Expect India to be one of fastest-growing markets: Salesforce India CEO

Arundhati Bhattacharya, Salesforce India CEO
Arundhati Bhattacharya, chairperson and chief executive officer of Salesforce India, joined the top maker of cloud-based customer-relations software last April at a critical period. Just one week into this new role, Bhattacharya, who prior to Salesforce was the first woman chairperson at State Bank of India (SBI), saw the lockdown being imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic. For the past 17 months, she has been working remotely from home and has stepped out only for three occasions, as she only decided to meet the customers.

“It's a totally paperless kind of situation, which is very different from the file pushing that I had done earlier.No suitcases accompany me at home, to go through the files,” said Bhattacharya, in an interview. “It's a very different world and a big learning experience for me. I'm working with a set of people, who are far younger and energetic.”

But under her leadership, Salesforce is expecting India to become one of the fastest-growing markets for the San Francisco-based company. Bhattacharya is overseeing the growth strategy of the firm. She is playing an integral role in defining Salesforce’s relationship with the ecosystem of customers, partners and community across India. 

“In India, we've just started our journey,” said Bhattacharya, who was credited with ushering in the digital transformation era at her previous organisation SBI. “I expect that India will be one of the fastest-growing markets going forward.”

She is witnessing that the coronavirus pandemic has sped up digital transformation and technologies among enterprises, by several years. The firm is tapping opportunities in India in sectors ranging from banking, financial services and insurance (BFSI) to edutech, retail and e-commerce, as well as the government sectors, which are witnessing high adoption of digital platforms.

The company is seeing strong growth of 26 per cent year-over-year in the Asia Pacific region. When Bhattacharya joined Salesforce last year in April, the India headcount was 2500 and that has now reached 5000. 

“The India headcount has doubled since the lockdown,” said Bhattacharya. “We are expecting that number to go up to around 6500 by the end of the year. We are ramping up our numbers in India.”

This expansion is not only for sales and distribution in India but also for global engineering and support services. India is home to some of the best technology talent in the world for Salesforce. India is the only country outside the US, where the company has set up a centre of excellence in Hyderabad. 

With additional offices in Bengaluru, Mumbai, and Gurgaon, Salesforce India plays a crucial role in the development of the company's technology and products. It also assists in the success of its customers as well as growing-developer community of more than 1 million Trailblazers. According to a study by research firm IDC, the Salesforce economy will create 548,400 direct jobs and $67 billion in new business revenues in India, between 2019 and 2024. 

Salesforce has also completed its $27.7 billion acquisition of team communication app company Slack. Slack has a centre in Pune and Salesforce would be tapping the talent there as well.

Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of tech by large as well as small and medium businesses. This has thrown huge opportunities for Salesforce. Bhattacharya said it is very important to help customers get access to all the stakeholders in an omnichannel manner. For instance, Bhattacharya said there was a very big designer, who would sell her products only at stores or through some big platforms. But during the pandemic, those large platforms faced logistics issues. The designer got cut off from the customers. But now such businesses are developing their own e-commerce sites and apps and are building redundancies.

Also, it has become important to analyse Covid-19 data and divert services or supplies from areas where they won’t sell due to the pandemic to greener places. For instance, in the financial services sector, organisations like non-banking financial companies or banks that give loans can actually analyse such data and then determine their strategies to provide their products or services in various parts of the country. This is because covid didn't peak in the country at the same time.

“Keeping track of all of this data became very important for businesses to frame their strategies,” said Bhattacharya. “This has spurred the maturity of digital initiatives in various organisations and that has given us huge opportunities.”

When asked about the future of work in the industry, Bhattacharya said a majority of people want a flexible working arrangement or a hybrid work model. She said there is also a small portion of people who would prefer to completely work from home or the office. Earlier the notion was that if people work remotely, they won’t be productive. However, that has been proven wrong. 

“We found that for people who are already in the company and regularly working, productivity has not fallen,” said Bhattacharya. “However, the hours of work have gone up because it is so much easier to get in touch on the screen.”

When the initial lockdown was imposed in the country last year due to the pandemic, Salesforce was able to enable its workforce to work remotely within five days. The fear then was about not being able to close deals. But that also proved to be unfounded.

“We started, closed and implemented deals and we have gone live in various places, all done remotely,” said Bhattacharya. “Everything is possible remotely, very little of it really needs to happen on the customer's site. Yes, it is always good to meet up with the customers and your own people. But if that is not feasible, then we have not missed a beat while working remotely.”

However, in certain areas productivity has fallen while working remotely. This applies especially during hiring as the new employees need a collaborative environment. Bhattacharya also said during the initial part of the pandemic only about 34 per cent of people in the industry wanted to return to the office. That has now increased to 72 per cent.

“They may not be wanting to work from the office 5 days a week, but definitely they want to be in the office at least 2-3 days a week,” said Bhattacharya. 

During the pandemic, Bhattacharya also completed an autobiography up to the end of her Chairperson’s tenure (at SBI). “It is with HarperCollins (Publishers) right now. I am hoping that we will see that (out) by the end of the year.”

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