Direct Sales is a very demanding role where reputations are made and lost regularly – so a campaigner who lasts the distance is a rarity and someone special. All sales teams have legends that get quoted but often most of them do not make a successful transition to the next role of the Team Leader. Ego issues often derail the plan along with the fact that team management calls for very different skills than one required to be a star campaigner.
Bhandari was the leader of our campaign and he had joined our paper from the FMCG industry. He was rather soft-spoken and often interested in getting to know each member of his team on a personal basis.
I had just joined the team when I heard two girls were complaining regarding the rigidity of the weekly sales targets and how life would be easy without the pressure it created. I stepped into the conversation wherein many were debating the role ‘luck’ played in their affairs. Many examples were given of bad luck but none wanted to say that it cut both ways. You could just get some good luck as well. It happened to me once when I was pitching to a customer who not only took the offer but got me 2 more customers in the same building.
The debate seemed headed nowhere, when I capped the discussion with a small observation, – ‘I have never heard of any sales campaign without targets’.
So the weekly sales target were like the Holy Grail for us – no one could question the set objective and inspite of any setbacks, the mission was to reach the target. In such a situation the Team Manager has to practice what is termed as ‘Tough Love’. It is easy enough to bandy the ‘pop-psychology’ term now and use it to understand the dynamics of a sales team. It didn’t make sense to divulge the same to a bunch of teenagers who were still to find their feet in the world. Counter-intuitively it seemed easier to simply command the team and it was certainly more effective. And yet I am sure, it added a lot of angst to our disoriented lives as well.
But to win the loyalty of the team you need to step in yourself when it counts. Like one week I was losing my incentive slab and desperately needed 1 more customer to reach my target. It just did not click that evening and I reached our ‘meeting-spot’ rather despondent. Bhandari was quick to sense my dejection and set about to cheer me up.
It was rather late in the evening by then and on reviewing my ‘call-backs’ we realized that there was only 1 potential conversion that I could target. It was a trendy fashion shop and the owner was a smart businessman who had treated me like dirt. He had liked our offer but did not trust me when I told him that the directory listing the shops covered under our Privilege Cards was being reviewed and the new one will be given to him by next week.
Bhandari jumped in to help. We went to the shop. The proprietor saw us and we were asked to wait. It was 10 minutes before he was free to speak to us. I fretted and told Bhandari that it was so insulting having to wait when there was no real reason. He just smiled and ignored my remark. I saw Bhandari engage the man – it was a professional pitch. The sequence went – a casual chit-chat – the cursory remarks about the business – listening to the voice of the customer and the reassurance provided to him on what he wanted. A round of chai was ordered and we knew the order was in the bag.
We returned to our ‘meeting spot’. The word had got around by then and many of my mates were interested in knowing what happened. So that order went far beyond my achieving a target slab – it cheered up our entire gang. And we had an impromptu celebration at the Gandharva restaurant. Celebrations are integral part of any sales campaign and happen at the throw of a hat. So it’s always exciting and you do not feel bad and left out for long even though 9 out of 10 people you meet everyday say ‘no’ to your offer.
Bhandari took care of me in ways I knew nothing about till later. Once I was having a rather bad week at work and returned for 3 days without any conversions. It was so embarrassing to return empty-handed to our ‘meeting spot’ every evening and to face everyone. On the fourth day some magic happened for me and I got 4 customers. It was much later that Shaunit, our star campaigner, told me that Bhandari had given me a building where the previous subscription campaign had ended only a month back and so we were likely to find many people familiar with our offer and interested in availing our scheme. He pulled me an easy favour without even telling me – talk about massaging our fragile egos.
He admitted to me once that our first meeting had been so very different. I had met him at our Sales office and traveled with him to our meeting spot. In that 1 hour he had told me more about himself than he usually did to any other stranger. But he chuckled and added that he had been warned by our trainer that I was the official ‘chatter-box’ in the team who drew one out. I must have looked hurt, so he gave me a pat on my back and added, ‘Don’t feel bad, to be able to engage a stranger and draw him out is a very useful skill to have in Sales.’
So that summer I worked for about 8 weeks and managed to sell to 96 customers. It was my first job and the performance had been consistent even though I had been a star campaigner only once. But as Bhandari was smart enough to notice, ‘He never missed the target slab even once and that is not something you can say of most of our campaigners’. I wryly added that I never ever felt that I was a natural salesman. Indeed it was quite bizarre for a shy and introverted person like me to jump into the world of Direct Sales just because I happened to see the ad in the paper.
I would like to end this tribute to my first boss in some ways by quoting what Bhandari later on explained to me and what, I guess, is a cardinal rule for any sales person. ‘Leave for your office in the morning by emptying your ego at home and filling your pockets with tons of patience.’