Tag Archives: sales

Communication, the Hallmark of Success

28 Aug

communication 7 year old

Most working moms and dads recognize these little notes – i used to get about 5 a day, mostly shoved under my nose, and, most importantly, on top of the computer screen – thus MANDATING that i finally pay attention to my child! (I remember visiting a client at a leading FMCG in lovely Vevey once, and his bulletin board chock full of post-its with messages from his 6 year old saying – daad – u missed the ski-ing competition yet again! and such stuff..)

The point is, that kids figure out really early HOW to catch an (unreceptive) audience’s attention to get their point across.

As an organisation that worked in multiple geographies, and so each one having remote team mates/ clients to communicate with often, this was a really big deal. It started with us four partners (who by the way, hadn’t even all met each other when we started! – so ours was a bit more unusual situation than most!) getting on daily calls – in those days, we discussed fairly mundane issues (in retrospect) but we talked every single day, and ofcourse had the email on pretty much 24X7. We still got many “cultural” things wrong! Like:

– One early employee apparently spied a rat in our first office, and wrote an “annonymous” letter to a co founder who was based in the U.S. saying – “is this what you want your employees to be facing?” Ofcourse that co – founder, having never been to India, got very hot and bothered. It took the two of us who were managing the Indian ops to tell him to chillax since almost every house had rats – infact, we should count ourselves lucky that was the only vermin we got!!

– We were a “secondary research” organization, which meant we trawled publicly available data sources for our analysis. Our analysts would call the “raw research” material – a data dump, and often abbreviate it to “dump”. Imagine their horror when Kyung told them that dump in America meant poop!

(See some references to how communication across different cultures has led to interesting gaffes in my earlier post)

But this daily call/ email sure forged a bond – something really really important in a startup! I remember my co founder Debjani being interviewed for a journal, and saying – our big emphasis – commmunicate communicate communicate! Its true, and Debjani specially was paranoid about communication to the point of getting up at 2 am her time to repeat/ emphasise a point to the teams that needed to work on her clients’ requests!

But the outsourced world apart, communication is almost the most important “tool” that you need in business. In fact, at senior levels, that’s all you do – whether it is talking to the street to get their expectations right in a publicly listed company; pitching your co./ products/ services/ people to the next prospective buyer; getting ‘alignment” with your boss or the other department’s key folks on the right way to do things; motivating your team members to work the extra 2 hours when all they want to do is go watch the latest release in theatres and have a glass of beer after! Actually, now that I think about it, the “communication” is almost interchangeable with ‘sales” (see my earlier post on why we all are/ should be sales people . Interestingly, that features my 7 yr old too 🙂 )

It is why there is a whole industry on “soft skills” training, and many dollars being made in teaching the “art of presentation”.

Indian Govt. Public School Kids

Having made a living almost all my life out of maybe this skill to “communicate” well, I now have a very different perspective – that of how important even basic facility in a language (well, actually not A language, but the English Language) is, to really get ahead in life. This gets set for me personally in perspective now when I teach a class in a government (read public) school in my community. I teach the English language to 3rd graders. These are kids who come from the locality, and have parents from the lower income strata. Some of the kids are really really bright – all of them have that bright spark in their eyes – but, they cannot speak English (the vernacular language they know is Kannada, one of India’s many languages). And it almost breaks my heart to think that these kids in general, (barring the success of our volunteer teaching program) will never have an equal shot at many careers because they cannot communicate in the English language!

Coming back to Achchu, and her figuring out multi modal communication to get my attention, she once sent me an e-mail from the other room saying – Ma! I have to write an essay on a movie for H.W., and I can’t think of a title! (She figured that while I was behind closed doors at my home office, the ONLY way to get me responding to an “urgent” need was email! She was right – I told her to write on Sound of Music!) She even gets the subtleties of – “I know mom is on a con-call, so let me ask her if I can eat forbidden candy. And, I know she will say “no” once, then twice, but the third time she WILL say yes!” Talk about “in your face” communication!

non verbal communication 7 year old

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StartUp Dilemma – 1 (Core Mission vs. Revenue Gen)

14 Mar

startup cartoon

I got this idea from Wendy who has a really funny blog, and from Bucket List publications . These guys basically have serial posts – so its one idea, and then you write on multiple ramifications of it. (I’m still struggling with remnants of writer’s block – so looking for ways to circumvent it!)

