An interview with Anand Santhanam, Vice President Of Marketing And Business Development at TAFE
TAFE (Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd.) – the third largest tractor manufacturer in the world – wields about 25% market share of the Indian tractor industry with sales of over 150,000 tractors annually. Vice President of Marketing & BD, Anand Santhanam, talks about the challenges of leading large sales teams and how TAFE used AI to align their sales team, increase productivity and create a culture of transparency, ownership, and sustainable impact.
Can you tell us a little about the nature of your business and give us a brief summary of the industry? What are some of the unique challenges your business faces?
Our primary business priority is in providing farm mechanisation solutions . Given the vagaries of monsoon, Govt policies on MSP’s, farm credit etc. markets that tend to grow and fall do so by large margins resulting in an inherently volatile business environment. We’re constantly contending with the vagaries of the monsoon, government policies on MSPs, farm credit, etc. Also, the health of the business (for OEM and Dealers) is largely dependent on the profile and quality of customers (creditworthy customers versus non-creditworthy customers). Additionally, brand affinity of creditworthy customers is a big barrier for new entrants in the market.
Due to the fixed customer base nature of the industry, customer lifetime value management becomes key since every farmer buys at least 5 tractors in his lifetime. Providing new mechanization solutions for ever-changing soil conditions and accelerating the pace of adoption of new mechanization solutions in a cost-effective way is a key determiner of success.
The fundamental challenges that we, and for that matter any organization, face are around the product, distribution and geographical skew.
TAFE’s philosophy of excellence is “a desire to attain the best that comes from each of us”. What are some of the challenges a manager typically faces while trying to bring out this excellence and best performance out of individuals in large teams like sales teams?
Alignment of the front line sales force, and therefore the network and its workforce, to organization priorities is the biggest challenge one faces while managing large sales teams. Consistency in execution while working on the long term enablers is the other. De-risking front line attrition through systems and processes helps address disruptions that are caused thereof.
And what are some of the ways you have addressed these challenges?
KRA’s of our sales team and that of the network get regularly aligned with our strategy for converting new, nascent and developed parts of the market. Aligning frontline sales behavior to help measure, monitor and help compliance and enabler KPIs is one of the key aspects.
When did you hear of worxogo and what attracted you to the solutions presented by worxogo?
We have worked with the founding team in the past and knew of their capability. So when worxogo approached us with their unique proposition of driving behavior change using an AI-driven engine, we decided to go for it. The most attractive aspect of Mia was its ability to auto-learn by the continuous data feeds provided by us. And, in return, provide customized coaching inputs as per each individual sales team member’s temperament.
Behavior change is not the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think of performance. Please share some insights you have gained about behavior change and productivity as your team has interacted with worxogo’s AI-enabled sales coach Mia?
Over the period of the deployment, we found some unique and previously undiscovered aspects of our team-
- 1. The biggest shift was that the onus of performance (slowly but surely) shifted to the frontline sales teams, as compared to previously on superiors chasing them / following up.
- It brought transparency and objectivity into performance assessment and also created a level playing field when it comes to incentivization, rating and justification for career progress. This further creates fantastic positive social pressure and also does away with the servility culture that tends to get built up otherwise.
- The AI engine over a period of time was able to successfully assess the sales teams on their key motivations and provided relevant nudges to drive performance (this is a differentiator). This, in turn, drove behaviors and improved performance for each salesperson leading to better people productivity.
- A qualitative improvement in performance review of sales reps by the superior ushered a new faster way of driving growth and productivity.
- It provided an eagles-eye view to the top management LIVE on a 24/7 basis which enabled better empowerment of the frontline sales team, leading to faster decision making and productivity enhancements. Business insights were churned out faster and on a regular basis which enabled speed-to-market.
- It provided flexibility to the management in changing short-term priorities as per market conditions.
Have you observed significant behavior changes in the teams and managers you oversee since they started being coached by Mia? How did it impact their performance?
Basic compliance KPIs, including those related to behavior, saw a 3 times increase in adoption, followed by a double-digit increase in productivity of sales reps. Healthy internal competition in a transparent environment thrived, which enabled us to identify the performers from the non-performers.
Impact on performance was significantly better both qualitatively and quantitatively – specifically in areas around cross-sell/ upsell, market development field activities intensity etc.
As a leader, what insights can you offer to other business leaders to be successful in today’s dynamic market conditions?
- Behavior is the next frontier in driving performance.
- Use a mix of technology for faster and better consumer and business insight generation and to align sales teams to respond quickly to strategy.
- Constantly question the relevance of the hypothesis that delivered earlier results. Given the pace of market dynamics, the hypothesis needs to be evaluated at much shorter durations than before.
- Use new-age tools that provide newer, better insights into how your frontline sales team is doing. It will help remove bottlenecks faster and deliver wins to the organization.