Entrepreneurial mindset fuels innovation in retail industry

| Updated: January 27, 2023 17:32:04

Soykot Chowdhury Soykot Chowdhury

There are about two million retail shops in Bangladesh, and for a giant corporation spanning all parts of the globe, maintaining the logistical chain and keeping the supply mechanism to stratify the sales process is as hard as it comes.

This presents the ideal opportunity for individuals with a creative mind and a knack for finding solutions to develop and sharpen their skills. One such individual is Soykot Chowdhury, the man behind 'E-School', the first learning app for the field sales force of Unilever in Bangladesh.

The Financial Express interviewed Soykot Chowdhury to gain insight into the development of E-School.

Soykot Chowdhury is currently working in a global role as the business development manager at Unilever International.

Unilever International is a global business unit of Unilever, created in 2012 and responsible for the management of various third-party export operations run by the multicountry organisations, with its headquarter in Singapore. It is a setup to cater to under-served markets, consumers, channels, and brands - and since its launch, it has consistently been one of the fastest-growing businesses within Unilever.

E-School is a learning app for the sales force, where they can upscale their skills and utilise technology for their daily business operations. The app can be used from a smartphone or tablet of the sales force and has more than one hundred byte-sized videos for fulfilling the skill gap of these distributors' employees with an interactive judging system. Besides learning modules, new joiners can also enroll themselves via digital onboarding through this app.

Administrators of this app can send any urgent sales-related or other relevant communication in audio, video or text format at one go to the sales force from the admin app, which is essential for their day-to-day field business operations. After the launch of this revolutionary app, it has impacted around 10,000 field sales officers in Bangladesh to this day.

In 2019, virtual Reality (VR) was introduced in this app, and field forces were able to show 3D versions of selected newly introduced products to the traders. On top of all these, admins can download different strata of data and run various analytics from the central dashboard. It is a complete learning solution for all the field sales forces of Unilever Bangladesh Limited and in 2020 and 2021, this app achieved the Unilever South Asia Innovation and Unilever South Asia HR Director's Awards respectively.

Soykot thought of developing an app to train the sales force after conducting a skill-gap analysis among the frontline salespeople which prompted him to think about a solution initially. In his words, "I developed the idea of E-School to further empower and equip the sales force of Unilever with crucial industry-required skills in the fastmoving consumer goods (FMCG) industry."

Initially, he, along with his team, prepared byte-sized video modules. Each video length was not more than 15 minutes. Partnered with a third-party service provider company, they received the necessary technical support and were provided with the back-end logic and design from Unilever Bangladesh using which the agency crafted the platform.

In Bangladesh, joining a large multinational corporation is one of the most desired goals for graduates. However, it is important to keep the entrepreneurial spirit within oneself that drives an individual to solve hard problems with creative ingenuity, and Mr Chowdhury knows how to do that.

"My current role in Unilever International requires me to practice my creativity and passion for entrepreneurship - attributes that I developed from a young age and this pushed me to design a solution for the blue-collar salespeople in Bangladesh for contributing to the betterment of society in a meaningful way."

Mr Chowdhury completed his first MBA in Human Resource Management from the University of Dhaka, which ignited his interest in HR. Later, he did his EMBA from the Bangladesh University of Professionals (BUP) and his role-related experiences also enabled him to gain a strong background in sales and marketing. Furthermore, he has a strong interest in technology, and all these combined drove him to design the app, E-school.

An interesting addition to the app is that the central team can monitor their performance through gamification of learning. That way, the learning process remains fun and interactive.
However, the journey of introducing the app was not smooth, as it faced some setbacks. As this was possibly the first time Mr Chowdhury and his team developed in the industry, they had to do everything from scratch and make their partners understand the process and vision. Since it was also for a large sales force population in Bangladesh, data management was also an issue.

Despite the obstacles, E-School has become a game-changer in the FMCG market environment.

The sales force of Unilever Bangladesh is more aware and educated about the business and overall market environment. This platform also helped them develop and hone the soft skills that are often lacking in the blue-collar workforce. It has been nothing short of a pioneer in the market-technology synergy.
Other companies can take this learning app as an example that shows channeling entrepreneurial passion and utilising the power of technology can help the retail industry flourish.

"UBL is a leading multinational organisation in Bangladesh, and we have to set examples for the industry. Prioritising and developing the people working on the ground is important for implementing our vision and mission because they are the ones who are having the primary contact with business customers in the field," said Mr Chowdhury.

By fostering a culture of entrepreneurship and promoting innovation, the corporate sector in Bangladesh can attain new levels of success and develop a workforce that is competitive on a global scale.

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