Add to this the fact that in the past 2 days I spoke to a bunch of start-ups at various stages of their life cycle, and brainstormed with them on various issues.

So, that’s my inspiration – I am going to do a series of typical problems that startups face…not necessarily one after the other all the time, but certainly whenever the urge strikes me!

The first one came to me when my friend – lets call him John Smith or Ram Shyam if you prefer an Indian name 🙂 – (who is developing generic but customizable mobile apps for business processes on the cloud targetted at the various domains) swung by and disclosed his angst over a very standard start-up question.

Background: JS/ RS and his associates used to work at a large networking firm. They quit to follow their dream – some 6 or so months ago. They’ve been burning the proverbial midnight oil getting their app platform up. They even have a cple early customers on it – paying customers hallelujah! They are now busy figuring out the top verticals they should sell to – its a small team, and they obviously want to focus their efforts.

Problem: Their ex boss called them and said – can you build a “box” for me directed at say x vertical – it’s a vertical the team wants to target, but the boss’ request is not quite front and center of what they have set out to build. If it works, and is successful, they may get immense scale. However, he is unwilling to give these guys any guarantees…

Dilemma: Working on the boss’ request will take roughly 6 months of effort. Only some 30% of this is code they can reuse for their own platform – what they really want to do. However, it will give them an entry into the vertical of their choice. Also, saying no is tough. Not only does this effort give them some cash flow, in true start up style, they want their ex employer as one of their biggest clients (or partner – at early stage obviously they are open to all commercial angles); and they don’t want to close that door!

Sounds familiar? What would your advice to them be?

Well, what I said to them was:

a) Ofcourse it depends on the relationship between these guys and their boss, and their judgement of how true to his words he is
b) The positives are –
i. they get entry into vertical of choice – with many outlets. Boss has indicated readiness to partner – but is not guaranteeing (ie its not on paper) that they will get co-branding rights. (Which may also be OK for my trio – they should be, and are, open to white labeling)

ii. They keep the boss happy

iii. It does give them ready cash

c) The negatives are –
i. They lose 70% of 6 months of work – after all, if they wanted to build stuff for their old company, they wouldn’t have left it!
ii. More importantly, they have just started outreach to the market – if they do get interested clients biting at the other work they are doing, they will be hard pressed to service that (unless they hire ofcourse 🙂 – good problem to have, huh?)

So, knowing that in early stages its very very difficult to say no to client/ revenue; i asked them to ask either for the branding such that they can leverage the access/ relationships with end clients in their future work – when they really need it; or ask for guarantee that they will get future business from their old company; or ask for enough money to make the 70% of 6 months worth their while…when I say ask – i mean either in writing or in terms of conviction in old man’s word…

I remember in EmPower – in our early days when we were sniffing all around for revenue – we would not say no to anything! We started with one division, and pretty much by chance, developed the other 2 – basically because potential clients came up to us and said – “can u do this?”. This evolution kind of walked alongside with our thinking on what the company should be – so all divisions stayed within the guard rails…conversely, when we were some 5 years old, there was immense pressure from the sales team to chase Primary Research dollars – it was an adjacency, the clients were common (Social Media research got bought by consumer insights people), it was a labor intensive service, technology made it outsourcable – but we said a steadfast NO – there were keenly fought debates, but boy, am I glad we did say no!

I don’t know what JS/ RS finally did, but I have a strong feeling, like a lot of us, he WILL go ahead and build the box for his boss – and take the risk 🙂 what d’u think?

Parallels to share?

Let’s Face It – We are all Sales People (or Need to Be)

4 Mar

salesman

Many years ago, my colleague Sridhar addressed a Global Sales Conference with the words – “Good Morning, ladies and men….after a small pause, he said – “I said men, because there are NO gentlemen in sales!” (cue for canned laughter)

Remember the merchant in Aladin who sold the magical lamp? Glib talking stereotype!

