14 questions with Akshay Kohli, Vice-President of Sales

In this round of our Leadership-in-Focus series, we talk to Akshay Kohli, Vice-President of Sales at Plural by Pine Labs. Akshay comes with a rich career in Sales from Razorpay, Citibank and a few early-age start-ups in retail, logistics and SaaS. While a serious and focused leader at Plural, during his time off, Akshay loves playing badminton and dribbling on the basketball court. He’s also a Bollywood movie fan and says “I can’t remember missing an important movie within the first 3 days of the release!”. Let’s dive right in!

About Akshay Kohli

  1. Introduce yourself to our leaders

I’m Akshay Kohli, Vice-President of Sales here at Plural by Pine Labs. I lead business development, the newest, versatile payment platform in town that is built to create meaningful payment workflows.

I am a graduate in commerce from Delhi University and have completed my Master’s in Business Administration (MBA) from Symbiosis Institute of Business management.

2. How did you choose a career in sales and your journey to this point

My father and forefathers have been salaried employees during their days of service. I grew up watching them passionately sell and market products that they believed in, as though it were the best in the world. I believe sales cannot be taught in books, it’s an art that is practiced and worshiped for those who believe in it.

3. What does a day in your life look like?

Every day in the last 6 months since joining Plural by Pine Labs has been a unique chapter of learning and experience given the dynamically changing payments landscape. We are a late entrant in online payment aggregation space and our clear intention is to build a world-class payments platform. We pay a great deal of attention to customer experience and grievances. This requires the simple art of being available for clients and the ability to turn around complex problems into meaningful solutions within no time.

As a sales culture, we focus in ensuring the entire team and cross functional units are well updated on the payments ecosystem and market dynamics through our L&D program. An open culture allows for experimentation and new ideas at our innovation lab which helps us scale faster.

Akshay’s experience in payments and at Plural

4. So, how did you get into payments?

Back at Citibank and being part of alternate channels, I was indirectly working with the payments team. In 2011, digital payments had not yet peaked. On the contrary, the Indian payments ecosystem was plagued with problems such as low success rates, high MDR’s and major refund issues. In 2013 Flipkart launched its payments platform (Payzippy) and this was thought to be the snazzy new kid in town, given that Flipkart was launching it. It was touted to be a solution to solve and understand consumer payments problems for e-commerce business. I was interested to join this organisation but sadly, Payzippy was calling closure. Since then, I have worked in multiple start-ups in retail, SaaS and logistics space. In 2017, I heard about Razorpay and by this time, digital payments were gaining momentum and UPI had become talk of the town. That was the time when I got re-introduced to the era of payments under the larger umbrella of fintech. I couldn’t have been prouder to be part of this industry!

5. What has been your experience working on Plural by Pine Labs?

For me personally, the excitement of building a payments experience ground-up is what keeps me invested. The word ‘plural’ gives you the power to stretch yourself beyond the one single role that you are hired for and take on new hurdles, challenges and build meaningful experiences across the board.

6. What about payments excites you?

The ever-changing payments landscape that motivates one to think out of box and explore new use cases in money movements!

7. How is Plural positioned to take on the future of fintech?

Resilience is critical for business continuity. In the months to come, Plural will be known as the merchant workflows company that will allow business to create custom solutions that are built to scale. With our investments in payment ancillaries like embedded financing, rewards andloyalty, invoicing solutions, plug & play setup and predicative analysis, we hold a strong position in what the future unfolds.

8. What’s your approach towards online payments?

Digital payments play a pivotal role in our day-to-day spending, be it for groceries, travel & transportation, real estate & lodging or basic leisure. I thrive on finding avenues that can make a customer’s life simpler when it comes to making online payments. To do that, each member of the sales function constantly thrives to identify complexities in money movement that we can solve through Plural’s payments stack. In the last year, we have been successful in identifying such use cases for insurance and hospitality sectors.

