Century Plyboards embraces sales force automation

In a tough year, the Rs 2,148-crore plywood manufacturer harnessed digital tools to reimagine its go-to-market strategy.
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From being dependent on retailers for business, Century Plyboards (India) has begun to generate orders for retailers in the past year because of its sales force automation.

Century Plyboards is a plywood manufacturer in Kolkata, whose total income of Rs 2,148 crore declined 8 percent in fiscal year (FY) 2021. But it didn't waste the pandemic, using the tough year to carry out its sales force automation.

Century Plyboards reduced the number of retailers serviced per salesperson from 80-90 to 20-30. It focused on retailers who account for 80 percent of its business, and used a tele-sales team to service the remaining 70-odd retailers.

That was one factor in the company's FY 2021 net profit of Rs 183.4 crore, improving by nearly 28 percent over the previous year.

“Going forward, we want to sustain the growth," Keshav Bhajanka, Executive Director of Century Plyboards India, tells EnterpriseStory. "We do not want a spurt that would fall out, and the only way to sustain growth is through digitalisation."

The company has ramped up the digital marketing of its brand, CenturyPly. More than 30 percent of its marketing budget has been used for social media marketing, Bhajanka says.

CenturyPly explained the rationale in its annual report for 2020-21. "There has been a consistent increase in spending on enhancing the company’s presence on electronic and social media because that is where most consumers of the day spend their time," it stated.

Apart from having consumer mindshare, CenturyPly's management believes the effectiveness of the spending can be measured. "The step-wise spending makes it faster to course-correct," the company said in the annual report. "One can target one’s pitch for a specific audience better (no transmission loss), and there is clearly a bigger bang for the invested buck."

CenturyPly has complemented its marketing spends by using technology offline. Retailers are geo-tagged for precise locations, which is recorded in its central server, and mapped around its sales force automation system.

This has helped the company improve the prospects-to-customers ratio. The inflow of customer enquiries to sales managers have been converted into manageable data. There is greater transparency on daily sales office movements and productivity, and enhanced accuracy in sales forecasting.

"This was unfathomable a few years ago," Bhajanka says. "Technology has revolutionised the way we approach marketing and sales. We have digitised every facet of business post production to predict what customers buying behaviour is likely to be."

In June 2020, CenturyPly launched its EShop operations across India. This is its digital interaction and experience forums where any customer can visit, check product features, and buy them as per their needs and convenience.

EShop allows for the convenience of buying and getting delivery at the customer's doorstep. “We are seeing increasing conversion of consumer needs on our e-commerce platform coming from all parts of the country,” Bhajanka says.

Currently, CenturyPly's ecommerce business is less than 5 percent of its sales, which it aims to increase to 10 percent in three years.

“The single largest challenge we face is the culture shift in getting that mindset of people changed. That is the biggest challenge, and the pandemic has helped the company change,” Bhajanka says.

CenturyPly has more than 30 branches. It uses a prediction tool to manage its production and supply, and has reduced the overall inventory cost. Such forecasting tools have helped improve business and efficiency.

For the sales force automation, it partnered with Pune-headquartered KloudQ Technologies, a system integrator that specialises in IoT (internet of things) and SaaS (software as a service). The solution covers sales team visit plan, scouting area definition, visit management, lead management, and sales validation after lead closure.

CenturyPly has automated the journey right down to end-customers, Bhajanka says. "When customers go to our website, they don't just get to know about our company or a product. They know where each dealer is, and can get any information that they want, apart from placing the order."

Edited by Kunal Talgeri