Monday, September 29, 2008

Pause, Think, Restart

The Dow went down by 777 yesterday. The last 6 months have seen terrible ups and downs in the world markets. This makes me wonder, are there lessons for me to learn as a sales person? Let me think
Unrestrained growth meant that we all forgot fundamentals. The discipline in investment went away, and many untrained small investors started fancying themselves as "Traders". In a growing market, everyone makes money. In the process, people stopped analysing their investments and went after hot leads.

For a Sales professional in India too, last 5 years have been full of heady growth. Any ordinary salesman was meeting and beating quota targets. Instead of spending time in analysing customer needs, sales people were busy "closing" one deal after another, paying scant respect to the quality of the prospect, the risk involved and not worrying about building strong pipelines. Everyone was living in the here and now.
During the bull run, many investors went from one script to another, making quick capital gains based on hot market tips and moving money rapidly. In the process, they learnt NOTHING about investing. When the market dropped, they are clueless. They are loosing money fast, and have nowhere to invest. Everyone is living on the hope that the market will recover. Many others will never invest in equities again for a long long time.
Salesmen were in demand from varying sectors like insurance, telecom, banking, services, IT, manufacturing etc. Salespeople rapidly hopped jobs, earning ever fattening paychecks but learning prescious LITTLE. In the face of a slowdown, these salespeople face the problem of not knowing how and where to sell. We hope the recession will soon pass us by. We hope what's happening in US has nothing to do with us. But we now fear for we have learnt little.
I wish to draw the reader's attention to earlier posts on learning. Let us ask this question of ourselves - how much have we learnt?
Lastly, everyone was betting on the the euiqty and Real estate markets. High Risk - High Rewards as someone told me. Very few investors thought about spreading the risk across a wide array of assets. They hadthe proverbial "all eggs in one basket". 

As salesmen preferred to hunt the big deals, companies showered praise on the "Stars" getting in the multi-million deals. The Star salemen were not interested in having a "spread". Business tomorrow will happen in the spread.

I am sure we can draw many more analogies. Would welcome comments, analogies and examples from readers.

Well, we now have some time to Pause, Think and Re-start, Let us learn from the past 5 months. Let us work on our fundamentals of Self Esteem, Discipline, Ethics, Knowledge and Respect.

Let us invest in our customers again. Happy Investing !!
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Sunday, September 28, 2008

Making Your customers Win and Battling a Slowdown while you do it

Sales training programs regularly teach us about Making Customers Win. It is all about Thinking Win - Win. But how do you really do it? I saw a wonderful example of really making your customers win.
The author is a real-estate broker called Purva Brown from Sacramento - somewhere in the United States I think. At the moment, US real-estate market is under pressure with foreclosures, the subprime crisis, falling prices and the works. Probably the worst time to be in the real estate broking business. You will see most people resorting to signs like the one on the right.
But not Purva.

Being a property broker, she is really a medium of exchange between the buyer and the seller (remember my first post on BRIDGE?). So in effect, both the buyer and the seller are her customers. Conventional wisdom would have us think, if the seller wins then the buyer looses and vice versa. So then, which of her customers does she focus on? The one which approaches her first? Or the one who is paying her the commission?
I found that she makes both of them win!!! Don't believe me? Then check out her URL.

She has worked out a beautiful way of making both her customers win. On her blog, she often writes about "Adding Value to your real estate". She regularly shares tips on home improvement, green homes, water conservation, landscaping tips, interiors etc. She is helping customers about finance options. She writes about ways of saving property taxes. She updates her readers (future customers) about local property legislations, property facts and much more.

Now this lady is no expert on any of these topics. So how does she offer these tips? By painstakingly researching articles and stories on the internet and elsewhere which her customers will like and benefit from. This is her homework to prepare for her business.

So how does this make both the sellers and buyers successful?

The Seller can get a better price for his home by implementing many of the tips which Purva passes on. So he is thankful to Purva and would like to consider selling his home through her since she "helped him improve the value" of his home.

The Buyer on the other hand looks at Purva as an expert, and expects that Purva will show him the homes with the best amenities, design, decor etc. So they too would like to approach her, and buy the most valuable property she recommends.

