Taking MSME Towards eCommerce

foto courtesy: HubSpot offers

foto courtesy: HubSpot offers

I wrote The Vegetable Vendor And The eStore and eStore: Get Inspired By Volvo.

I had said that training programs, with basic content, educating about eCommerce will help rates of adoption. 

Training Programs

  • The training should start from introduction to Internet, mobile Internet and online market concept.
  • Businesses should be taught to think of opportunities. 
  • They should be encouraged to check with their existing customers and see some proof.
  • Seeing their name on the internet will sure encourage them to do this exercise of showing and getting more feedback.  
  • They can be taught to start from the Contact Page (even their promotion to customers can start here).
  • They will see a lot of relevance when they start from this page. They can be taught to spend a few hours everyday online.
  • Simple designs, video testimonials can be easily picked up by them while they learn. 
  • It should be explained that eCommerce can be tried as a part of overall business while they are on the learning curve with limited resources.
  • They can use Signage and Hand-outs to promote their presence online with existing customers and/or at their current traditional outlets. 

What sellers can do over the internet:

  • Learn Internet as a market place
  • Learn marketing over the internet
  • Learn actual selling over the internet
  • Learn to share information
  • Collaborate internally (with employees)
  • Learn the advantage of expanding markets, if they can deliver over the internet

Factors that could encourage people adopt eCommerce

  • Increased sales
  • Reduced costs
  • Improved customer service leading to increase in sales
  • Supply chain streamlining and solving continuity issues
  • Overall efficiency compared to traditional methods employed


  • Lack of Internet access
  • Lack of skilled staff
  • Consumer indifference
  • Security concerns
A comparison of current costs, necessary capital costs, ongoing costs, timeline to experiment, measuring some of the factors discussed above and a review of all these every 3 months can be done with businesses to encourage adoption or to alert them to fine-tune to make it successful or even to discontinue. 
Such training programs can be done through trade associations and so many other non-profit associations which work in the welfare of MSMEs.  
I am sure increasingly eCommerce will become the order of the day. But those who help businesses gain advantage will lead from the front establishing themselves through conversions by creating a good ecosystem for the growing eCommerce. 

Technology For Medical Representatives

This article was written for “medical representatives” as target audience. If you are not a sales representative or have sales representatives in your organization, you can skip this post.

Medical Representative : A medical representative is a title given to one who is hired by a pharma company to take care of its business in a given geographical area. Though the designations vary with various companies, the basic job remains the same, that of a medical representative. Hence let us use this as a basic term to describe the job function.

Background/Context of the job:
The job of a medical representative is tough to define. It is not limited to but includes the following basic realities:
      The job is to primarily maximize the prescriptions from doctors in that geographical area for the chosen brands of the company.
      Though companies have policies, guidelines, training and recommendations to the reps, generally they are inadequate in reality. Reps learn a lot from peers and also from their own experience in the field. The managers who work with them try to pass on and impart as much as possible both in the best interests of the company and the individual. This is a sound ecosystem that functions.
      Pharma reps who can think and translate their thoughts into new ways of approaching the business are free to do and hence they do well in creating business and also either go up the ladder or get better opportunities from other companies.
      Purely by experience, reps know their territory well and where business comes from. In line with the company’s policies and using their own innovativeness they arrive at a work plan for each day and execute it for productivity and maximizing the business.
      The work pattern involves both appointment calls and walk-in calls of doctor as customers and then once inside the chamber of a doctor the job involves prescription oriented detailing, sharing samples, documents, campaign gifts and so on.
      The reps learn to factor all the territory knowledge that they have into their plan for time management.
      They also do mass detailing in hospitals, medical colleges or with resident doctors(interns and PGs in medical college hospitals).
      Experienced reps learn to visit chemists to get more information on doctor’s prescribing habits, availability of stocks, competitor’s information etc. These also involve timings as chemists prefer to see and are willing to have a chat only when they don’t have customers to be attended to. Such information gathered help in fine-tuning objectives while visiting doctors either to request for more prescriptions or to thank them adequately to continue those prescriptions to maintain business.
      Reps also fulfill other requirements of the company like weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual sales reports, campaign reports of sales and samples, feedback reports, expense reporting, other special budget expenses etc.
      Maintaining a primary sales(company to distributor) and secondary sales(distributor to retailers) along with monitoring of take-backs(like expiry) and so on comes as a part of the job.