9. How do you pick customers to pitch to?

We believe in a solutions-led sales approach. To manage that, we identify problem-statements that are prevalent in the payment’s ecosystem and map it to specific sectors that may have a similar use case. The specific merchant cohorts are then mapped to Plural payments suite to ensure they drive value from our omni-channel offerings.

10. What’s the single-line Plural pitch?

Convenience of managing money flows is what we all thrive for at Plural.

Akshay’s advice on leadership

11. Could you share with us your approach to business planning, decision making and problem solving?

During the last decade of managing business for multiple industries, one thing that I have realised and that has worked for me is investing in PPT (People, Process & Technology)

People: Constant uplifting and material investment is required to groom a team. Personally, I invest in the learning and development of my teams and cross functional units to ensure they are abreast with this fast-paced digital payments ecosystem.

Process: Defining a structured process and creating playbooks helps reduce friction amongst teams and ensures direction towards the common goal. As the business expands, it’s critical to ensure watertight processes are defined that are followed across the board.

Technology: As we work with a solutions-led mindset, each problem that we identify requires unique solution and planning. Technology plays an important role as it becomes the backbone of our business planning. Keeping innovation at its core, we build stacks that are flexible, adaptable and scalable to manage the ever-changing customer requirements.

12. How do you keep your team motivated?

Sales/ business developments teams are like warriors on the battlefield who fight to balance both internal and external stakeholders’ expectation and delivery. The biggest motivation for a salesperson is winning the deal that they have been working on. It’s like the tip of an iceberg which is the general persona of a sales stakeholder and also called as surface appearance. However, there is enough that goes at the bottom of iceberg which is deeper reality. As a sales leader, I invest a lot of time understanding deeper reality for each employee to ensure the tip of iceberg always looks sharp.

13. How do you cultivate a culture of innovation and growth?

Each sales stakeholder at Plural is accountable for their individual P&L. By giving them this responsibility, they’re aware that they are not just part of the ecosystem as a mere employee but CEOs of their own business vertical or cohort that they are managing.

This drives 2 important elements for us:

(a) A sense of ownership of running this as your own business. When you are personally invested in making your business a success, you also ensure others in cross functions are equally invested and motivated which this brings the culture of belongingness.

(b) Reward & Recognition: Growth is a function of constant innovation. At Plural, we believe in promoting and rewarding new ideas and identifying opportunities of business that can help us scale better.

14. In closing, what advice would you give managers and leaders today?

I usually follow the BAT triangle approach:

‘B’ stands for behaviour: Time management and punctuality play an important role in defining behaviour. The work-from-home regime has led to inconsistent time management which further leads to dissatisfaction as the customer’s demands are not met in time. As leaders it’s important to manage our time and plan our week in advance to ensure result maximisation.

‘A’ stands for attitude — that’s the mindset piece. With multiple goals to achieve, it can be easy to have a negative attitude. If my attitude leaves me feeling unmotivated or I start making excuses for getting things done, it gives rise to a ‘ditch digging’ situation. This further translates into the team and leads to a negative culture. A leader needs to create winning stories that others can follow or learn from.

‘T’ stands for technique. This involves training our reps on the sales techniques and tools they need to be successful. Many organisations don’t spend enough time training their sales reps, so they don’t have what they need during unsteady times, or during times of turmoil. It’s equally important for the leader to be trained on such techniques before imparting the same to their teams.

Our takeaways

Akshay Kohli is a leader who leads from the frontline and his thoughts reflect that. As leaders and aspiring managers, we can learn from his BAT Triangle approach of leadership. Within his team, he has created a culture of learning and innovation. I love this quote from him:

A leader needs to create winning stories that others can follow or learn from.

Also read 14 questions with Sivashankar Thiyagarajan, Vice-President, Engineering

Want to get in touch with us? Reach us at pgsupport@pinelabs.com.

Plural by Pine Labs has received an in-principle authorisation from the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) to operate as a Payment Aggregator.

Interviewed & edited by Amrita Konaiagari (Marketing Manager at Plural by Pine Labs)

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