Bennett Coleman & Company (BCCL) has been operating for more than 175 years and has a daily circulation of more than 7.5 million copies, including its flagship newspaper, The Times of India. Its product range includes dailies in six languages (English, Hindi, Marathi, Bengali, Kannada, and Gujaratia), an English financial daily, and several lifestyle weeklies.

The company’s ad sales are decentralised with operations in more than 25 cities and more than 1,500 “feet on street” who ensure response from each sold inventory. Their efforts lead to 50,000 unique advertisers every year for the company.

This large permutation of advertiser X product X market X salesperson results in excess of one million transactions annually (that includes opportunity sizing, negotiation, and closure at desired yield), which gets serviced by a central pricing team.

Bennett Coleman & Company launched Project Intersect to solve a series of key problems with their outdated pricing model.
Bennett Coleman & Company launched Project Intersect to solve a series of key problems with their outdated pricing model.

Today, with the advent of digitisation in all spectrums of trade, BCCL’s advertisers require speed, accuracy, consistency, and transparency (to withstand any audit) for each transaction. Naturally, achieving this for a million transactions is an enormous task.

To add to the complication, our legacy revenue management process ran on an archaic, inflexible model. Further, it lacked a decision support system (DSS) and relied heavily on ad-hoc decisions often made by a human exposing each transaction to a bias.

It became increasingly evident that we needed to overhaul the system. Being a market leader, BCCL had to pave the way not only for its own sales operations, but for the industry as well.

Project Intersect brings together the pricing and sales teams within the same ecosystem.
Project Intersect brings together the pricing and sales teams within the same ecosystem.

Project Intersect, a confluence of our sales and pricing teams, was conceived with a clear mandate to digitise the print ad sales pricing and approval process.

In a short span of six months, the Intersect team conceptualised, developed, and architected an entire ecosystem, the nucleus of which was a dynamic pricing application called IntelliQuote (iQ).

The application predicts client-specific prices in real time. Once a sale is made, the machine learns the propensity of the advertiser to pay for the subsequent transaction. The state-of-the-art design works with an accuracy of 75%, meaning a majority of its predicted prices have potential to turn into orders.

Extensive internal consultation and trainings were carried out for more than 1,000 sales team members across the country to educate them about the new system. Here, the Times Group learning and development team holds an open house for the sales team in Mumbai.
Extensive internal consultation and trainings were carried out for more than 1,000 sales team members across the country to educate them about the new system. Here, the Times Group learning and development team holds an open house for the sales team in Mumbai.

Apart from predicting the right price, IntelliQuote (iQ) also drives productivity and builds operational efficiencies because it:

  1. Enables anytime pricing with a mobile app (first in the industry) that provides pricing and subsequent approvals on the go.
  2. Increases speed of business by automating 66% of incoming enquiries. For certain client segments and editions, there is virtually zero human intervention.
  3. Lends transparency by monitoring negotiation efficiency of the sales team (it establishes a Zone of Possible Agreement, ZOPA).
  4. Fosters people engagements because it frees up the pricing team to study the business context, engage with the sales team, and evolve into a solution finding + selling approach.
  5. Is future-ready and provides Tableau exportable reports for further research and development and trend analysis. It also is directly integrates with the company’s CRM. 

Project Intersect demonstrates that accurate price predictions, faster turnaround times, and transparency in pricing approvals all lead to higher margins and revenue for the group with an estimated top-line impact of US$10 million.

However, crafting an algorithm and designing a process is only the start of the journey. As the group president aptly summarised it: “Our success will always be driven by the ability to read the signals, quickly adapt ourselves in the shifting sands, and ride with the tide.”

Now we must see how swiftly the sales team, accustomed to a century-old style of working, can shift gears and adopt a futuristic sales approach. Ultimately that will define the success of the Project Intersect.