05 Apr 2021 22:02 IST

From B-school to life as a salesperson: What do you look out for?

A sales job toughens one like none other does. It shapes individuals. Here are some practical tips to handle it

I enter the classroom and sense an apprehension while teaching concepts of sales management. I’ve watched anxious faces year after year, teaching a subject that most students approach with fear and helplessness. Sales and Distribution Management isn’t an easy course to teach I say (and I hope my peers across B-schools who teach it, agree). Through case studies, field visits, live projects, guest sessions and class discussions we wade through the course.

Yet I worry. And here I am, like every year, at the end of every batch’s journey talking about what to look out for and how to avoid any pitfalls.

Life at a B-school is rather stressful in bits, fun, safe and protected. For those of you getting into the sales function, let me begin by stating that a sales job toughens one like none other does. It shapes individuals. Newcomers fear it more so because there are clear measurable outcomes, and elements that may not be totally in our control. Many days there will be a sense of inevitability.

So here I am thinking as I put this together, how do I give practical tips without being preachy? Well anyway, here goes:

Try and try hard to love most things that come your way: Travel, location, accommodation, surroundings and local challenges. What is a better way to live life than keep travelling, going to new places from upcountry towns to deep rural tehsils? There is a joy in discovering new places, meeting different people and soaking in a culture different from one’s own. But the best part for me has been discovering varied cuisines. Food can be the biggest bond between people. And it has helped me to no end. So, try and resist judging even before you attempt loving most things that come your way!

Physically strong and emotionally resilient

* Eat: I grew up hating breakfast. I believed people who ate so much in the mornings were weird. But being out there in the field cured me. I couldn’t afford to become hypoglycemic when facing a distributor in the heartland of Gorakhpur! I needed the strength. It taught me that physical well-being fed into emotional strength.

* Exercise: I’ve learnt this the hard way. Life kicked me in the face to teach me this, so learn I did. I’ll say no more.

* Strength of character: Believe what you are doing is important. And it is. Know that your team is important and each member is a human being. Treat them such. Emotional resilience is a gift of practising balance, consistency and a calm approach in times of crisis. And sales will give you plenty of opportunity to test these.

Circle of strength for the lonely and hard times

Your best companion is you. Many of you are likely to be posted in upcountry towns and may yearn for company. This is the time to find yourself. This is only partly meant to be philosophical, it is more practical. Start becoming comfortable with yourself. If you already are, then lucky you.

Your best companion are books too. You are a lucky generation — ebooks, audio books and good old physical pages, you have it all. I have always carried a ‘mini’ (small physical dimension for ease of carrying) book with me, lest I have to wait at client locations. I used to also carry miniature Tangrams and Sudokus in my bag. Waiting time became less of an irritant and I gained. Try it.

It’s the job and not you! Facing rejection isn’t easy. So, each time you fail to make that sale and the boss is blaring away, remember this: introspect, get the basics right, pick up the strength and get on with it.

Circle of strength. This might surprise you in its potency. A short list of go-to people in your life will give you a power that has such immense force. These are folks who don’t hesitate to praise or reprimand you. They are objective and believe in your growth. Don’t hesitate, use this circle.

Learn the language

Sales parlance. This isn’t going to be hard. The job will ensure it, so I’ll skip to the next.

The ‘other’ sales parlance. I’ve been asked this often by students — ‘do we need to speak ‘the language’, the ‘swear words’? Is that the only way to get work done? My response is simple — it depends on you. The choice is yours to make, as the job can be completed either way.

Regional language. This is a powerful one and my favourite. I’d say a resounding ‘yes’ to learning any number of languages. Even if the locals give you just passing marks, go for it. This one’s got a force you have no idea how big.

Leadership wherever you are

It amuses me when I watch people waiting to become certain rank holders before thinking they can lead. A sales job is unique in that it gives you an opportunity to demonstrate leadership as soon as you are ready to take on the mantle — managing your team, clients, distributor(s), DSRs and delivering numbers. Right from the word go, it forces you to think on your feet, take the impact of your decisions on the chin and be directly accountable for driving revenues. Which other function offers such a chance at the beginning of a career?

Low on ego, uncompromising self-respect, and learn to know the difference

Ego is good to have, but only if you are alone. A sales environment can be unforgiving and an ego can’t really get you anywhere. Not with your clients nor with your boss, or your colleagues. However, consider anything that plays with your self-respect as dangerous. Develop a high level of self-awareness about yourself, your positives and areas for development, but stand up for what you believe are your beliefs and values. You draw the line, don’t let others.

If some of these inputs move the needle by making you less fearful and more positive and raring to go, I’ll sleep a bit better. I realise too, that much of this applies to life beyond sales, so use it!


(Views are personal.)