Friday, April 30, 2010

Promises & Perils of being a trainee in SALES – part 2

Still there are a few realities that need to be told to the new breed of sales trainees. Knowing things in advance is always good so that Jor kaa jhatka dheere se lage. My friends, these are few of the things that you should be prepared for(Apart from traveling in a trolley with goats and life threats from competitors :) -

1. “You learn swimming when thrown in the murky deep waters” is what people say with a big grin when they tell you that they are dumping you to some obscure place. Once there, you find zero social circle, no decent hotel or food, no fancy toys (like a cab.. so travel is through local buses/trains/autos), and within few days you’ll be amused at your own naivety and wonder “I was doing an MBA from a great insti a few months back, life was promising, now suddenly I find myself in this 8 by 8 room in Irinjalikudaa, the bed sheets are stinking and even this damn fan is not working.. Whaaaat went wrrrong?“

2. Most of the times, what you are doing is nobody’s concern. But the same could potentially become everybody’s biggest concern at times. So you need to have an updated tour program, just like that of a CEO, while what you are doing might just be a salesman stint.
3. Know everything under the sun: No of Sticks in XYZ Agarbatti pack to color of the Parle Marie packs, margin on Britannia Nutrichoice to price of the Sunsilk black. Number of salesmen at your Timbaktoo distributor to number shops in his area.. you are expected to know everything, otherwise be prepared for those disgusted “these MBA types trainees ..” looks.
4. No matter what you do, you’ll always fall short of expectations. Actually very soon you’ll realize that it is more of a routine. The best thing that you can ever imagine to hear is: “This was good guys, but … ".

5. Rote numbers that really don’t matter to you: You are just a trainee and will be on a different stint almost every other week. But there is a rather impractical expectation that at any point of time you will work as a living encyclopedia, and at your fingertips will be the data and information related to all of your previous stints that you have undergone till date. You might know the numbers that really matter to you at present, but that’s not enough. Branch numbers, Circle numbers, category wise numbers, sub-category wise numbers, MIS numbers, RCS numbers, historical numbers, other channel’s numbers.. blah blah, and you have to pretend that you really care about all of them.
6. Deal with those code words: if UOM1 is CFC and UOM2 is Packs, why not just call them UOM_CFC and UOM_PACKS instead?

7. Everyone feels that he can enlighten you about anything under the sun: You might have worked in the Google/SAPs of this world before your MBA, people will still give you their own version of what a SaaftWhere can do and cannot do, and the tough part is that you’ll have to agree.

8. After you are screwed, hazaar bonds will crop up. “Arre yaar pehle bataana thhaa naa”, you’ll hear this more often than the supposedly contextual product placements of MRF blimp in an IPL match
9. Your view of the world changes, mostly for worse. When your gf/wife is busy shopping, you’ll be found analyzing the shelf space of various companies. When travelling, you’ll look more at the outlets than the scenery. In newspapers, you’ll see more of the advertisements than the real news..same with TV. You start asking too many questions and doubting everything, phrases like Why, how, how come, where, let me check, gochi, show me, and ‘tell me’ become your new punctuations.

10. Overall, having a life is a crime. This world is yet to witness a happy sales trainee, and you better not try to be the first one

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Promises & Perils of being a trainee in SALES part-1

So, my training is more or less over and here is my modest attempt to summarize what life is for a management sales trainee. The good things first:

1. Your business sustains livelihoods: From your salesmen to your distributors, from retailers to factory workers, from shareholders to your coworkers, you know that there are people who are dependent on this business. They are, in a small way dependent on you. Even as a trainee, the choices you make are important as they impact some of them directly (and in a big way). A smile from a retailer, a ‘thank you, Sir’ from a salesman, and you know that your job goes beyond the materialistic things of life.


2. Sales thrills: Sales gives you its own joyrides. You feel that you own that X% of this world. This ownership comes in many terms.. It could be the shelf-space, stocks, loyal consumers, sales-force spread across the territory. Then comes the thrill of numbers, if you are in to it, then the numbers belong to you. And when they belong to you, you chase them, you protect them, you plan for them and you try to achieve them and upon accomplishment you celebrate them..it’s fun.