Now that's what I call really making your customers successful and winning more business!!!

Importantly, at a time when many real estate brokers are probably morose and witless, Purva is investing in building hope, value and confidence in her customers. As the market begins to recover, she will be the first person prospects will reach out to.

You can check out Purva Brown's blog on
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Friday, September 26, 2008

Checking the pulse of the blog

Dear readers,

We have been having some problem with feeds not reaching readers. Hence I have re-configured the feedburner settings.
Please give me a single word confirmation once you receive this feed, which will tell me that all is well again.

Thanks in advance,
Vishwajeet Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nanhe Kadam (The first 3 steps of a young salesman)

Last week I read a blog by a young sales professional from Kerala - the southern-most state of India. He had only 3 posts on his blog, the last one of them written 3 years ago. This young salesman had passed out (in his own words) from a ‘2nd rung Business School. Like any other youngster, he had started with big ambitions -  

Year 0 – frontline
Year 3 – Territory Manager
Year 5 – Area Manager
Year 7 – Regional Manager
Year 10 – National Sales Manager and
Year 15 – CEO

But 5 years down, he was still in frontline, not having found his footing, unsure of what the future held for him, and completely depressed. His only thought – survival. Somehow manage to meet quota and targets week after week, month after month just and keep afloat. Depressed. Looking for a change in job, hoping something will “happen” in the next assignment.

What went wrong? Why did this B School graduate not make it? I saw two possible reasons.

1.His ambition was manifest in years, and not in what he aimed to learn in those years.

2.His manager did not help him learn.

Last week I commented on one's readiness for a job promotion. This week I am presenting a perspective on the first 3 positions in a salesperson’s career.

Level 1: Frontline: This is the SELF DISCOVERY stage. Constant probing, a child-like inquisitiveness and a huge learning appetite are crucial. This is where your Corporate personality begins to take shape. A good manager will coach and mentor you through this stage. Importantly, this is the time to discover your strengths and areas for improvement. In your future career, using your strengths and taking up assignments which are best suited to your strengths will make you immensely successful. Once you complete this self learning, you are ready for the next challenge.

Level 2: Self manager: Often called a territory manager. This is the time to start applying your knowledge about Self and Market. Remember the first time your dad let go of you while teaching you to ride a bicycle? You learned self-balance, you understood that you could do it on your own. Your dad just kept giving you a few tips from the distance. Learn to take decisions and own up responsibility of customers, territory and actions. In my second post about “bridge”, I had mentioned that one of the strong foundations is Self-discipline. This is the time to build that foundation. The stronger your foundation of self-discipline, the easier you will find it to Manage Self. Becoming a master of managing oneself and building a strong empathy in the process is an essential skill before moving on to higher ground.

Level 3: People manager or Area Manager: This is where your first challenge with people management begins. You will now carry a big dual responsibility on your shoulders for the first time

1.You are responsible for your company’s market share in your area.

2.You are responsible for inducting, grooming and developing the fresh blood entering the organization.
You will learn that you can accomplish much more through your team than you can ever accomplish alone. Making your team members more of what they are, and not clones of yourself will ensure that you have diverse talent in your team. This understanding and respect of talent alone can help you take on higher responsibilities in the future. I have seen so many great salespeople never crossing this line. They hang on to being great salesmen, focusing on self success, little realizing that they can win only if their entire team contributes, performs and WINS. As a manager, you need to learn to GET THINGS DONE.

Completing these 3  steps of learning is essential for a salesperson to grow. The speed at which you learn at each level will determine the speed of your growth and not how many calendar years you put in between.

The only other way around this is being extremely LUCKY!!!

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Sunday, September 7, 2008

Knocking on the Door ... on the Upper floor

I recently answered a question on LinkedIn in response to a question by Doyle Slayton of SalesBlogcast ( ). I am reproducing that answer almost verbatim here, since I want to put this question and my thoughts to this forum as well.

The Question – How do you know when you are qualified for that next promotion?

My Answer - I love this question. This is a question I get from team members all the time and one that I love to answer. I have a simple take on this one:

You are ready for your promotion when you have made yourself redundant in the current role.
Surprised? Let me explain.

