Monday, December 5, 2011

Sales Sutra Part III - Avoiding the Numbers Game

Thursday was a very special day in the week of us Sales Managers. It was the day that we reported back our achievement against the weekly target, the week closing, as it were.

Like movie stars whose fate and fame would be decided by the public every Friday, the fates of ASMs was decided by that dreaded sentence starting with the F word every Thursday – “Final number kitna hua?”

Managing targets and responding to questions around sales numbers and targets is a fine art. Especially, when you have not achieved the target.

The naïve and novices would bumble and stutter and tumble through the maze of numbers, justifying why the target was not achieved.

And then there were the Masters. ASMs who had perfected the art of going through the whole conversation without revealing anything. It was like magic, and they were the Masters of Illusion.

A typical smoke and mirrors conversation around sales target achievement would go something like this. Mind you this is when the Master ASM has NOT achieved the target for the week (something that only his colleagues knew):

Boss: “So how were sales?”

Master ASM: “Very good”

Boss: “Very good matlab, kitna hua?”

Master ASM: “On plan hai boss.”

Boss: “Plan matlab, hua kitna hai??”

Master ASM: “Boss we are 15% over last week!”

Boss: “That’s good, how much was last week??”

Master ASM: “Boss, last week was in line with running rate.”

Boss: “Arey yaar, week ka number kitna hua hai???”

Master ASM: “Boss, abhi toh bataya, 15% over running rate!”

Boss: “but… number??”

Master ASM: “Boss, number is in line with plan. We are on growth!”

Boss: “Main samajh gaya…. MAGAR Number kitna hai????!!!”

Master ASM: “Boss in line with plan. Aur growthein (a very peculiar Sales term from the North) bhi aa rahi hai… Don’t worry. All is under control.”

Very few people knew this fine art. And none practiced it better than my predecessor. It was magic… At any point in time he could prove that he was growing. On what base, was his prerogative. Last week, same week last year, on running rate, on required rate, on plan, on ambition…… the list is endless.

I obviously had tremendous respect for Houdini like skills when it came to avoiding tricky Sales Target achievement conversations. In my mind, nothing could shake or fluster the person.

So one day, when I walked in and saw him flustered, I got worried.

I hopped over with my cup of tea, balanced myself on the edge of his desk and asked what was wrong. He vented.

One of his salesmen, the most experienced and best performing one, was giving him a dose of his own medicine. And he did not know how to catch the bugger.

I prodded him further and facts that emerged were these:

He is able to play the boss only because he has complete information on what is happening. This delicate equation breaks down when he doesn’t know what is happening. Earlier, there was a set pattern and time at which salesmen from various pre-selcted STD booths would call and report on the progress of sales. But now with the advent of mobile phones, that practice was dead. So while mobile phones actually made information gathering really easy, his chief salesman was perpetually “Out of reach” and he did not know what was happening.

“Something is wrong Shome. Every time I call his phone is out of reach. So it’s not like he is switching it off. Because the message doesn’t say his phone is switched off! It says, “the phone is not reachable”. I get to know the sales number only on Thursday now! How can his phone be perpetually out of coverage area?? And it’s not as if he is not in the market. I called up the Distributor and he confirms that he is working the market!”

Clearly he was frustrated. And I found an occasion to shine in front of him. I knew what the salesman was doing to avoid calls coming through!

“He is loosening the battery!”, I announced triumphantly.

My colleague looked up with eyes red with intent and a clenched jaw that spelled doom for the salesman. I knew that the poor bugger is going to get a chink of his Boss’ mind this Sales Meeting.

Sure enough, when we reconvened in the branch after our monthly sales meetings were over, I asked the Master ASM if my hypothesis was correct. He gave me a beaming smile and said it was.

“Sabko sunaya maine. No one expected me to know. Kamaal ho gaya. Yeh sab ladke samajhte hain ki hum buddho ko kya pata. Now they know I can catch them anywhere”

Sanity and semblance returned to the branch. In fact that salesman caught up with me in a conference and told me “Sir, aapne baja daali meri… Ab kuch aur sochna parega!”

Years went by… The glich that used to allow the battery to be loosened and the message of “Not reachable” had been ironed out by the steamroller of new technology.

