Why people from FMCG are most sought after across sectors

The pressure to perform, reach out to customers, establish long-term relationships and ensure customer satisfaction makes FMCG employees a highly valued lot.

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Hindustan Unilever has produced more successful CEOs in the country than many of the premium IIMs. It’s like an institution in itself. Other FMCG companies such as P&G, ITC aren’t far behind.

Being one of the oldest industrial sectors, the century-old FMCG sector was a hunting ground for talent across industries. However, professionals with FMCG experience are still the preferred lot across industries including the sunrise sectors.

So what makes them so special and sought after?

It’s their attitude and unparalleled understanding of end consumers.

Sandip Ghose, EVP, sales and marketing, MP Birla Cement – who has also worked with Unilever in the past— says “In FMCG, people are taught to reach out to the end consumer. Other industries have failed to develop their distribution channel to connect with the end users.”

Joshi, Having grown up with FMCG companies, such as P&G and ITC before moving onto leadership roles in the media sector, Paritosh Joshi, principal, Provocateur Advisory concurs, “The institutional thinking in other industries is that of playing the boss rather than giving the customers a good experience. FMCG has always taught us to serve the customers.”

The way people in FMCG are groomed and nurtured also plays an important role.

First, irrespective of what role one joins in, a management trainee at Unilever, ITC or P&G has to spend time in sales.

Sandip Ghose

“In FMCG, people are taught to reach out to the end consumer. Other industries have failed to develop their distribution channel to connect with the end users”

“Whether you are in brand management or marketing you need to know the behaviour of the customers, which can happen only after doing sales,” shares Joshi.

The FMCG industry has existed for over a century now and it has worked with complex communication channels to reach out to customers, starting from sending mails through post or travelling the last mile.

In fact, the early days at FMCG are quite rigorous and that makes the professionals sturdy. The pressure and the struggle they go through in the FMCG sector hardens them, making their foundation really strong.

Paritosh Joshi

“The institutional thinking in other industries is that of playing the boss rather than giving the customers a good experience. FMCG has always taught us to serve the customers”

D Sivakumar, group executive president – corporate strategy & business development, Aditya Birla Group, who spent 19 years at Hindustan Unilever before becoming the CEO of Nokia and PepsiCo, recalled in a recent interview, how he travelled in ST buses from Chennai to his territory in Warangal and stayed in local hotels, while his peers in the banking industry boasted about frequently travelling abroad. However, a few years down the line, his peers from the banking industry had worn out after making some quick jumps, while he was lucky to have a steady career, thanks to the years he spent in the FMCG sector. He emphasised, “Direction is more important than distance.”

In addition, they deal with a large bandwidth of products and have a wider reach. Therefore, it is easy for them to understand the behaviour of the consumers.

“Besides, the FMCG sector has always had the practice of on-the-job upskilling and re-skilling with managers shouldering the responsibility of training people under their supervision and ensuring they produce results,” shares Joshi.

What does HR have to say?

“People who come from the FMCG sector have great potential because they can reach out to my customers better, most of whom they have already touched upon before. Not only can they understand the needs and behaviour of the customers, but they have simply mastered the art of selling,” says Mangesh Bhide, head HR – technology & FTTx business, Reliance Jio.

It is common for sales professionals in FMCG to do 50-60 calls a day and meet clients personally, which makes it pretty challenging and strenuous.

Mangesh Bhide

“People who come from the FMCG sector have great potential because they can reach out to my customers better, most of whom they have already touched upon before. Not only can they understand the needs and behaviour of the customers, but they have simply mastered the art of selling”

“Unlike FMCG, in other industries, professionals do not go through such pressure. And this is why people from FMCG grow very well in their careers. I know a lot of people who come from the FMCG industry and have grown up the ranks in an organisation to become good leaders, and they tend enjoy their job a lot,” says Venkataramana B, group president-HR, Landmark Group. Sales is definitely one of the most crucial areas of a business, acting as the driving engine for any organisation, irrespective of the sector. But what makes this engine chug along smoothly is an efficient, committed and experienced sales force.

Venkataramana B

“Unlike FMCG, in other industries, professionals do not go through such pressure. And this is why people from FMCG grow very well in their careers. I know a lot of people who come from the FMCG industry and have grown up the ranks in an organisation to become good leaders, and they tend enjoy their job a lot”

Qualities of an FMCG Professional

Traveller – An FMCG professional has to always expand the reach of the business. Reaching out to people in every city and meeting clients require a lot of travelling. Therefore, they are comfortable with travelling frequently, within the city and outside too.

People’s person – It is important to build lasting relationships with clients so that they always come back to you to buy your products. Therefore, it is essential for professionals in FMCG to be people’s persons so that they are comfortable talking to new people, establishing a rapport, building new relationships and maintaining existing ones.

Listener – Many people who excel in the sales function are one of the best listeners. Salespersons should be willing to listen to what the customers say and understand exactly what they want from them, only then will they be able to gain the trust of the customers.

Pragmatic problem solver – A practical approach to customers and their demands is essential for people in the FMCG sector. Dealing with customers logically rather bombarding them with theory is the ideal approach for salespersons. This is also what makes them great leaders.

Communicator – Communication is a skill, which is very important not just in the FMCG sector but in any industry. Good communication skills have always succeeded in developing people and transforming them into great salespersons.

While people from other consumer-facing industries such as durables, telecom, retail are catching up fast, it will be interesting to see how FMCG stays ahead in talent development.

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