If you are doing your job too well and no one else around you can do it better, then you are too important for the job, and no one can do it better. And if you are so important, then how can the company ever move you?

But then does this mean you should not do a great job? Absolutely not. But any position should go through 3 phases:

Phase 1 - Learning the Job. In this phase, you are exploring your job, continuously trying to understand the role and expectations better, and importantly, finding opportunities to improve continuously.

Phase 2 - Consolidation. In this phase, you put your learning to use. You implement the changes which are necessary to keep pace with the changing times and business scenarios. You also use this time to do talent spotting and identifying people who are the clear growth stars in your team.

Phase 3: Redundancy. In this phase, you have build strong systems and work practices, which are solid, but which at the same time give enough flexibility for your team to use their own initiative and make things happen. You vigorously delegate larger opportunities to the identified stars and consciously build the next line. You keep demonstrating your thirst for newer and more challenging tasks and assignments, taking on difficult challenges. At this time, the strong team you have built has the independence to execute the regular tasks themselves, and the whole unit is working like a beautifully oiled machine. You have many team members who continuously think they can do a better job then you can, and you clearly demonstrate to the organization that you are clearly "available" for the next challenge. You have built a team which is raring to go and will do exceedingly well, and in-fact at times better, once you are out of the way.

When you demonstrate this to your organization, the organization clearly sees that you are ready for new opportunities.

It has worked for me so far. I have endeavored to leave an assignment in a much stronger position, and built future leaders who are well developed to take up the role. They are budding with newer and better ideas, and will surely take the organization to the next level.

You know and the organization knows then, that you are ready.

Promotions have to be earned, by contributing to the growth of the organization, and not just by doing your job well. This is all the more applicable for earning promotions in a Sales Role. Not every good salesman becomes a good sales manager, and not every good sales manager has been a "Great Salesman".
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Friday, September 5, 2008

Sales Ethics - The Inner Conflict

Last week while on travel, we were on retail development calls and also putting up some new posters in retail outlets. One sales officer, clearly a motivated fellow, was leading in the discussions with many retailers. That he shared an excellent rapport and relationship with most of them was immediately evident.
In each call the Sales officer was also required to put the new branding stickers in the retail outlets. While the Sales Officer's sales skills did impress me, his fixing of the branding stickers apalled me. As we exited the first outlet, I found our branding stickers stuck in a little wayward manner on the shop window pane, which obviously did not look aesthetic at all. I pulled out the sticker to demonstrate how attention to detail in such matters makes a favuorable impression, and positioned the sticker properly to the clear satisfaction of the shop owner.
Our Sales Officer having learned some bit on aesthetics and symmetry, then proceeded to show-off his newly acquired skills, The next sticker in the next retail shop was placed exactly at the centre of a large branding panel (though not of a competitor) installed with a lot of love and care by another respected company. By the time we noticed this, it was too late. Removing the sticker would have torn the other panel up and completely de-face it. Leaving it there was not only defacing it, but also spoiling the reputation of company. I was unable to decide which way to turn.  This incident set me wondering.
Is Sales Ethics dead? 
A lot of times I get this feeling from some salesperson that there is a thin line between outright lying and not disclosing all facts. Is there no inner conflict for a sales person at all today? I remember this syndrome having affected me very early in my career when I too believed that this is the way a salesman was supposed to be. But the inner conflict soon became un-bearable. One soon discovers that our childhood teaching of not lying really is a better option after all. Situations do become very bad for that moment, but your courage to share unpleasant truth always leads to stronger  relationships based on the foundation of trust. 
So why is this overall lack of basic Sales ethics so prevalent? Is it because customers have started demanding too much? Many times when faced with impossible delivery commitments from customers, the response from a salesman is simple - no company can deliver in such a short time. The question is only about which salesman is able to handle the pressure of delayed deliveries.
If this is indeed so, why are customers getting so unreasonable?

I found the answer to this question last month whille travelling from Pune to Delhi, when I chanced upon a very important prospect sitting next to me on the flight. We struck up a conversation, and one of the issues I wished to indirectly check was this issue. His responses clarified this "delayed" decision making by customers today.