In my new avatar as a brand manager, I happened to visit the branch. The salesman had become a Sales Officer by then. In the break I caught up with him and jokingly remarked

“So you are always reachable now?” He laughed.

“Sir ek baar phone lagao mujhe.. .abhi..”

“Kyon?” I asked, my curiosity piqued.

“Arey sir lagao toh… Aap dekh lo phone switched on hai” I leaned over and saw, and indeed the phone was on. I was being challenged by the ultimate Houdini.

I decided to call his bluff and dialed his number. No way he knew of a trick that I did not know of…. I jabbed at the numbers and listened in, with a quiet confident smile. And to my utter horror I heard the familiar voice go “The number you are trying to reach is not available”!

I was in shock. The phone was on, he was right there in front of me… And I could not reach him! And he had a gloating smile on his face that I wanted to personally erase with my fists!

He saw the mad rage and shock on my face and decided to simmer the situation.

“Sirji… agar aap batao ge nahin to main aao se share karoonga secret”

“ Pukka nahin batyenge.Dus saal tak nahin batayenge. Bolo..” I grunted.

“Sir. Maine ringtone ko hi “Not reachable” bana diya hai. Aap jo sun rahe ho who mera incoming caller tune hai!” He had a smile as wide as the Cheshire cat.

It’s been 10 years since that incident, and I kept my word. But today, on the 10th anniversary of the most ingenious chicanery that I had seen, the tale needed to be told.

Monday, June 6, 2011


The entire nation OD-ed on Baba over the weekend.

The news channels dived into detailed panel discussions with the usual suspects, giving an "in-depth analysis" of what really happened, what should have happened, and what could happen in the future.

The Chatterati Crowd shared a flood of emotions, ranging from 'aghast' to 'disturbed'.

The opposition went ballistic, comparing the incident to Jallianwalah Bagh and declaring that Democracy had been strangled by the cold, bony, foreign fingers of the evil Congress Party.

The Congress Party is quiet and having emergency meetings on how to resuscitate Democracy. In fact, if you watch the State Sponsored DD News, you will really wonder if anything at all happpend regarding a Baba in India. DD stoically transmitted events and Public Pronouncements around World Environment Day all of yesterday.

On Facebook, the circus has just begun. Numerous status updates, opinions, counter points, call-to-actions, badges, likes, super likes, groups, pages, communities and one game (Catch the Baba!) have been published already.

And ofcourse all office talk is Baba based (“We need to be on the fast track! Not 'fast' like Baba! ~jovial laughter all around~ ..but 'fast' like in speed ~somber looks of commitment all around~).

All this has forced me to start thinking about this wretched situation.

For starters, I had no clue what was going on. In the sense, I knew that Baba was AGAINST corruption. I was not sure what he was FOR - what does he really want and stand for.

So I logged on, and checked up on his Web site. And having read his views in some detail, my reactions are, well, ranging from 'aghast' to 'disturbed'.

Baba Ramdev’s Brahstachar Mitao Sangharsh is part of his “Bharat Swabhiman Andolan”. So it’s a thing within a thing. Let me just stick to the Bhrashtachar Mitao bit.

Baba has listed down 10 demands. And it is to get the Government to agree on these demands, that he and millions fasted. It is these demands that all the people are liking and super liking on Facebook.

1.Declare accounts of Indians in tax havens as national property: Baba claims “This is a very easy step to execute and does not conflict with any foreign policy, treaty or agreement”. Anyone with a half decent idea on how International Relations work will tell you otherwise. That aside, even if we find a miraculous way of doing it, what next? No comment on that from the Baba.

2.Declare stashing away black money in tax havens as national crime: Well it’s a crime already. He wants it to be “Rajdroh”. What’s the difference between the two? I think the punishment is tougher (sedition and all that). Ok. Can happen. My point is that just by making tougher laws, does not mean better compliance. Compliance comes out of enforcement of legislation and not so much out of fear of punishment. Enforcement of legislation needs one to believe in democratic institutions and work towards better process and structure. If you increase the quantum of punishment and keep enforcement weak, nothing will happen. So Baba, this is a bit deeper than you project.

