Sanjeev Kotnala: Talent drought, biggest nemesis of digital and e-commerce

26 Aug,2015

By Sanjeev Kotnala


A fairly senior advertising professional in the digital part of a well-respected advertising agency made an observation. Last month, he pitched to a hugely funded e-commerce business.  He had nothing against the fairly half-his-age fresh professional sitting to comment and decide on his strategy and approach. He respects their approach, passion, ambition, ideas and a ‘will-succeed’ approach.


He noted, how clueless or shallow they were in marketing and brand creation. This he says is his generous comment after recalibrating for the business approaches and plans most of the e-commerce and digital start-ups have.


There is absolutely nothing wrong in relentlessly focussing on creating a bubble that can attract funding and higher evaluation. The evaluation and the funding are dependent on numbers.  But the brand attractiveness and preference among consumers may give a further multiple is something that is being overlooked.


Both client and agencies believes there exists a PC Sarkar-type magic talent tumbler out there. They expect it to keep pouring out super talent to bridge the talent gap.


I am not sure of what was really bugging my friend. The more I linked within the industry and the system more convinced I am of the drought of talent in this digital area.


E-commerce in particular has been seeing exponential growth in 2014 on back of technology adaption and increasing use of smartphones-tablets and access to better Internet. This has continued in 2015.   The brands, may be rightly so, have been busy innovating on ways to address and attract new customers and increase their on-line traffic. But can they survive on this only.


There is no talent pool to service the exponential demand. And, no one is bothered to create the pool. The current elective courses and short-term sessions in markets still treat it as a subset of main marketing course. Currently, many marketers with half-baked understanding and low-level exposure to digital experience are masquerading as experts.   Nothing can be more illogical.


In light of the increased competition and assured deep pockets, e-commerce has been supporting a fallacy that hands on experience creates cutting edge experience.  Many have paid a high price for attempting to learn on the run, fly-by-wire and course correcting their trajectories. Most of them are the second time entrepreneurs who have failed to create pull or scale up as desired.


Yet, life revolves around scaling up, numbers and feeding expanding ambitions. It is a Russian roulette out there waiting for the other to blink.


The strengthening of the dollar is bad news.  The ROI for venture funds from digital and e-commerce will take a dip. Funds available to fuel the illogical customer acquisition will be under pressure.


We know that in a parity situation the experience and the brand value acts as the differentiator. And this is when under-developing at brand end will pinch. Unlike emails the rule of addiction is no guarantee for continued purchase from an e-commerce site.


Unfortunately, there  exists a high demand for qualified manpower. There are positions out there. Many have seen a rotating door experience of Aaya Ram Gaya Ram and many still waiting to be filled.  But low resource pond has been running at critical dry levels for a long time. Result half-marketers or marketers with weak understanding of digital business needs are ruling the day. This is one area where outsourcing may not work.


It is high time that digital and e-commerce addressed this need. Creating specially integrated courses with relevant universities. Jointly working with professional training institutes for creating short-term directional courses. Increase intake of interns and even create longer duration on the job training programmes. It needs high speed of implementation and scaling up.


The talent shortage is a global problem. Even China, well ahead of the curve in digitisation, is yet to fully address this issue. The good talent available in country will always be pulled by the global opportunities. I am personally not sure if the industry is currently addressing or even looking at these needs.


Oh, there is partial good news. Meanwhile the talent gap pushes increments of existing talent pool, which is unwarranted.


Sanjeev Kotnala is Founder and Head Catalyst at Intradia. A Brand, Marketing and Management Advisor. He conducts specialised workshops in the area of IDEATION (Harvest and Liberate) and Innovation (InNoWait). His focus energy in enhancing client’s internal team’s potential and capabilities. In process decreasing their dependence  on external resources. To contact email  or tweet at s_kotnala visit


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