The Saga of Sales - Team Blog#2

Team Blog by Mala Dhalani - Head, Marketing Services @ IBS

For someone who dreamed of the “Brand Manager” designation while at B School, I have spent the first four years of my corporate life in Sales. As if being a Sindhi was not enough, numbers assumed a different level of importance in my life because of sales. Targets, Pipeline, Month-Ends, Pressure, Cheque - all became an inextricable part of my vocabulary. With pressure levels at most times being higher than the humidity levels in Chennai, I have seen many a people try their hand and succeed or fail at this art of sales. Now, no longer a “salesperson”, I can stand back, take a look and weigh exactly how much of a value add the last four years have been and I am amazed. Some very important learning’s as I look at them:

Empathy – Sales has certainly taught me to be more human. I no longer shoo away salesmen of vacuum cleaners or brash fully disconnect the call on a credit card salesperson. I know the grit, the hard work, the motivation and the sheer courage that it often takes to either land up on the doorstep of a stranger or to try and convince someone you do not know to buy something (in some case they do not even know what they are selling J ).

Getting over your biggest fear “Rejection” – If you are afraid of rejection, I strongly recommend a sales stint. It happens so often that you have no choice but to get over it! I would rate this as one of the top three learning. Sales has made me tougher, helped me get over my inhibitions, be more confident and most importantly helped me accept “NO” as an answer graciously (sometimes not so graciously too).

Quickest way to fame – The feeling of success in sales like no other. First and most importantly, there is the personal satisfaction of holding that cheque in your hand and knowing that you have earned your salt. Be it any value, the sense of being a contributor to wealth creation in the organization has given me very many instances to smile. Second, it is the easiest way to get recognized by the higher ups. Be it in a team of 1000 or 50 people, being in the top quartile gets you a guaranteed tete-a-tete with “THE BOSS”!

Geographical Understanding – Although I was born and brought up in Chennai, I never understood the geography of the city quite like I understood it when I started my first sales role. From knowing the secret routes to gaining ability to interpret directions (most likely received verbally from junta on road) I learnt the art of travelling through a city. Even in my second stint, where I handled a relatively small territory of five districts, the learning of the places, the modes of travel, exact places where you find roads (and not potholes), understanding of maps and shortcuts have been great takeaways.

Starting from scratch – No matter how your “Month-End” has been you always start the next with a “0”. The scoreboard is cleaned up and you need to run again. This particular learning has helped me immensely not just in business but life in general (had to get philosophical at some point). You could have been a star on the 31st and celebrated with a few beers or you could have been on zero the entire month and drank a few beers anyway (in depression) but on the 1st you are back on the starting line. It lets you move on, from your zone of comfort or discomfort and start afresh again and again and again, till it becomes a habit.

Growth and learning – My greatest learning comes from meeting and interacting with people from various walks of life. The last four years in this respect have contributed immensely to my learning curve hence making it very important to me. (I need to mention here that I have been in direct B2C and B2B sales where I have interacted with customers and users of the product/services directly). I have had the good fortune of interacting with people from industrialists to teachers from corporate honchos to fresh recruits from NRIs to farmers (and sometimes the not so good fortune also of meeting people with abysmally low IQ and EQ levels). Each of these engagements has been extremely enriching to say the least.

Business Perspective – In my view there is no other function that can give a better view of how the business runs than sales. As a sales person I interacted with almost all functions of the business - Marketing: salespeople are their direct customers; Operations: Only then is it possible to make relatively realistic promises to clients; Finance: They do not spare you unless you have your receivables all collected and kept in the bank. Now that I am spear heading our own business from scratch, I can understand most aspects of how a business runs thanks to my experience and in-turn also able to apply this learning to our clients businesses; because at the end of it I have realized that no outflow is justified if it cannot bring in the necessary inflow.

Staying the difficult times - The most important learning – to face customers when all goes wrong. I worked in the financial products sales from April 2007 to Aug 2009. The market levels during this period resemble an erratic ECG graph of a person during heart attack. It is not easy to talk to someone when you know that it any small way you are perhaps responsible for their wealth and hard earned savings becoming one third the value. But I did and I learnt my most important learning – people buy from people and stay with people. Most people have a bigger heart than we think and at the end each one respects that you have stayed the most difficult period and that’s mostly what matters and helps build some of the most cherished relationships.

