In sales one of the early skills that you need to pick up is the ability to interact with the Secretary who manages and controls critical access to the super boss who is usually over-worked and has a long priority list on which you are likely to figure near the bottom or worse be even out of sight.
Young sales managers have an inflated sense of confidence where they see themselves charming the way across the Boardroom – little to they imagine that Secretaries are on the ball and they dislike nothing more than a ‘smarmy approach’ to get things moving.
In my early career I worked with an MNC finance company and we were in the business of financing two-wheeler loans to retail customers. A typical sales structure would involve using a sales force provided by a ‘Direct Sales Agency’ (DSA) to pitch the loan product to potential customers visiting the dealership and then ensure a quick and smooth completion of loan formalities. The other leg of the business involved developing relationship with the Dealers and doing promotional activities to push the sales volumes as well as the finance penetration in the same.
One tool that helped us leverage the relationship across the year was the availability of ‘Dealer Funding’ or ‘Inventory Finance’ that we would offer dealers to help them buffer up stock during key festival season and beef up their sales volumes. The financed amount contracted to the Dealer would be netted off against the loans financed by us. At the end of the stipulated period the netting off would ensure that the inventory finance had been fully liquidated or the dealer would return the funds left in the balance. The deal then also involved certain charges to cover the ‘cost of providing’ the funding.
Dealerships owners too were busy men and the paperwork could bog them down a bit. In such areas the Manager or the Secretary would play a key role in ensuring that things were running smooth. As a young rookie manager I had been assigned one of the smaller dealership for oversight of the IF arrangement. It might sound big but the nitty-gritty were fairly menial in nature – I took the company approved documents to the dealership for review and sign off. I then returned the original to our Finance department. Then during the funding period, I ensured regular updation of statements to ensure everyone could track the current status of the funding.
It involved a lot of coordination at the dealership and I ended up having to spend time with the Secretary on a daily basis. We would review the sale numbers and revise the IF balance everyday for the reference of our bosses. The showroom would keenly follow on completion of every potential sale since that would reduce the IF balance – we had to ensure that this was facilitated by ensuring prompt completion of all loan formalities. Invariably there would be few cases with some hitches and delays, it was important to find a mutually acceptable solution for such cases.
Ms. Sequeira (obviously it is not her real name) was in her late-thirties and had been working with the dealership for over 15 years now. She was well versed with their finances and had full knowledge of the business. She was known to be very strict and a stickler for discipline. I was a bit nervous about having to coordinate with her, but things became more comfortable once she realized that I knew my job.
She marveled at the manner in which our company could entrust critical jobs to rather young people – I was still in my early 20s and had been working with the company for only about a year. And she also derided the tendency amongst the youngsters for being impatient and still hopping jobs. It seemed a bit difficult to convince her that the private sector’s allure for a young man sure of himself was the opportunities that it offered for quick growth and learning. We tended to look at jobs as short-term assignments that had to lead to bigger things eventually.
Eventually she opened up enough to confide in me about her own experiences. She had started as a typist in the organization and had moved up to her current position by sheer dint of effort and loyalty. She had done a basic graduation in Commerce and did not hold a fancy MBA degree. She was not even familiar with computer initially, but with every change she had put her hand up to volunteer for training and eventually added the skill to her repertoire.
She stayed with the ageing mother and her life revolved around the showroom. She had little time to pursue her hobbies but we discovered a common interest in reading P D Wodehouse and Jane Austen. She was a bit surprised to find someone interested in reading as most of the youngsters spent time socializing and watching movies. At most they liked to use the internet and were into gaming and chatting.
We worked very closely for a while and that led to learning more about each other. And one day out of the blue she told me that life is about tough decisions and at about my age she had decided not to marry. She just wanted to take care of her ageing mother and she wanted to be financially secure and independent early in her life. That one decision had shaped everything in life for her and had led to her current situation. She had achieved her ambition but she knew she had paid a price for it as well.
I expected her to be a bit embarrassed about sharing such personal details. But she winked and smiled to say, ‘It would have been rather awkward to share with a friend or relative as I would have to continue the relationship and this could impact it. With you it is no worries as you will disappear from here now since the project is nearly over.’ She had been a shrewd judge of the circumstances after all since that was precisely happened in a matter of few weeks since she spoke to me about the same.All the same it also was an early lesson in life that choices have consequences and you need to pay the price of exercising your free will.In some ways it was sad to note that her urge to confide about such an intense emotion, the only outlet available was a person who was fleetingly a part of her life.