3.Death penalty and lifetime imprisonment for the corrupt: What????!! I know people say that life in India is cheap, but did not realize that Baba views it as that cheap! So he wants to kill the corrupt! It arouses primal feelings of revenge but can someone in ‘civil society’ stand up and say how does this make sense?!! Even in the case of murder, death is handed out in the rarest of rare cases. And here the demand is that if you are corrupt, hang him! What are we, a tribal nation from the middle ages? I know some of you are thinking, “But China does it, and see how developed China is” I would encourage you to read this before you decide whether it is a good thing or a bad.

4.Enactment of a strong Lokpal: I don’t know what exactly is there in the Lokpal Bill but I agree to what he says. I mean look at RTI. It has changed the way things are working. What I am not clear is why does he have to fast until death for it. Things are moving on this one right? At least it was. But now the group of 'Civil society activists' have boycotted the Joint Hearing. Well played Baba!

5.Setting up of fast track courts in all states to deal specially with corruption issues: Agreed. However, setting up new courts is an expensive thing. I think it deserves better thought. But the point is valid.

6.Removal of high denomination currency notes from the economy: This is such a naïve and bizarre point that I will not dignify it with a response. Read the rationale in Baba’s own words.

7.Educational curriculum in Bharatiya Languages: He says:
“Curriculum and examinations of engineering, medical, agriculture should be made available in Bharatiye languages too and as fast as possible so that even a villager can get education properly instead of being deprived on the name of a foreign language(English) which we are using as the primary mode of education even after 64 years of independence. What a shame! We are not against english. But we must learn to respect our own languages first.”
Babaji….Babaji…..Babaji, the poor is deprived of education for many reasons, but definitely NOT because he is forced to learn English! There is pride, indeed arrogant pride about our local languages, and it does not conflict with the need or ability to learn in English. Find this point immature and regressive. And definitely not worth supporting through a fast untill death.

8.Ban the Land Acquisition Act: Apparently this act was brought about by “Britishers to loot us..” and Baba wants it rolled back so that the “agricultural loot” is stopped. Somehow Baba has conveniently left out the Chinese example here. I believe there needs to be a law so that Land can be acquired by the Government for development. How come it is ok for Baba to build Yogashrams all over the country and Government has no right to build infrastructure or projects?? Ridiculous.

9.Direct election of the Prime Minister: Baba believes indirect election has led to trouble and political instability. In one stroke he has attempted to negate all the progress the country has made in 65 years as a fully functional progressive democratic nation. Again, a naïve and shallow suggestion. Does Baba believe that US is not corrupt…. I mean come on!!

10.Enactment of a strong Public Service Delivery Guarantee Act: Agree….. and there is some work happening there already… where Govt officials have to pay a fine if citizens are denied service. So if there is already some work happening and being implemented, why fast until death??

Somehow Baba’s demands reminded me of a school project that we had done on “Development vs Environment”. We were young and idealist and incredibly naïve. If I am not mistaken, the suggestions we gave in that class 4 project would basically have everyone living in a mud hut and working on the fileds. Maybe that’s what Baba’s dream for India is. A return to Ramrajya? A world where there is no foreign influence, and everyone is proficient in Yogic Asanas and the cinema-esque “happy villagers in India” throng the streets exchanging pleasantries and buying kgs of jalebi and malai for two bucks.

Sorry Babaji… you do not have my support or my sympathy. Just because you have a network of followers does not give you the right to present a set of puerile demands and then sulk and pout and refuse food if the demands are not met,knowing fully well that there would be chaos if anything went wrong with your health.

One individual cannot be arm twisting democratically elected governements, especially on the back of bizarre demands. This is just blatant Babagiri!

Not for a minute am I endorsing the Government’s actions. They mishandled the whole situation and someone should be sacked for fucking up on the whole Baba thing. But I do wish that right thinking individuals take the time out to really understand what Baba is demanding before superliking his 'fast' and expressing un-conditional support for his ‘andolan’.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Running with the mares and hunting with the hounds

So Mr David Headley has 'confirmed' that ISI and the LeT had a role to play in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks.

Most of India, especially the media, will be have a smug "told you so" expression with "Pakistan ki lag gayi" running through their head. Their policy of running with the mares and hunting with the hounds has come back to bite them.

My feelings are a bit mixed. So I will try and put down how I feel through a wish list.