      Any knowledge, training skills, promotions and your career depends solely on how good you do this fundamental job in your early years and how well you have imbibed them into yourself to demonstrate when required.
The above is not a complete list but an indicative one. May be one can add much more that goes into making a successful medical representative. In a nutshell, a medical representative is trained to be his own business guy within his territory and the skills he develops stand him in good stead for life.
Current Status
Before writing this article, I interviewed a few national level sales managers of some pharma companies who are supposed to have moved the digital way and some have gone even mobile on it. But to my disappointment, I found most of these companies have bought bloated software at a big cost and are stuck either with the implementation or with obsoleteness after they had implemented with no way of forward integration without incurring huge costs again. Also buying costly software is not a solution for smaller companies.
Cloud Computing Technology that can be useful for medical reps
Read the following tools and imagine their places within the job functions of a medical representative. When you imagine, note that all these tools are available today independent of device and location. In other words, one can access these anytime, anywhere and through any device that is connected to Internet. You do not need powerful hardware(laptops etc) and also you need not buy any software. You can scale up or scale down your requirements. This would mean you can use it if you are a 5-reps company(SME) or a 2000-reps company(Enterprise). Size does not matter. You pay for what you use. You can use computing like electricity or water from a tap. You take a subscription and use everything. You can customize to your format. And much more.
I have categorized all the functions of a medical representative into these six major categories.

Data Storage and Management: Examples of this could be MSL(must see list) that every territory has which is a customer database, Chemists lists, rankings, all kinds of reports, detailing tools, detailing stories to go with it, photos/videos of CMEs/medical camps, expense and stock accounting, HR related documentation and all kinds of backups needed. All these can be available a click away.

Communication Tools: These include all your communication tools to be used within your team, with the rest of your company colleagues, partners and also customers.
Publication Tools: These can be used productively and innovatively in many situations in a representative’s life and business like training, updating trends, opinions, networking etc.

Information Management & Search Tools:Representatives are required to stay ahead with knowledge of current affairs, knowledge with respect to therapy areas and product category. Reps can use such tools to stay ahead of market. They can search for information and also they can let information come to them through such tools. While handling important business contacts, such information on customers and other relevant market news can provide the much needed competitive advantage.

Personal Information Manager: A rep needs to be a savvy person to plan his work and work his plan. Juggling personal and professional life can be a big task. The job demands a lot of personal time and accountability in handling the given area. So some of the easy tools can help them do things productively to stay ahead and achieve the much needed work-life balance.

Business Tools: Remember we talked of innovative ways. These tools will make the rep innovative in how he handles his customers, territory and the business. They can arrange web conferencing for some key clients with HO, collaborate well with distributor friends and manage invoices and payments in a much better way.

Each one of these tools can be mapped to existing ways of work of the representative. Organizations can integrate these in a swift and productive manner to have real time data and gain immensely from introducing such tools from the ground level of a representative.
Understand Cloud which is a boon today from the business perspective and optimize business processes for maximum efficiency. Once you map productivity and efficiency of your organization with traditional IT systems vs cloud, you will see the value in Cloud services.
What do you think? Feel free to comment. You can reach
me at www.varadh.com or @varadhkrish

Originally posted on http://blog.varadh.com

Will Social Media Transform Your Business?

courtesy: fb share
To understand this question, you should not start with social media tools or the technologies behind them. You should start with primary functions of your business and see what business metrics you need to achieve as results. 
Repeatedly I get the question if social media will help achieve the next month’s target. Sadly it is a “no”.
To understand Social Media and use it well for your business, think about the following:
How your business gets done–has it changed? I mean the nature of your business and how your industry/sector has changed. List out the changes.
How you do business-has it changed? With respect to your own customers, what are the changes in your activities that have been implemented or to be implemented? List out the changes. 
How you run your organization-has it changed? What are the organizational changes that you have brought in or needs to be brought in? List out the changes. Is it in sync with the above two changes?
Most importantly, what has been driving these changes? 
This will be a good starting point to understand what changes have happened and what you should change. This is the hardest part. Understanding this change. Once you realize this change, you will easily understand it has three parts: cultural, technological and operational. The first and hardest part would be the cultural change. Rest two can be done relatively easier. The first change i.e. cultural change will help you implement operational changes. You will also realize that any one individual in one of the functions cannot bring about such changes in an isolated way. It has to be across the board. The organization as a whole has to change to get the results. 
Forget the tools initially. Appreciate the basic ideas behind them and how it can be useful with respect to your business functions. This will help you understand the tools that you need. 
Now look at what kind of social media tools will fit.  You will start understanding how social media tools can fit your business. There is no one single answer. Last few years the answers have been changing. The impacts of tools are dynamically changing. Keeping track of things and catching up has been hard.
Depending on your engagement, social media tools will help you in all-round development of your business. This will include sales, better customer satisfaction, market intelligence and productivity of your employers. The list is only indicative. You can decide how Social Media will transform your business. 
Try this method. Let me know what you arrive at. Want to talk specific about your business? Just buzz me. I will be happy to talk to you.

