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.