3. Sales figures are not your headache, yet! Despite all the training and stints, the truth is that you are still in that so called ‘learning phase’. So people don’t really expect much fireworks from you. And even in the rarest of the cases that people do pull you over numbers, you just need a bit of thick skin to hear everything and conclude yourself by saying that you’ll try harder next time.


4. You hardly complain about quality if things are free. Your stay, food and numerous other expenses will be paid by the company.


5. Enjoy the ego trip: It’s a world of numerous hierarchy levels, and usually these levels are pretty hard to climb. In you mid 20s, you get a position which many others in the organization can only dream of occupying even in their late 30s. And it’s not the new age IT stuff, it’s a place where people really respect the chair that you hold.


6. Travel to new places: Explore and enjoy. You visit at least 15-20 new places in your training year. At least some of them are bound to be good tourist locations. You stay there at company’s expense and you wake up facing either the sea or a mountain range. How could you still complain about life?


In brief, take everything in your stride and move on. Dil rakhne ke liye to log ye bhi bolte hain ki Sales is what makes men out of boys : )


BTW, I can’t resist the urge to write the other side of this. So very soon, I’ll come up with a piece on perils of being a sales trainee : )

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Taco Bell: Wait outside the store before you think outside the bun!

So finally Taco Bell (pronounced as Taako-Bell) has arrieved in india. I was taken by surprise when suddenly I came across several TacoBell banners in Bangalore last week, announcing the opening of their first outlet. Then somehow I stumbled upon the Mantri Square link, which is being touted as India’s biggest Mall. Incidentally the Taco Bell outlet is in this mall only and the two made an irresistible combination for a visit on the very next day.

What I saw there was kind of shocking.. I saw a queue in the mall ..leading upto the Taco Bell outlet.. yes my dear friend! you got me right, there was a queue even to get into the queue of the outlet!

Then given our notion of fast food, I didn’t mind it that much (I thought that OK lets be in the Queue..and it reinforced the feeling that Taco Bell is something big and giving it a miss will be nothing short of a sin).

For about 20 minutes I was in this queue outside the outlet, then another 10 minutes I was just near the entrance, and then only I got the first glimpse of the counter. Order taking process was slow..actually, it was damn slow. Then there was another bunch of customers waiting besides the counter. I realized later that they were waiting for their orders to get executed, which means that even the kitchen people were also agonizingly slow and were taking their own sweet time in preparing the orders. The sad part is that they were not preparing some Mughlai Paneer, they were preparing Tacos and Nachos, and anyway why is any preparation time required for these items?

God! I waited another 30 minutes to get to the counter(total time in the queue according to my watch was at least 1 hour, though I felt like I wasted the entire evening in that damn queue)

I ordered a Taco combo and some Nachos. Then I waited for my order to come. And finally..finally the moment arrived. When I had that food tray in my hand, I knew that this effort of mine was a clear demonstration of my grit, mental and physical strength and task orientation of the highest order, and ideally deserves to get a place on my one pager resume.

I won’t get into too many details over here.. but the food was OK.. the Taco was good, twisters were just a poor cousin of our Kurkure, the Burrito’s wrap was a bit too maida based and I don’t like Pepsi that much anyways. I came out exhausted, when exiting I saw that the queue was still building up at the first floor entrance :)

Pluses:

The novelty factor: How can you not even try this?

It's American: and hence comes with a bit of coolness, after all we are a nation where you can proudly take your date to the McD for the fine dining American experience.

Free Pepsi: yeah mostly. I mean actually it’s free fill.. So you buy once and re-fill it as many times as you want to. Right now it’s so crowded that forget the free-fill, I won’t dare to go near that machine even if I am paid 100 bucks. I know that few daredevils might still relish this concept of free-fills, but hey! do they really care? Its fountain Pepsi.. carbonated water minus even the packaging costs.

The Price Factor: At the starting point of 18 Rs a Taco, they are quite cheap. In fact the whole menu is priced on reasonably appealing points. I read it somewhere that they want to occupy the sweet price point where they are cheaper than any other fast food chain and still a notch higher than the street food. Should particularly appeal to the college going junta.

Minuses:

Crowd: I mean “CROWD” in its proper English meaning :). Unless you really love being in a crowd, you’ll feel uneasy over there.