My 10 point wish list to Pakistan. Hopefully someone will read and convey.

1.) To the STATE of Pakistan or the Government of Pakistan. Wake up! Your lack of Governance and incompetance is creating a problem for a lot of people in the world, and most importantly for your own people!

2.) To the people of Pakistan. You deserve better. Please elect a government that thinks of your welfare first and not how to hurt India, Westerners, US of A, Danish cartoonists etc.

Back to the Government of Pakistan:

3.) Forget about Kashmir. Preserve and protect and nurture what you have. It is in real danger.

4.) What you are calling a Terrorist Attack, most people are calling a Civil War. So please stop fooling the people and thinking that everyone gets fooled. Address the problem

5.) Build confidence with your neighbour. Hand over Daewood for starters. Believe me, more politicians in India will be sweating if he comes back with secrets than Pakistani officials.

6.) Nothing makes people more violent than hurt pride. The revolt in Tunisia is a case in point. Today, all the negative news around Pakistan is hurting the pride of the people. You are setting the stage for a violent revolt. Build pride back, not through threats of action, but through responsible actions. In short, prosecute the guilty, even if they are ISI officers.

7.) Talk to AQ Khan again and re-check that he did not sell stuff to the wrong people only for money.

8.) Instead of funding terror camps and selling the dream of Muslim rule all over the world, build your economy back. Tourism alone can do for your country what oil did for Saudi. Let me assure you, millions of Indians would visit Mehnjodaro and Harappa if they our countries had confidence, trust and better relations.

9.) Deal stringently with the corrupt. My personal view, Zardari is the worst thing that could happen to ANY country.

10.) Start now. Because all of this will take a decade. We saw it in India. After we opened the markets in 1991, it took 10 years before the middle class saw serious money.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Good thing about this Friday.....

Well its Good Friday today and my mind wanders to an incident that happened many years ago.

I recently asked someone who calls me “Shome Uncle” what subjects are taught in his class. He had just entered class 2 and I wanted to know what is being taught to today’s generation of super smart, socially adept, shining products of “Modern Parenting” kids. Partly, to reassure my self that everything has not changed in the world, and partly because I wanted to hear his cute lisp again.

He lisped out the usual suspects, but what struck me was the glaring omission of my most dreaded subject… the one that gave me nightmares and the only subject that I ended up flunking in primary school – Moral Science.

Now let me clarify before you plant a smug smile on your face, shake your head and brand me immoral. I did not flunk because the school authorities thought that I am the anti-Christ.

I flunked because I was innocent and brutally honest.

“Nooooo!” you say? ..... “Ya right!” you snigger?

Well then, I shall share the story in its full glory, and the truth shall then pierce through the prejudiced thoughts that cloud your mind, giving blinding clarity on what really happened.

This was the year 1982. I had just joined St Lawrence High School, Kolkata.

I had just moved from Delhi and the whole Jesuist feel of St Lawrence was very exciting and new. There were ‘Brothers’ and ‘Fathers’ and discourses on Jesus. Every class had the cross and much before the age of computers the word ‘Save’ was part of our everyday talk, because we would write and recite ‘Jesus Saves’ many times a day.

I think it was a Wednesday, most likely 6th of April, when my run in with Moral Science happened. I was only a few months old into the school and was still getting to know about all the good things Jesus did. I still did not get it that he was God’s Son and all that.. My mind was pretty saturated with the stories of Shiva-Vishnu Kali-Durga thanks to Amar Chitra Katha. The concept of different religions and different ‘gods’ was just not there.

So needless to say, my knowledge or understanding of all things good and Christian was abysmally low. Quite unlike my classmates who were well into it.

It was in a time like this that I ran into this thing called Good Friday. I was elated. There was no doubt that Good Friday was indeed Gooooddd!! For one, unlike the other holidays in India, this would always, by design and definition, fall on a Friday. Not like the fickle birthdays of our fickle politicians which could fall on a Sunday and ruin your happiness. Or even like our festivals which would every now and then fall on the weekend and really rob your soul of the festivities.

Good Friday, has no such problem. It was a guaranteed long weekend. No catch, no disclaimers, no ‘conditions apply’. I was impressed. And I think I started using the phrase “Jesus” to express shock, surprise, happiness and other such emotions soon after.

