My son asked me the other day, “Which superpower would you prefer Dad, teleporting or flying?” I knew my answer right away but I was surprised when he told me most of his friends choose the other option. As it turns out, these folks just want to get to where they want to go which makes the idea of teleporting extremely appealing. But for me, it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey and I can think of nothing cooler than the ability to fly (without a plane) a la Superman. It’s no wonder that I risk life and limb daily riding a Citibike all over Manhattan rather than taking the seemingly safer and slower subway.
Today you, my loyal readers, have just such a choice. You can spend a little time meeting Snehal Desai and getting to know his career path from college to becoming the Global Business Director for Dow Water and Process Solutions. Or you can teleport directly to Part 2 of this interview in which we cover how Dow Water approaches consultative selling, stays relevant with an ever growing user base and is working to help solve water issues around the globe. As the old knight suggests, “choose wisely.”
PART 1: CAREER PATH
Drew: Can you tell me about your career at Dow and how you got to where you are today?
Snehal: I work for Dow Water & Process Solutions, a division of Dow Chemical. I’m currently the Global Business Director. My background has always been sales and marketing, although I’m trained as a chemical engineer and chemist.
Drew: I imagine the combination of a chemical background and a degree in business was very appealing to Dow. Are there other members of the Dow team with similar backgrounds?
Snehal: Increasingly. When I joined the company, I was an engineer, and then I went straight into selling. It wasn’t until a few years later that I actually went back and got my MBA at Northwestern. It was a bit of a reinvestment in myself, after I realized that I was going to stay on the business side. Today, more than ever, there is a convergence of business and technology so having an MBA ends up being pretty important. We hire a lot of people on the selling and marketing side who are either business or technical-minded; in some cases, they have both.
Drew: How was it working towards your MBA while working full-time at Dow?
Snehal: While I was selling, I was living in Chicago and that gave me an opportunity to attend Northwestern. I then moved from a selling role into a marketing role right after I graduated. I spent about 16 years in Dow between selling, marketing, new business development, and working with a host of other science and technology platforms. I should also note that Dow gets into almost every industry. We support packaging, agriculture, and cosmetics. There are a lot of things that our technologies fall into, but my background has primarily been in the water space.
Drew: And you have been with Dow Water ever since?
Snehal: No. Right around my 16th year, I decided to try something different so I left Dow and went to work in two start-up technology companies. After seven years, I realized you need a lot of money and patience if you want to get involved in clean tech and sustainability. After coming to that realization, I actually returned to Dow as the Marketing Director for the water business, which is where I first started in the company back in 1987. I took on the general manager/business director role for Dow Water Process Solutions.
Drew: What does being Global Business Director for Dow Water and Process Solutions entail?
Snehal: I have the P&L responsibility for our global business. We are very focused on advanced separation and purification technologies that are utilized to clean water, and a host of other process streams. We have a global operation, roughly a billion dollars in revenue, 1,700 employees, 10 manufacturing sites, and several research centers. With all of that you have to operate profitably, reinvesting in people and in resources.
PART 2: MARKETING & MORE
Drew: Can you talk a little bit about what consultative selling means?
Snehal: In consultative selling, you’re focused on customer problems and how you might be able to help them find solutions. In the water industry, it’s around having reliable operations. If you’re a water chemist, a power plant or microchip plant manager, and you’re putting out the next iPhone, the last thing you can afford is having your water system go down while you’re in the middle of production. What that really comes down to is being able to help that operator make his system the most reliable.
Drew: So the customer is the focus here. How do you develop a relationship with the Dow customer?
Snehal: For instance, when you have a conversation with a customer, you might catch them in year 1 of their product’s 7-year life, or you might catch them earlier. The bottom line is that you want to keep a relationship with them over the lifetime of that product so that they can get optimal use out of the technology.
Drew: Can consumers expect a call towards the end of the product lifespan?
Snehal: You just touched on one of our main business issues right now. In the early days, we could call many of our customers, and have a very intimate conversation about when it is time for them to change their products. However, we’ve gone from hundreds of customers to tens of thousands of installations. Now, we’re talking about how to integrate digital in a way that allows us to maintain some of that intimacy.
Drew: I’m sure that Dow being a global company makes the challenge even harder.
Snehal: Definitely. The business challenge right now is scaling this intimate consultative model in a manner that allows us to get not only to the thousands of installations. It’s also dealing with the brand becoming more global today than it was 20 years ago. I used to be able to do all my business in English, but now I can’t. Can I do all my business in my time zone? No. Oftentimes, what we’re finding is that many of our clients are doing what all of us do, which is going to the web first.
Drew: How are you dealing with this move to digital? Do you have customer service team active online?
Snehal: Our customers really try to help themselves before they really want to talk to anybody. So now, we have to make those tools and some of that decision-making information available to them online. Additionally, we have very smart people contact them and walk them through their issue.
Drew: How do you make sure that when you are consulting that you are acting as a truth broker and not solely promoting your brand?
