Sanjeev Khanna (Director of Sales, Kellogg India Pvt. Ltd.) affirms to Aditi Sharma that a Career in Sales requires common sense and no shortcuts.
Having started his career in 1982, Mr. Sanjeev Khanna joined Gillette after working for five years at Balsara as a Sales Officer. A Commerce graduate from Rajasthan, he moved to sales after 6 months into Law, through a friend who introduced him to Balsara. He spent 18 years at Gillette with responsibilities in nine roles, significantly as Head of South, North, VP Sales, and then the VP of Customer Development. He left the company after it was taken over by P&G, though he was offered a place at Singapore P&G. In 2006, he joined Kellogg’s as Sales Director where he was responsible for sales in India and the neighbouring markets of Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Maldives.
With Kellogg’s investing heavily in the country, he has had a fantastic journey. Though the company barely managed to survive the initial four to five years, they achieved stability and have been going great since. Today it is one of India’s fastest growing food company. “In 2008 and 2009, we have been one of the fastest growing Kellogg’s businesses over the world,” he tells us. Maybe it is this growth elevation that has given the senior management confidence to invest more in the country.
“The sky is the limit for us because despite the huge success, we have only 14 per cent penetration in the food sector,” he says. Some of their India-specific innovations are the Rs. 10 cereal pack and Special K for women, which is proving to be their biggest brand, accounting for almost USD two billion.
He attributes their success in India to the three pillars - focus on brand building, India-specific decisions, and their distribution keeping pace with the growing awareness of the product. “We were seen at 40,000 outlets about four years back and now we are approximately at 220,000 outlets,” he adds, “We make sure that our advertising reaches even before we reach a place.”
The 6K values of Kellogg’s, that is, integrity, accountability, passion, humility, simplicity, and results, are a part of their DNA across the globe and a part of every new employee’s induction. “We make them understand the importance of these values and the need to align their behaviour to these values,” he elaborates. As part of their appraisal system, employees are also evaluated on how well they exhibit these values.
Employees are expected to demonstrate a commitment to integrity by showing respect and value to all individuals for their diverse background, experience, style, approaches and ideas. Accountability is demonstrated through personal accountability for one’s own actions and results, focus on finding solutions, and achieving results (rather than making excuses), actively engaging in discussions, and supporting decisions once they are made, keeping promises and commitments to others, and personally committing to the success and well-being of teammates. Passion in employees emerges through a show of pride in the Kellogg brands and heritage, and promoting a positive, energising, optimistic, and fun environment, and taking initiative to protect the company’s reputation. Humility is projected in employees through displaying openness and curiosity to learn from anyone, anywhere, admitting to one’s mistakes and learning from them, and personally committing to continuous improvement and willingness to change. Simplicity attempts to keep all processes, procedures, and activities simple to ensure value add instead of acting as cogs. Their focus on results aims towards celebrating the work done as a team to accomplish results and win. This goes a long way in making people feel valued and appreciated.
They are now working towards becoming the most admired food company in the country. “We want to be available in every place the customer wants us,” he says. They are also going to focus on doing the right thing in the right manner. “We are going to be very robust because we cannot compromise on fundamentals,” he affirms. He agrees that a business will see good and bad days both, but the funds decide the real business result. He exemplifies this by taking Kellogg’s way of continuously focusing on brand building, increasing in distribution and town penetration, infrastructure development for sales which focuses on building the capability in terms of people, competencies, coaching and training. “In-shop visibility is one of the very important aspects of growth,” Mr. Khanna adds.
At Kellogg, they believe that the best person to teach a subordinate is the line manager. In his career spanning 25 years, he has found a coach in about eight to ten people, and he believes in picking up the best in others and inculcating those values within his work style.
A self-confessed workaholic, he tells us that he is improving with each year and now makes yearly holidays possible. “I think I am a people’s man,” says he while talking about his personal leadership style. He believes that people have a tremendous ability to surprise if they are provided with the proper platform and adequate opportunity. “I love challenging people and getting the best out of them,” he shares.
As a sales veteran, his advice to youngsters is that there is no easy way in sales; following the basics is the likeliest way to bring you success. “Use common sense, think logically, take no shortcuts, and be passionate,” he concludes.