Well, so Good Friday was coming up. And the Rector asked us to speak on Good Friday. I was not very sure what Good Friday was so I sat quietly.

A friend stood up and started speaking. What he spoke of the day did not sound good at all. There were guards, and arrests, and betrayal and the nailing of a human body on a cross! Nailing! On a Cross! My mind was in terrible turmoil.

I soon decided that my friend was making up stuff and this was all untrue. I remember sniggering and whispering to my bench-mate the Class 2 equivalent of “He is so screwed”.

That whisper kind of put my demise in motion. ‘Brother’ Almeida saw it. He did not like it at all. We were not allowed to whisper during Moral Science class (or any class for that matter). He stopped the discourse from my friend, and asked me to stand up.

I was a bit surprised why he chose me. “Must be the new boy thing” I thought. I smiled and stood up. I am a smiley kind you know.

That seemed to upset him even more. With a scowl and a grunt he said, “Shambhuaba (He used to call me Shambhuaba, he could never get my name. Not for the next 6 years that I was there), you tell the class why Good Friday is important.”

Being clueless brings about a strange sense of arrogant confidence. With no fear in my heart I replied confidently “Good Friday is important because it is a Friday. And it’s a holiday. Holiday is important. Hence it is Good.”

What followed was my first experience of a caning. And me flunking the Moral Science Class Test (the discourse I later realized is part of a 10 mark test).

In the evening when I shared my bruised derrière and the flunk report with my mother, pandemonium ensued. My comics were taken away, I was told that I would never be allowed to play in the evenings. Ever again! And I was made to read about Jesus and his miracles from that wretched text book till my head was hurting.

What really undid me the most however, was listening to my sister whispering “You know, that play you were in for your school in Delhi? You were King Herod! The king who killed Jesus (sic). Your Brother Almeida knows that because Jesus came and told him. That’s why you got caned. And you will be caned everyday till Christmas. After that Jesus will forgive you”.

To say that I was petrified was an understatement. While my sister happily cackled away to sleep, I was wide awake chanting Jesus Saves the whole night. I was certain that I would be caned for many months now. And it was on that night, that I resolved to solve the problem with a plan which at that time, seemed like a pretty good idea.

The fact that executing the plan ended in me wetting my pants is another story.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sales Sutra Part II - The A-B-C of Sales

The best way to establish hierarchy and authority is to be seated on the right end of a large teak table. And if you happen to have a chair that swivels, and a paper-weight that you twirl with your fore and index finger, then you pretty much nailed the power game.

“All of the Above” is how I would describe the setting for my first meeting with Babu da.

I had just come out of a 3 day induction on the Organization, where we were told about what we (the Organization) does, our history, our processes, and what is expected from us (Management Trainees) over the next 12 months as we go through our various stints – sales, rural, marketing, factory etc…

The first was of course the sales stint, and like I i nthe earlier post, I was assigned Arah, in Bhojpur District , Bihar.

Bihar being in the Eastern Region, and Babu Da being the Head of the Eastern Region, was my first point of contact to get gyan, project deliverables, and travel advance before I headed out.

So full of confidence, and adequately equipped with newly learnt jargon from my Induction, I landed up at his office. Soon I was sitting in his room, watching him swivel and twirl a paper weight across a large teak table.

“Welcome”, he said, like a spider to a fly.

“Thank you sir”, I squeaked, like a child about to cry.

Somehow the whole ambience had robbed me of my confidence, and to a great extent, all my newly learnt jargon, which was the basis of my confidence in the first place…

“So, let me tell you what are the 3 priorities we have in the Region…..”, Babu Da began, after the customary “tell me about yourself” question had been dealt with.

I knew the answer to that. Just a few days ago the Chairman had illuminated our eager, awe-struck management trainee eyes with his blinding clarity and clever, cogent articulation of the 3 priorities for the Organization.

So with a half smile, I said “Growth....., Growth......, and Growth?” ; and for effect I said it like a confident question, rather than a statement.

The deep sigh that emanated from Babu Da smacked of despair and disappointment, and made it evidently clear that I had got it wrong.

“That is senior management priority. In sales, you actually have do things.”. I nodded, my already shaken confidence fading faster.

