change our recommended marketing platform and design work for a certain product category they were entering into. We’d arrived at the recommendation after incorporating tremendous consumer understanding, going from city to small towns, door to door. The client had no experience in this category, yet wanted to have their way. We had to take a strong stand to not compromise, and refused to work further. We knew we’d created discomfort for them, but were confident it was the right direction for them and highly necessary to create a market rupture for getting business from a new market. After sometime the client launched our exact recommendation. Today the product is booming with commercial success, and the design got them kudos in the market. I have to appreciatively recognize that both the CEO and Chairman wrote to thank me.

This example says that when you love your profession with passion, use very rational and aspirational methods to first ignite discomfort in your team, then work with sincere market understanding, without messing about with intuition and gut feel. The client will eventually buy into the discomfort zone where the product has to bring business wins. At both individual and collective levels in Indian enterprises, people have to enter the discomfort zone to stand up to global competition by using confidence as the controlling reins. Being poor or rich does not matter here, self discomfort will show the green horizon at the tunnel’s end.

So, my dear reader, let me invite your reciprocation as I continue to consistently share new discomfort ideas with you in this DZ journey every week in the coming years.

To download above article in PDF Reader’s gift, DZ

Financial Express link:http://www.financialexpress.com/news/reader-s-gift-dz/1013012/0

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