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!

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