“Do you know what the ABC of sales is?” he asked, his eyes narrowing as he leaned back on his swivelling chair.

~Dammit!~, I thought. ~One wrong answer and he is now going to treat me like an idiot!~ Well, I decided to play along. Build back credibility.

I don’t remember the sequence, but I said a lot of things like “Target”, “Distribution”, “Coverage”, “Range selling”, “Bill value”……… Each word resulted in his eyes getting narrower and narrower, till they were finally shut.

Babu da sat there resembling a man who had just witnessed Draupadi Haran and could not bear to watch it anymore. I sat on the opposite side feeling like Draupadi.

My lips were moving, but no words came out. I had this sinking feeling that I will never make it Arah and will be sent back straight to school from this office.

Deciding that he has heard enough, Babu da leaned forward again. His eyes now wide open.

“A-B-C of sales! It has nothing to do with the act of selling. It is about what you must do, to do sales. You understand?”

I didn’t, but did not have the courage to say it. So I nodded and flipped open my notebook. I must show that I am an eager learner. The kind who notes down important stuff. Wait! Will he think I have a poor memory?! I closed my note book again. My mind was a mess.

“A is for ALARM CLOCK!”, he announced triumphantly.

This time my eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Alarm Clock?” I repeated.

“Yes, ALARM CLOCK. The biggest hurdle to achieving sales in not being in the market at all or being in the market late. So if you don’t wake up in time, or wake up at all, how will you sell?”

That made sense. Especially for me as I was not a morning person at all! So maybe this is going somewhere, I thought to myself.

“What is B of sales?”, Babu da asked.

I thought I had caught his drift. So I quickly fast forwarded the actions of the man who just woke up and found him in the market. So my mind ran through some words and I spurt out “BEAT working?” very enthusiastically.

Babu da nodded his head in the negative and with a smile announced “B is for BREAKFAST”

The imaginary umpire in my head yelled “Strike 2!” I was losing this match, and losing it badly.

“You need energy to work in the market everyday, little fellow. And the key to that is having a good breakfast. Have a heavy one if possible. Then you won’t keep looking for snacks and tea and lunch and miss the selling window in the market.”

I nodded again. My algorithm on sales was crashing fast. I had assumed that good salesmanship is about a set of behaviors. And here, discussing the ABC of sales with the man who had done it all, seen it all and knew it all in sales, I discovered that its not behavior but one object, and another morning ritual that had left me stumped and slumped on my chair.

“And C…?” he asked playfully, clearly enjoying my predicament.

I wanted to say “C for chhere de ma, kende baachi (loosely translated: ‘let me go, I want to run away crying’) but better sense prevailed. I waited expectantly for the third pillar of sales.

“C is for Can-do!”

Now this was the first time I had ever heard this word, and I must admit it sounded a bit vulgar. So I gathered all my courage and decided to seek further clarification on his comment by asking him “Eh?”

With his fingers forming a fist, Babu da passionately explained : “Can-do! is what you must believe in, what you must live by. What you must say every time there is a challenge thrown at you. What will you say if I told you, ‘Shome, you must triple sales this week’?”

“heh-heh…I …”, I started

“No!” was the sharp rebuke. “You must say Can-do! You must think Can-do! You must believe in the Can-do spirit!”

“Do you know what is the difference between successful salesman and failure (sic) salesman?”

“The good guy was a Can-do?”, I asked hesistantly.

“Yes!”, Babu da nodded, satisfied that the ‘little fellow’ has finally got it.

We broke for tea. And I sat there, armed with my fresh knowledge of the ABC of sales, and a brimming Can-do! attitude.

Looking back, I have to admit that these 3 things are INDEED the ABC of sales. It sounded like a lot of fluff at that time but the only three things that I never gave up in my fairly successful career in sales were the ALARM CLOCK, the BREAKFAST, and the spirit of CAN-DO!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Sales Sutra Part I - Lessons Learnt From Sales Management in Corporate India

Most of the stuff that you learn in an MBA school becomes pretty irrelevant by the end of the 1st or 2nd year of your job. But the one thing that you realize is completely irrelevant from day 1 is the stuff you learnt in “Sales Management”.

