How business-IT partnership has effectively helped the country’s oldest paint company take the next step in its connect with the influencers, a very significant community in the paints business
Shalimar Paints is the oldest player in the INR 40,000-crore Indian paints industry. Important national buildings, such as Howrah Bridge, Rashtrapati Bhawan and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) have been painted using the company’s products.
A few years ago, Shalimar Paints started a journey of strategic transformation to become one of the top players in the decorative paints segment. It carried out a strong brand repositioning exercise to become more consumer-centric in its approach.
A strong consumer centric approach requires creating a mindshare among the end-users and creating a pull situation, as in case of any strong consumer brand.
For a product such as paints, there is a community of ‘influencers’ who play a crucial role in shaping mind share and generating demand. These are typically the painters, contractors, and the architects or consultants. For a company, it is extremely important to have a direct connect with this community.
That connect was not so strong for Shalimar Paints, as it was not direct.
“While we were in touch with the influencers—like painters, contractors and architects or consultants, but it was through the dealers only. So, there was a gap. We could not communicate directly. We did not have one-to-one relationships,” rued Rajesh Sharma, Head of Sales and Marketing at Shalimar Paints.
“Dealers are multi-brand dealers. They have their own priorities. So, we could not really communicate our ideas properly,” he explains.
This is where technology came to the rescue. Ashok Jade, CIO of Shalimar Paints, proposed a tech-based platform that would make it possible to close this gap, while also helping marketing operations in activities involving the influencers and making it smoother and more flexible.
Thus was born the Influencer Management System.
Apart from what it set out to achieve—and successfully achieved—the project stands out on many counts. One, it was neither a top-down management-dictated IT implementation that was done to metrics. But more than that, the journey was marked by a strong partnership between IT headed by Jade, and Marketing headed by Sharma—right from the word go. Right from seeking out a solution to running it successfully, the two leaders were completely involved in the implementation and showed mutual respect for each other.
Building the System
The partnership approach is visible in every step. Take for example, how the system capabilities were decided.
The Influencer Management System sought to target three types of influencers, painters, contractors, and the consultants or architects. Each of the three is at a different level of tech eruditeness and access to tech.
One big challenge was to get the painters community. They are not too tech savvy and many of them did not have access to smart phones. Getting them onboard was a challenge.
“It was very clear to me that our IT system should reflect that; it should work accordingly,” says Jade, who gives full credit to Sharma for equipping him with this input at the right time.
“We had a very good discussion on this,” he adds.
In order to ensure that this community—largest by number—does not get left out, the Influencer Management System had to provide some way in which this community can be brought to the platform without their having to log in to the system.
Sharma and Jade worked together to create a process and corresponding system provision whereby the Shalimar Paints employees would go to them and feed their data into the system. Once their mobile number and all other relevant information was accessible, then the communication could occur over SMS and voice call.
In the next phase, the company is establishing a call center and will use it as a full-fledged CRM system to manage relationships with the painters.
“For contractors and architects, we have given them the platform where they can log in on their own,” says Jade.
The business objective behind the whole exercise was to improve the secondary sales of the company.
“Earlier, we were focusing on primary sales—that is sales up to the dealer level. Sometimes, our dealers would say there is no natural pull. We were depending on the push only. While the Shalimar Paints brand is known, each and every product may not be known to everyone,” says Sharma.
“Now, we are helping dealers to liquidate our products through the platform,” says Sharma.
As far as measurements are concerned, the company is trying to compute it through repeat orders from dealers. It has been just a little over four months since the system was launched but the initial results have been quite encouraging.
While the impact on sales can be measured on a slightly longer term, the impact one operational measure that Sharma explicitly targeted has been impressive.
Earlier, it was very difficult to track and monitor the regular meetings and activities—whether the meetings happen regularly or not. The system has made it possible to track that very easily.
“We have to track our promotional activities. For the first time, the data of painters is available. It is easier to plan the activities. The team is also charged up,” says Sharma.
“The sales force does not have the earlier bottlenecks. Each and every member of the team can put their ideas into it and their requirements into it. And that reaches the person concerned within no time,” Sharma explains.
With that input, it makes it easier to plan how to push something in a particular territory— based on the insights from the ground.
As a result, productivity has gone up; cycle time has gone down.
“In fact, it has helped tremendously in terms of budgeting. Earlier, for the team, getting the budgeting done and then getting the expense settled was a huge challenge. Now, it has become very smooth,” he adds. For senior managers like Sharma, it makes it easy to plan for the funds and budget.
“From budget to the settlement of bills, it has become very convenient,” Sharma says gleefully.
Similarly, the company gives incentives and rewards to the painters. Traditionally, those used to be distributed through the dealer, leading to delays and sometimes leakages. The new system has almost completely eliminated that.
Sharma gives full credit to the new system and IT team led by Jade.
In terms of its efficacy, the Influencer Management System of Shalimar Paints is a good project but what really sets it apart is the mature and professional partnership between IT and marketing with trust and respect towards each other.