Originally posted on http://blog.varadh.com

Fear Of Online Social Marketing

foto: fb share
Are you afraid of Social Media? The biggest worry for marketers is that someone can detract their message. They fear that someone can contribute negatively to their existing brand reputation. They do not want negative comments. They do not want Social Media.
Consider the example of any popular product online. There will be 100s of reviews for the product. Apart from these reviews, there will be 1000s of discussions on the product. Where are they happening? Anyone with a gadget and an internet connection can talk today. Someone can talk in his blog or in a social network. Not necessarily all talk will be negative. They can also promote the product with positive statements, photos, videos and share their enthusiasm for the product. It can go both ways, negative or positive. And everyone with an internet connection can have access to these for free. Businesses also get these promotions, endorsements and loyalty free of cost. If you are using social media tools, you can monitor these and you can use these references for free in your engagement. Such positive endorsements can promote your brand much better than your messages. You can also reduce misunderstanding of your product when you monitor negative sentiments or complaints. Or even rectify and can have a better product for future in genuine cases.
A whole lot of websites today serve as a place for such positive and negative sentiments which make or break a brand. Whether you participate or not, consumers have a voice today and they are only getting louder by the day. 
Social Media is people talking to people. Hence your message cannot be controlled by you. It is not an announcement which people will just listen to. You can talk and they will keep talking too. The people whom you address are part of your message now. Hence you need balance. Their voice is equally(if not more) powerful. 
Avoiding Social Media is not the answer to this. Educating people about your objectives will help. Being transparent should help. You can handle negativity in many ways.
The only way forward is to learn and use Social Media the proper way. 

Originally posted on http://blog.varadh.com

Bridge Your Business Objectives And Social Media

You have understood what is Social Media. You know a lot now. You know the reasons why you should consider Social Media. You still have questions.  Where and how do you start and go about using all that information for your business?
Let me share a framework I use with my clients.
Start with an objective. Examples of objectives are Increasing Sales, Customer Support, HR, Market Intelligence, PR etc. Pick your business objectives. Pick that priority business objective(s) for which you would like to test the social tools and would like to build a strategy. 
If you have an on-going business, the business objectives are already there for your business. You are not going to set a separate business objective for-social-media-sake. If you are looking at 100 new customers for your business, dont say you want to “reach” 1000 people or want to have “a lot of followers” when you think Social Media. So start with the business objective and go forward to link every activity of yours to it as you will do in traditional methods. 
Once you have the business objective/goal in front of you, set the targets. For example, if your business objective is “increasing sales” then your target could be a specific number within a timeline. If your objective/goal is “customer support”, your target could be “reducing costs by %” or “better serviced customer ratios”, with a time frame.
You now have objectives and targets. 
Now comes the Social Media part into discussion. Now think of strategies. If your goal is sales, then your strategy could be “x number of new customers”, “developing existing customers”, “more transactions per customer” or “more value per transaction” etc. Evaluate which tools are right for the chosen strategy. What are the methods that can be used with these tools(example online discussions, forums etc…) towards that objective. What are the metrics applicable to the tools that can be measured and reviewed to achieve the objectives. Learn what are the best practices to be followed. Implement. 
Identify people who can implement. My advise is to use qualified people within your organisation. For example if you are implementing social media strategy for customer support, then use a person who is qualified to do customer support and train them on social media tools. Avoid hiring social media experts and training them in customer support or with your domain knowledge. 
What do you think? What is your framework?  Feel free to comment. I will be happy to have a customized talk with you for your business. Call me anytime. 
Originally posted on http://blog.varadh.com