All the pressure, the tensions, the rejections and the difficult conversations notwithstanding, the last four years have been a great experience (and some great money too – Incentives!!). Try your hand at sales atleast once, I guarantee you your own set of wonderful experiences. Happy Selling!

Author – Team Inception

Categories: Lessons, Marketing, Perspective, Rejection, Sales, Target, achievement, Business, communication, Corporate Sales, Empathy, Learning, Month Ends, Sales Pressure

Customer Service: Going the extra “inch” - Team Blog#1

Team Blog by Pavithra Chara - Partner @ IBS
Customer Service is an area that always intrigues me and I enjoy observing the widely varying levels of customer service in my interactions with different product and service companies.  There is always debate on whether the extra mile that some companies choose to travel in the name of customer service is really worth the effort - that is, does it translate into customer loyalty, brand preference or free word of mouth recommendations and so on. When the extra “mile” is under so much debate, I dare to explore the concept of the extra “inch” – little things that cost really very little in terms of time and energy but in the customer’s perspective make a difference at some level.
Recently, I had reason to call the Toll-free customer care number of a leading Consumer Products brand. The reason was a mysterious refusal by our washing machine to power up and work that morning. As most women would appreciate, this is exactly the kind of morning one HATES to have and you can therefore imagine my mood as I made the call in for service support.

Having worked in the banking sector myself and having coaxed many customers to migrate to phone banking, I am usually quite comfortable with the typical call centre service. I quickly navigated through the IVR (Interactive Voice Response) portions and finally started speaking to a customer care person. What struck me during that phone call was that just after I explained the problem (or my interpretation of the problem!), the person actually said “Ma’m, I am really sorry for the inconvenience this must have caused you this morning”. I recognized it as a well-drafted sentence and knew it was part of the script. Yet the simple acknowledgment of my hassled morning was not lost on me. No needling to find out if I had a voltage problem, if I had actually plugged in the machine, if I was sure that there was power supply to that phase, etc – just simple acceptance that our customer has a problem before proceeding onto solving it. I actually felt that the company cared enough for its end customer or user; typically a woman who multitasks and uses as many resources (read people, machines, devices) as she can to run her household efficiently; to work this simple statement into their customer care training.

The rest of the call and the service support that followed it are also worthy of mention. The basic troubleshooting questions were covered in the call and allotment to a service engineer was completed. Interestingly, the company has a different way of measuring customer satisfaction with service calls. During the call, I was given a reference code, which I was to give to the service engineer after the problem was solved, and that too only if I was truly satisfied with the way the whole issue was handled. As soon as I hung up, I got an SMS alert with all the details I needed to follow up the request. As promised, the service engineer called me, fixed the visit time and when he arrived was competent enough to assess the problem, suggest a solution and make a follow up trip to finish the job – all within the same day!  I handed him the satisfaction code gladly. After all, in this world of unreliable service, this was a fairy tale ending.

The more I think back about this incident, the more convinced I am that the attention to small details such as the simple statement I have alluded to here do have an impact on the customer at many levels. Of course, it would have been useless if the company staff had just been polite and understanding on the phone and then not lived up to the actual service requirement. In this case the overall service framework seemed to be well organized and capacitized and hence the extra “inch” I think went a long way. Which is why instead of cribbing about a faulty washing machine I am writing a glowing report on their customer service?

The lesson in this for every company selling a product linked to a service or just a service is clear. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes and try and replicate their mood and emotion when something goes wrong with your product. Only then can you review the customer service process to see if it has the extra “inches” to deal with the customer as a person first and address the actual problem thereafter.

ERGO:  Save the slimming for other parts of your business, as for your Customer Service, simple pile on those extra “inches”.
Author – Team Inception

Categories: Marketing, Sales, communication, Consumer Durables, customer satisfaction, Customer Service, extra mile



see all