Time: Seriously guys, you invest this much time in a temple queue and you’ll get Niravana J

Mismanagement: Ohh where do I start. Just to name a few issues, Why-

- Can’t they have a pre-order taken?(just like McD does during busy hours) so people already have an understanding of what they’ll buy when they reach the counter

- Can’t they deliver the order faste?

- Is there a slightly jammed and handle-less door to the wash basin area and why is it so close to the counter? Imagine that you somehow get inside, and then you realize that you’ll have to push it(jammed) and there are so many people standing in front of it on the other side. Though I didn’t see anyone getting hurt this way, but I am sure this is a real possibility.

Can’t they at least show IPL on those LCDs? so that people can utilize some of the 1 hour plus time that they are gonna spend in the queue anyways.

Now my last complaint is that we get another exclusive Pepsi-contracted (this one also coming from the Pepsi spin off YUM brands stable), and that too at a time when they are running an extremely annoying “Youngistan kaa WoW” campaign. (If anyone, including the agency guys who coined it or the Pepsi guys who paid for it, got any understanding of what the hell this Youngistan kaa Wow means, please please please enlighten me)

Fun Fact: Incidentally Taco Bell has struggled to make a mark in the Mexico.. they were laughed out of the country in early 90s as Mexican people found the food to be a mockery of their beloved Mexican food. The company has recently re-entered the Mexican market and is now projecting its product as a fast food from America :)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Creating more meaningful jobs at the bottom of hierarchy

Recently, I had to go through the arduous yet entirely worthless process of interacting with the customer care center of a reputed telecom service provider company. I took a new connection and within 3 days they withdrew the connectivity citing improper documentation issue. The irony was that I took the connection from their authorized dealer where their representative took care of all the documentation part. When I called them up, the agent wanted me to visit the same dealer again and resubmit the same papers, while I believed that it was unfair on their part to ask this.

I am not arguing about who was right or wrong there, my point is quite different. During my several calls in this regard, one thing was obvious- the call center agent was in no position to help me in anyway. Though he could understand my point but could do nothing about it(even resuming my connectivity for 1 day while I resubmit the documents). Now how many times do we see such inefficiencies in the system? so often we come across processes or the IT system making the organization extremely rigid.

It is a fact that your system may render you inflexible and may cause lost opportunities, but that’s a huge area in itself. Even if we leave the money calculations aside there are still lots of soft aspects of this issue.

Just think about the work life of a security guard, or a call center employee who has a written script that he/she has to repeat again and again day after day, or for that matter a salesman at the retail store.. the list is just endless. We say that a company’s policy and systems are in place if its workers are more and more a replica of each other, If all of them behave like machines, very professional on the face of it but hardly human when seen in perspective.

The company becomes stable but in its quest of stability it strangles its employees and their individuality, the worst hits are the employees at the lower levels. They have a script for everything, how to great the customer, how to handle him, what to say while taking the credit card and so on. The processes and their manuals go from strength to strength but do they really serve the purpose with which they were instituted?

We always like when we are treated by real human beings, people who connects with us, who understands us. Suppose I have already done all the research. Now I am in a mood to book a particular model of LCD TV in 10 minutes as I have to I go to my office, I don’t want to hear to those annoying cross/up selling pitches from the salesman, and if I am in a mood of just checking the price I don’t want him to come to me and repeat those mugged up lines again and again.

Moreover it felt great (alas! It’s past) when your fruits weighed slightly more than 2 Kgs and the shopkeeper told you that it’s OK. When the customer care representative assures you that he will try his level best to do something in your favor and calls back after half an hour to tell you that it’s done.

So, there are possibilities when people don’t want all those standardizations (of course we want them in place in life safety issues like aviation, security checking etc)

The point is to have some faith in your employees, though the destination and the suggested path is to be shown, but please! Don’t decide where exactly they need to land their next foot. Give them a breathing space. They are the ones who will be interacting with your customers and they need to believe that it is their job, they need to enjoy it. They need to believe that they are creating some value for the customers.

Let your waiter serve a new dish to some of your regular guests on the pretext that they pay for it only if they like it.(fix some amount per day that he should not overshoot), let your customer care representative tell your customers “Sir I am activating it right now, but you please submit your bill by tonight” Give them some powers so that they can really help, guide, care for and sometimes even pleasantly surprise your customers. You are not empowering them for just making their job exciting but actually you are helping your customers by making them interact with real people and not with dejected human machines.