Include Social In Online Marketing

Online Marketing

Is your company doing online Marketing? Today lots of online marketing initiatives are available. 
Search Marketing(Search Engine Marketing or SEM) is the process of gaining traffic from visibility on search engines. To gain better visibility, techniques which involve search engine optimization(SEO) which ranks you better than your competitors are done. This is a good strategy when you consider internet as a medium of information alone.
People do search marketing and email newsletters using distribution lists. Few people have gone beyond this. 
What Is New
Today so much of information is available on the internet. A customer can get to them easily. Customers just do not trust information unless they get it validated with peers. Today people talk to each other about the information they find.  Customers also check reviews of the products. They check for endorsements and also for negative comments, if any. Customers also pass on information to their peers. They do this using social networking tools. So internet has become social too. Hence it is better to consider social media optimization and include social media marketing.
Social Media Marketing
Social Media Marketing is the process of promoting yourself to different online communities. The dynamics are very different from traditional marketing. Here you will be talking to a collective community and they will also talk among themselves. Hence it involves listening to them in a better way and building relationships. Such listening will help you to respond well, learn new information and using it positively. Social Media Marketing works better only when you gain trust and gain endorsement of the people within the communities. Social Media Marketing not only helps in terms of search marketing but also gives you the benefit of endorsement and earns trust and immediate relationships across communities in the internet world.
Social Media Marketing is a cheaper and good alternative to traditional marketing. To get high returns, you need to learn the rules of engagement in this new media, participate within communities and use the emerging trends to your advantage. You need to work sincerely with human interactions and conversations and create a positive expression for your company, product and service. Focused effort and persistence will quickly get you good returns from Social Media Marketing.

Feel free to buzz me if you want to talk more on this.

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Originally posted on http://blog.varadh.com

Help Customers To Help You

Customers are Ignoring You
Image by ronploof via Flickr

If you have a shop, you invite everyone in to your shop. To invite everyone to visit your shop, you spend huge sums of money on promotion.

People come

  • Just to know what range of products you have.
  • Sometimes with the option and intention of buying.
  • To buy a needed product desperately looking for it.
  • To update themselves (window shopping).
  • As a companion with these prospects.

Some don’t have the intention and some don’t have the money but they still come, spend more time, ask you all kinds of questions and bargain on prices and do not buy.

Now, while you would like to have more of customers who need the product and those who have the option of buying, you cannot pick and choose your customers. Some will waste their time and yours. It is part of the game.

The only way to learn how to handle each one of them is by experience. The importance of experience cannot be more stressed in these areas of business. You need to stay ahead all the time to convert the prospects, not to loose the straight forward customer and to minimize the wastage with time-wasters. Even the time-wasters can serve as ambassadors of your brand by referring others. You should sound nice to all of them and ensure that each one of them goes back with a good experience.

Sounds common knowledge? Yes, but when it comes to Social Media, people forget this. They fail to extend real world practices. Social Media is a set of online tools for online social interactions. I explained how what holds good in real-world practices holds good in Social Media also. Extension of logic is useful. So use your successful examples of real world with social media tools also.

Help customers to help you

Communicate small achievements. Communicate often. Imagine 300(just a number) small updates in a year to your prospects Vs 5 pages of achievements 6 times in a year. Small, frequent updates will help you get the top-of-the-mind-recall. Make it easy for them to share your message and refer you to others. I learnt this in my early years. Even in a job, imagine communicating daily or weekly achievements to your management Vs sitting down with a big list once-in-a-year when your appraisal is being done. The former is more likely to create an impact. Remember, Out of sight is out of mind.

Participate. Have conversations. Conversations should be with people and not at them. You may be observing everything, everyone. But in online world, how do they know that you exist, follow them and are available? Keep conversing. The biggest challenge remains that of inexperience of triggering conversations. While communicating to others, what can we check for? A lot .

Help wherever you can. Always be in the ready mode to ask “what can I do for you?”. When people benefit from your answers, they tend to reciprocate.

Have you tried online conversations with your customers? How do you find it? Feel free to buzz me if you need to know more about engaging your customers online.

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Originally posted on http://blog.varadh.com

What Pharma Marketers Can Do

The Marketing Metrics Continuum provides a fra...

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You are a marketing manager with pharma brands. You have 20+ brands or may be much more. You have a big sales force of representatives. You have area managers, regional, divisional, zonal and national sales managers making their efforts with the market place including your representatives as ambassadors, doctors, distributors and chemists under your able guidance. Month after month you are pushing your targets. Campaign after campaign you are planning new strategies with promotional materials including new visual aids,  physicians samples and gifts. 

List of activities done by a Pharma representative is already big. Also it has become common place. Every company does that.  Doing that efficiently is a big challenge, by itself, leave alone differentiation from your competitors.

“Pharma and Social Media” Webinars concentrate on new ideas for Pharma Marketing.  Take a look at the scope of the topic. You can take a look at few examples of how pharma is using social media tools as quoted in this whitepaper.

Think of what objectives you can achieve through social media and what kind of tools would make you do that. My favourite suggestion starts with working around patient-physician relationships and pharma participating there. See what is good for your range of products.

What can you and I do? And how will it be different?

We can try new ways. We can try new things. We can try new media. We can look at Social Media tools for Pharma Marketing.

It requires your updated hands-on field knowledge and derived objectives to be mapped to the social media ideas and skills.

Social Media can make you move forward. The leap could be very big if done right.