There are plenty of jobs available in the market. As a result, a salesman is getting more enquiries and leads in his lap than he can handle. As a consequence, he has no time for any real exchange of information or engagement with a customer. All products get commoditised, without consideration about the suitability of the product at all. In this process, price becomes the only weapon an executive fights with. And the race for a lower price is always longdrawn and time consuming - which finally impacts both the buyer as well as the seller. There is no exchange of value.

Somewhere this viciuos cycle has began to have an adverse impact on our sales profession. The only way to get ethics back in our system, is to break this cycle somewhere. And to me the easiest available opportunity to break this ethical cycle is at the point of spending more time in customer engagement.

Please let me have your thoughts on this. I would welcome both agreements as well as disagreements which would help me build this thought better.

Going forward, I would also like to start developing thoughts on how can we begin to improve customer engagement? By the way, better engagement also means great and profitable business.

Would also like to mention two good sites I read on Sales ethics. I am mentioning those here for more reading on the subject:

Another site which helps us look at this topic in the lighter vein is . Hope you enjoy both.

Do let me have your comments, and help me become a better sales professional. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Salesman - A Bridge between Demand and Supply

I made a mention earlier about a salesman being a bridge between Demand and Supply. Let me expand this thought a little more today.

A bridge connects 2 shores - in our case demand and supply.

A bridge allows flow of traffic in both directions - In our case this means free flow of needs, wants and desires from demand in the direction of supply and information on products, services, technologies from supply to demand.
A bridge has to make the otherwise arduous task of crossing the river seem easy. A good salesman will do the same by making the product or service look appealing to the customer. He has to make the process of buying the product or service very convenient. Both sides - the demand side and supply side should feel deep interest in crossing over to the other side.

With use, a bridge will begin to have potholes and make the journey more arduous, difficult and finally - uninviting. Regular maintenance work is required to keep the bridge smooth and pleasurable. A salesman too finds that with overuse, he begins to develop "fault lines". He needs to repair them with regular "new coats" of training and self development.

Most importantly, a bridge needs to be firmly anchored to both sides. Being anchored to only one side - either the supplier side or the customer side will not help. And there are FIVE foundations to ensure that this anchoring is strong - Self Esteem, Discipline, Ethics, Knowledge and Respect.

Before I close this thought, let me explain my viewpoint on the bridge angle here. When I first considered that my role was being a bridge and no more, it brought a lot more humilty to the otherwise overhyped "Sales" profession. It threw out all the assumptions of any fantastic ability to "convince" people to my point of view or be able to "push" through any order. It also helped me realize that a bridge cannot connect two dis-similar shores. Simply put, there is a product and then there is a market for that product. If I am able to find a suitable market for my product, then the sales process is easy and there is a real exchange of value for both sides.

When the customer is not suited to my product, that is the time when I need to "convince". But then at such times, it makes me think - Am I con-vincing or am I con-ning?

From those who have bothered to read through this blog, I would love to have an exchange of views on this last point.

Going forward, I will further present my thoughts on the above question and further develop the idea of finding a suitable bride for my product (the groom). I will also write separate blogs on the foundations of our bridge.

Please do write in your comments / thoughts, it will help me evolve as a better sales professional.
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Monday, September 1, 2008

My First Attempt at Blogging

This is my first ever attempt at blogging. Have heard a lot of it, but never tried. Being a sales and marketing professional myself, this is one subject I would love to share my views on. I am not sure how this works, but I also hope to invite some friends to contribute to this spot as well.

As I meet, interact and interview sales professionals in India, I often try to understand the person's motivation in being a sales professional. I have heard many resons - I like to meet people; I have strong convincing powers; I like to travel and see new places and many such things.

The MBAs get "campus selected" into a sales career, but for many others, they just happened to enter into this line after trying their had at other jobs. For them, it is just a way of living.

But from the sales professional in a tie, trying to sell socks cheap at a traffic signal to the M&A professional trying to "sell" a "company", we are all doing a very basic role - the bridge between "Demand" and "Supply".

I will write on this concept a little later. Let me first understand how this blogging works.

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