The thing about Sales Management taught in B-schools is that it has no resemblance to what you are supposed to do when you join a sales job in India. In fact when talking about Sales Management, most Indian students have the image of a door-to-door salesman, hawking stuff to disinterested housewives and hoping that the dreaded gust of wind that blows from a slamming door does not ruffle their hair today….

When I joined my first job and was told that the first module in our Management Trainee program is a Sales Stint, my first thought was “God, I hope I am not assigned a city where I know someone”. It would be horrible to have a known Aunty/Uncle first laugh at me and then slam the door on my face.

That problem never happened, I was assigned Arah in Bhojpur District in Bihar. The relief of knowing it’s not a known city was soon replaced by the bone chilling fear of the unknown. I had no clue where Arah was. I had never heard of Bhojpur. And I had heard lots about Bihar, none of which was good. This was 1998, when Bihar was more whining than shining.

Nonetheless, I was excited because Sales was something that just seemed exciting. Especially when it was emphasized that “it’s where the rubber hits the road, the real stuff… the money in the bank. Everything else is just designed to support sales”.

Soon I learnt the hard way that we had not learnt anything in sales in B-school. All that tripe that books wrote about “Negotiation Skills” and “Plan-o-grams” and “Meeting Key Account Managers” were meant for countries and people who had no clue what a Bhatti General Store looks like or how many Bhatti General Stores there are in India and more importantly what drives Mr Bhatti in his General Store!

Now, after having spent enough time in sales and in marketing, I think its time that I fling some pearls of exquisite wisdom at the new recruits. The one who catches them all will undoubtedly string together a shining necklace of knowledge of sales that he/she can flash around with unbridled pride at his peers and indeed to his Organization.

Probably the best way to share some Corporate Lessons in Sales is to start with that story of how I was standing in swirling muck with my sales folder in hand at 7 in the morning in Bihar, pants folded till my thighs, shoes hanging around the neck, staring blankly at a narrow filthy river, trying to figure out where the bamboo bridge that was there last week went....on the 23rd day after I joined a very reputed organization.

No wait… I think its best to start with the basics first…… Yes, the A-B-C of sales, as told to me by the man who knew Sales better than most people – Babu da.

I will talk about them tomorrow. Keep watching this space. The A-B-C of Sales will be revealed tomorrow. And believe me they will give you a fresh perspective.

Doggy Style

[This was in the late 90s, when I used to call people who were above 30 “old” and Saurav Ganguly was still the Captain of the Indian cricket team]

It was a mildly sunny Saturday in Bombay and I was sprawled shapelessly on my bed, fast asleep.

None of my friends call me on Saturdays before 12 in the afternoon. My enemies sometimes do, rubbing their hands in glee with the knowledge that they would have successfully interrupted my “Saturday Sleep-athon” (an event where I sleep pretty much through the whole of the first half).

So when I got a call at 9 in the morning from Sushmita, a kosher friend, I knew it must be something really important.

The call lasted for about 2 hysteria laden minutes where the only words that registered in my sleepy head was “need you here”, “doggy", "style”, “cant do it alone”, "show", "fuck", “driving me mad”, “please cum fast”.

Yes, I know what you are thinking…….....

............And that’s exactly what I thought.

So akin to a ballerina entering the stage, I leapt off my bed and spring-hopped to the bathroom to get ready and be on my way.

An hour later I was there sitting in her drawing room, my face robbed of all excitement, my head, instead of my heart, pounding loudly, and an external observer would probably describe my spirit as “a bit limp”.

I was sitting on her cushions with a deflated look as I turned to her for the third time in as many minutes and asked again:

“You want me to hold Batul Khoka?”

“Yes”, she said calmly

“So that you can put on a pink vest and black shorts?”

“Yes”, she concurred, nodding slightly

“And you called me here for that??”

“Yess” she hissed this time.

I don’t blame you if you are all confused. So was I at that moment. But now, with the clarity that past events bring, let me try and explain.

Batul, as anyone born and brought up in West Bengal in the 70s and 80s would know, was an extremely popular comic character that used to appear in the magazine Shuktara.

Batul “The Great” was our own home grown Bengali Superhero created by Sri Narayan Debnath. Batul’s exploits and adventures with his pals, Bachchu and Bicchhu was discussed animatedly everyday in school.