But its true – while we revile and treat badly most sales people – whether its the tele caller selling credit cards, or the medical rep who comes in to the doctor’s clinic with beautifully crafted “detailers” and drug samples; when you look at all of us, at any situation in life, irrespective of what we are doing, we are pretty much involved in some negotiation/ some give or take/ in effect, some sales…

Look at my 7 year old – she is ALWAYS selling/ negotiating – at school, where she sells her desire to become a narrator in the school play rather than be in the dance group ; at home when she sells her “neeeed” for candy – ok then cola – ok then yakult (probiotic yoghurt brand) – in her after school classes where she is a regular pest but manages to get personalised attention from all the coaches!

She’s got the basic tactics of sales nailed down to a T –

a) be “in your face” and keep on and on and on and onnnn till folks give up for the sheer nuisance value; (I think most “real” sales people will tell you thats rule no. 1 – do NOT get discouraged by the phone hung up, the door banged or the martinet exec assistant who doesnt let you get past him!)

b) choose timing of request really well – ( was easier when mom was working and perpetually on telecons) – again, all “real” sales people know monday mornings are bad, friday afternoons are bad too. Tuesday to thursday mornings work well to call and set up appointments.

c) choose the decision maker vs influencer stakeholders well – in this case play mom vs. dad vs. older sister. Depending on type of business, the procurement big daddys vs the CMO…

d) keep “stuff in the pocket” – ask for more than u need so that after whittling down you’ll get what u really wanted – or close enough. Can I eat 4 candies after I drink my milk?

As one of her teachers said the other day – you can love Achchu or you can hate her, but you certainly can’t ignore her!

But I can’t blame Achchu – she’s figured out that life is a sea of negotiations and sales – after all, All of us are selling too – in our personal as well as professional lives.

We sell our aggressiveness when negotiating for THAT book or toy with our siblings, we sell our one-upmanship when we honk at other traffic on the roads, we sell our intelligence, articulate-ness (I know that’s not a bona fide word 🙂 ) and aptitude when we go for focus groups for college admissions; we sell our abilities and attitude when we go for job interviews, we sell our worthiness as life partners when we meet potential spouses, we sell our “better judgement” to the same spouses at crucial milestones – house to buy/ baby to have/ etc etc; and ofcourse we are continuously selling our superiority as parents to our kids – all day, everyday, most of our lives!

In professional lives, we sell ourselves at appraisal time, when we are asking for resources for our departments, ofcourse when we really actually “sell” our ideas/ our businesses/ our services to someone else. This is true at all levels of the corporate hierarchy – infact at senior levels that’s ALL you are doing – selling. It may be called different things – “getting buy in”; “pitching”; “presenting”; “getting approval”; “getting consensus”; lobbying….but its all sales…

sales_cartoon

And, as a natural reaction, the world around us also starts behaving in a way that expects us to sell – I remember discussing an action point with an HR guy once and telling him that I was waiting for approval from the Senior Executive – he told me, just call him. If you want it badly enough, show it to him – unless you call, he won’t approve. While I was fairly pissed off at what I thought was high handedness, truly, I realized over many years that it wasn’t just ego that had the guy waiting for me to call – in that system, it was just another filter that indicated the strength of the need for that item (whatever it was).

In the same way, when you let’s say budget for resources, you ALWAYS ask for more than u get – it’s the 140% rule…ask for 140%, you will get atleast 100 (kind of like bargaining in flea markets – you pretty much halve what the peddler quotes and settle for midway maybe)

But I often wonder, if the above is true – what all the hoopla about career planning/ stream selection/ specialization is for? Maybe we should all enroll in the school of sales – and teach and learn to be salespeople. (As my sales friends would say – it gives you license to eat drink and make merry at company’s expense – if only to drown non quota making sorrows in the liquor!)

Really, I think that should be my next business idea – begin a string of School of Sales (if I want to be extra alliterative I can call it Sangita Specialized School of Sales – SSSoS!!! ). It is, after all a lesson that needs to start at birth and continue till post retirement.

sales

As one of my first bosses Guptaji used to say – “the crying baby gets more milk – conversely, the baby who doesn’t cry, doesn’t get as much!”……

baby