Let me know what you think. Buzz me for more customized discussions.

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Originally posted on http://blog.varadh.com

Pharma : Today’s Marketing Environment

Doctors (2000 TV series)

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Discussing Social Media Marketing goals with my Pharma friends, I have mapped the activities that traditional pharma marketing representatives do.  This is towards the exercise of drawing up activities that Pharma companies can do with Social Media Marketing to achieve its objectives in synergy with the traditional marketing to take a better share of market prescriptions in a crowded market place. Especially given the current scenario of domestic formulations.

Listing of a pharma representative’s activities go like this :

  • First-meeting with the doctors(first impression/introduction whatever you call it)
  • Frequent visits to the doctors and persistent promotion and/or reminders
  • Spotting the right prescribers(data-collection on prescription habits of doctors from chemists etc.)
  • Taking a feedback on supplies/stocks at chemists level with the chemists (to avoid prescription bouncing at a chemist level)
  • Detailing Features and Benefits to the doctor
  • Discussing/sharing scientific studies to substantiate the detailing (proof of concept/statement kind) to the doctor
  • Going through the grammar of a sales call with the doctor to get more opportunities to detail and get feedback
  • Maintaining a friendly gesture towards others(like a doctor’s secretary or admin) in the clinic/hospitals for a better access to the doctor
  • Reminders in all forms
  • Distributing “physicians samples” as per company strategy to doctors
  • Campaign gifts or occasional gifts to doctors (sometimes personal delivery by managers at various levels) including medical journals
  • Taking Doctors as a guest-lecture to CMEs
  • Sponsoring CMEs at different levels
  • Concentrating on detailing the product to PGs(catch them young kind)
  • Adding personal touch as per individual talents and commitment(example could be helping out a doctor with a chore at a personal level)
  • Reporting as per company format on all these activities
  • Achieving sales targets with distributors(what is called primary selling which gets sold to chemists (called secondary off take) who buy basis doctors prescriptions)

Some of the doctors welcome representatives and take those few minutes of break and chat with representatives about other worldly affairs. This helps them take a break in their busy practice. Hence some companies do train their representatives to be aware of other topics which basically helps engage the doctor better and helps establishing a two-way dialog.

All the above activities of building friendship with the doctor, efforts to convince and make him remember the product, the gesture of gifts towards increasing the feeling of reciprocity, collection of chemists feedback are towards one single objective: Making the doctor prescribe the company’s brand and getting a maximum share of that for any given product. More often, the challenge is getting that top-of-the-mind-recall for your brand with a doctor when he wants to prescribe.

All these are done with a lot of subtlety and with a lot of sophisticated communication. Though representatives spend only a couple of minutes every time with a doctor, a lot goes into preparing for those few minutes.

With such a background of traditional pharma marketing in place and with the changing nature of patients and patient-physician relationships, pharma has a lot of opportunity to participate in patient-physician relationship. Hence the topic “Pharma and Social Media” looks very promising.

Does this list show the current scenario well? Does Pharma company look forward to more innovative ways of marketing in such a crowded market place?

Please feel free to comment. I really look forward to your additions and ideas. Let me know what you think.

Stay tuned as I come up with more to share with you.


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Originally posted on http://blog.varadh.com

“Good Question”

Red question mark

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I was watching the kids do some home-work. There was an exercise on framing questions for my son. He was asking me questions. That made me nostalgic about the training sessions where I learnt a lot about questions.

As sales professionals, we are always aware of the need for two-way conversations. A right question at the right moment opens up possibilities with customers. That’s the key to conversations with customers.

Questions are important.  Eliciting “Good Question” from anyone is always a strong compliment.

Questions are of different nature. I can think of some.

    • Information seeking, thought provoking open-ended neutral questions like “How does one learn Social Media?”
    • Information checking closed-ended neutral questions like “Are you using Social Media in Marketing?”
    • Focusing, guiding, thought influencing open-ended influenced questions like “What are the benefits of Social Media?”
    • Manipulative, confirming closed-ended influenced questions like “Don’t you think Social Media is a hype?”

Quality questions invite quality answers. To do things differently, we must ask different questions. Ability to ask right questions lead us everywhere.

I have a liking for articles which are of Q&A type as they not only answer our questions but also teach us how to ask questions. I did my whitepaper($500 worth for free download) as a Q&A.

Do you know Quora?

Quora  is a continually improving collection of Q&A. In Quora, You can browse and also answer questions if you feel that you can answer. I am yet to play around there and learn more.  I think it would be a good place to observe and learn how to ask questions that elicit good answers.

How do you ask questions? Feel free to share them.

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Originally posted on http://blog.varadh.com