In the case of Sushmita, Batul Khoka was her dog! A giant dumb Labrador, who had an uncanny resemblance to the comic character, and hence was christened such.

Not only in the looks department, but also in behavior, the similarities were hard to miss.

One of the endearing qualities of Batul The Great in the comic books was that he used to keep forgetting his super strength and ended up destroying stuff, like the time he tired to mow the lawn and broke the lawn mower or the time he tried to ride a bull in the rodeo and the bull’s leg gave way… Ditto for this dog! Batul Khoka’s tail and genetic Labrador enthusiasm would leave a trail of broken vases, cups, and general destruction whenever he was set free.

And on that Saturday Batul Khoka was uber hyper because of two reasons.

The first, he was in heat. And anyone who has seen a Labrador, denied of sex and in heat for atleast a year, knows how cranky the mutt can be.

The second, the real cause of the early morning phone call, was that Sushmita in her infinite wisdom had decided to enroll him in her neighborhood dog show, dressed exactly like the comic book character – wearing a pink vest and black shorts.

Her idea was to have the dog walk on his hind legs on stage so that he resembles the "real" Batul, and wins the “Aw!” of the audience.

The problem was that the horny idiot was in no mood to wear anything and it was getting late for the show. Hence the emergency phone call to me. She had summoned in her troops (or Soldier to be more precise) to style her Doggy.

“Why me? Why on a Saturday??” I was getting increasingly agitated.

“Uffo baba. I am pretty sure there is no food in your house. I will feed you mangsho bhaath. Also Batul really likes your leg. Please stick it out na, and let him just hump it.. I will quickly slip the shorts and vest in. Plus you owe me! You had said that you will help when I bailed you out that last time.”

I will not get into the details of the “last bail out” (that’s another full story), but when I had used the phrase “arm and leg for you” in a moment of deep gratitude, I did not realize that things were going to pan out this way!

The prospect of letting Batul use my leg as his bitch weighed heavily on my mind. But then again there was the promise of mangsho-bhaath. And Sushmita could really cook up a delicious mutton curry. I was torn between being used an object of pleasure and being well fed. The stomach won. I yielded to her request.

In the next twenty odd minutes that followed, Su and I struggled to keep Batul in check as it humped my leg like a sex starved dog…..which he was….. while she slipped on the specially designed pink vest on him. Specially designed, because it had Velcro at the back that allowed it to be slipped on, rather than worn.

Like a victim of assault who lets the mind drift away to a happy space, I looked away and thought of all the things I had thought of when the day began. I should be the one humping something and Su should be wearing a pink vest right now, I mentally grumbled.

My reverie was broken by the Su trademark clapping and yelp of happiness. “Its done… oh he is looking so cute”

I looked down at the ridiculous sight. A lolling panting dog wearing a pink vest and air humping against my leg. Cute was not the word that came to mind.

“Forget the black shorts. He is black anyway. He doesn’t need the shorts!” I yelped. My leg was getting sore.

“Are you mad. I am not going to embarrass him by displaying his ‘pink pastel’ to the whole world as he walks on his hind legs” Su retorted.

“Embarrass him??!! Look at me! Look at the dog! What can be more embarrassing??!”

I should not have asked that question, as moments later Su whipped out a pocket camera and took a picture. Thankfully there was no Facebook those days, otherwise the prospect of seeing that pic as her Profile pic with me tagged would have surely led to a seizure there and then.

Those were the days when pics were still private property and not proof of “I had fun” that needed to be published and shared with all and sundry.

Eventually Su got the shorts on and Batul had to cease his incessant humping. His hips did not lie, they were tired from the 30 minutes of angry air humping.

Su did ask me to come down for the show, but I politely declined and demanded my reward. I decided to watch TV while eating rice and mutton to take my mind off what had just happened.

The day did end nicely though. The food was delicious, the TV was fun, and the afternoon was spent lazily lounging around….

Oh and Batul won. Su had indeed thought this through. See the majority of people in the building were Bengalis. They flood of nostalgia that Batul brought did not give the others a chance.

We looked at him in his pink vest and black shorts, breathing heavily as lay with his head between his paws, eyeing my leg.

“What do you think” Su asked.

“Haute dog!” I said.