Snehal: To be honest with you, sometimes I would prefer if our folks were the kind of people who understand how they could solve the whole problem without technologies. But oftentimes, we have people that are very close to the problem that they’re trying to solve. For instance, you could use ultrafiltration followed by reverse osmosis to purify unclean water. But the fact of the matter is that if the water isn’t that bad in the front end, you might not need ultrafiltration. In that case, we’re not going to recommend that process. Instead, we’re going to tell you, “Here is the trade off. Here is what you get if you did it but that’s going to cost you.” A lot of times there is no reason to advocate for anything other than one piece of the puzzle because it’s the only one that is needed.
Drew: What role does brand play in the selection of these replacements parts for Dow Water?
Snehal: It plays a big role because, as I said at the beginning, we pride ourselves on reliability and trust. I think that’s fundamentally what people in our business are seeking; they want to trust what they’re about to rely on to produce their water. We spend a lot of time showing how our products are working around the world. Doing this in our 35 years of business has resulted in a large amount of repeat buyers. The Dow brand isn’t necessarily just a product. It’s also the people, it’s the reliability, and it’s the warranty.
Drew: How do you battle staying both trusted and current?
Snehal: Over the years, we’ve done a nice job finding the early adopters that are willing to embrace a change in scheme, a new operating technology, or are willing to partner with us to deploy it. We really cultivate references all over the world and then push the technology. Competition in the marketplace also drives us to continue improving and innovating.
Drew: I know Dow is doing a working to help ease the water crisis in Southern California. What measures do you take to stay up to date on the issue?
Snehal: I’ve spent more time in the last year-and-a-half in conferences that you wouldn’t think that Dow would be a part of. It’s part of a conversation that says, “Here are all the things we can do. Here is what your role could be. Here is what Dow’s role is in helping us get to that outcome.” We’ve also joined a few advocacy groups like the Value of Water Coalition, which aims to answer a few questions: “What are we doing to invest in your water infrastructure? Do you know that we are severely underfunded? Do you know that before you put the road over the top of the water pipe, maybe you should fix the water pipe?”
Drew: How is Dow addressing the lack of water from a marketing standpoint?
Snehal: We’re really focused on this concept of courageous collaboration. That focus requires us to engage with a variety of stakeholders to get this topic on the table because it’s not a problem everywhere. In those places where it’s a burning question, we want to be a part of the conversation. Our technologies may or may not fit at that moment, but we’re at least informing the dialog.
Drew: Courageous collaboration is a very interesting term. What does the courage part of that phrase mean?
Snehal: We are challenged with engaging with people who may not always share the same point of view. But if you listen, you have a chance of finding out that you have a lot more in common than you thought. I think that the courageous part of it is being willing to engage with people that we wouldn’t traditionally think of as natural customers. It’s thinking about your ecosystem in a much broader way, and then acting as a speaker and a listener in that conversation.
Drew: How do you approach change?
Snehal: There was a period of time when to do something different would have been seen as very risky, “Why fix it if it isn’t broken?” But I find that even if there isn’t a better way to do something, there is always another way. It doesn’t have to be big bets, but the important questions are “What do you choose to experiment on? What do you choose to pilot?” I’ll tell you that over the last 18 months, I’ve spent more time in non-traditional venues which allowed me to see things that I might not have seen if I went to the usual places.
Drew: Can you tell me about the Water Academy series?
Snehal: It’s a resource for the new class of water engineers and water treatment professionals. We have traditionally built that content around the North America or the Western European market. Now, we have so many people from Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America that are joining. We provide people with information on how to best pick and maintain systems, how to design, etc. We provide all this content through video, and we do Q&As through our LinkedIn community page.
Drew: Is all of the Water Academy content available via mobile?
Snehal: Absolutely, it’s important to think about making the content bite-sized, and highlighting the most important information. That’s very different than a two-hour seminar on everything you need to know.
Drew: On the homepage of your website, there is a search bar that says, “What can we help you find?” Is that a relatively new thing that you’ve added?
Snehal: People come to us for what they know they need, but there could be a lot of things we could do for them. If a person had a big question about something related to water, even though that may not be something that we do, we can direct them to a sister division, or a customer that does it.
Drew: Have you thought about adding a feature that can identify new customers?
Snehal: It’s definitely part of our thought process. We’re looking to use technology and interface with individuals on our team to personalize experiences and help people more easily find what they’re looking for.
Drew: Are you incorporating social listening into your research and if so how?
Snehal: We did two pilots in social listening, in which we focused on a topic in a region of the world to see what we would find. It was pretty fascinating because residential water treatments or point of use water treatment is a big trend in India. We ran an experiment with a provider to do social listening to see what people were talking about, particularly on the consumer side. We found that there was a lot of conversation going on around the topic of water and home water treatment.
Drew: How are you using social platforms for social listening?
Snehal: We’re looking more on LinkedIn and forums where people are asking each other questions. We’re experimenting where we can, and we find a lot of it is relevant to us so we’re just keeping our eyes open.