To sell or not to sell…

Ankita Singh | December 20,2013 04:08 pm IST

Having succeeded at one of the two rites of passage that every Indian B-school student has to go through (for the uninitiated, the rites are: a summer internship offer and the coveted final placement offer), I made my way with some trepidation to the orientation session at the Pune office of IDBI Federal Life Insurance. It did not help that I had chosen exactly the same day to achieve the impossible feat of reaching late at the bus stop and choosing the wrong bus to take me to the destination.

Woebegone and with a hopeless look plastered on my face I entered the room where a sales officer was briefing the rest of the nattily dressed (and on-time) fellow interns. After a sheepish greeting to our mentor I sat down to listen to what the following two months were going to be. The mentor, to his credit, dispelled the clouds of twittering birds around my head and got me to focus on the session.

With the fresh enthusiasm a marketing first year is always infused with, I drunk the details of the product (an insurance policy) that we had been entrusted to analyse. And analysis was just the cake-the cherry was achieving a sales target (I am tempted to use the iceberg analogy but heck, why discourage at the start itself). With the entire game plan charted in my head (or so I thought) I nodded away feverishly to all the requirements. The other world weary interns (you see, years of having to deal with bosses blunts many a fresh edge) did not quite share the next-best-thing-to-baked-bread expression I had on my face and warned me of the perils that lay ahead. But Joan ofArc I was and I set about slaying the proverbial enemy.

I had not calculated however, the extent of the might of this enemy. As it turned out, we had to deal with a shapeless entity that no one was prepared for. Before I get bashed up for the excessive mythological references, let me explain. My organisation had chosen to make the task of selling the policies doubly difficult by not giving us any leads. Now leads, for all the summa cum laude engineering readers out there, are not the leads of the battery you have fixed to impress your mere mortal of a science girlfriend. The leads I am taking about are those prospects that an organisation hands over to the sales guy, to siphon out/persuade/cajole possible buyers from. These prospects are more often than not, past customers of the same organisation and depending on the experience they have had, one can either get an earful of invented and un-invented abuses or an armful of buyers.

But, we, fortunately or unfortunately, had to do nothing with these fantastical creatures. What we had to do instead, was to sell to people we knew or we thought we knew and persuade them that our policy was the panacea for all their ills. As this did not seem like such a mighty challenge, I picked up the phone and set about putting my negotiation skills to test.

I have heard tales about how the first sales call defines the future ones. I had been told to maintain my calm whatever the situation may be. But nothing, absolutely nothing, can prepare you for that first experience. You simply have to take the plunge and either come up smelling like roses or go down defying Archimedes. What happened to me? Well. At first I thought I had hit the jackpot as the person I spoke to seemed interested. But that’s the catch. The interest is a double edged sword. It could either mean that the customers is either feeling it or faking it as they would say. It turned out to be the latter and I remember the utter bewilderment with which I greeted the news of his refusal a month later. The latter calls went about in quite the same way. I used to experience an initial high which any self-respecting homo-sapiens would, when praised about the articulation skills of the afore-mentioned. My high would last for just about a few days after that and the dramatic low would come with the apologetic mail/call/ blank noise (which was basically a noise from my end and a wall at the other).

Eventually, after two months of a painful validation of my pathetic selling skills in the presence of my parents, the internship ended with just a certificate to show that I had indeed tried and tried hard to overcome the wave after wave of refusals that had washed over me. To say I was disappointed was a mighty understatement. I thought I had met my Waterloo and a Marketing career would spell my doom.

Today, with the benefit of hindsight and a course of Sales Management where a venerated faculty discouraged and encouraged our batch in equal measure, I am now in a place to lay down a few commandments that could help future Joans and Napoleons in crossing this moat and emerging victorious.

1. Thou shalt not be Complacent:

Complacency kills and how. Had I been a bit less complacent and a bit less heady with the fulsome praise being thrown my way, I could have separated the wheat from the chaff, done my homework and could have tapped a gap that I saw existed in the potential customer’s policy portfolio.

2. Thou Shalt Do Your Homework:

Practice makes perfect is an adage that I have for long scoffed at. The fact that I am writing this article oneday before my exams is a blaring testimony to that. But sales, apart from those bloated terms like creativity, ingenuity and innovation (couldn’t resist, I am reading HBR these days) are also about preparation before an actual sales call. Understanding what the customer’s needs are and fitting your product in one of the gaps that you have spied is an essential attribute of a successful sales call. How you sell that gap plugger is where the above mentioned fancy terms come into play.

3. Thou Shalt Get Over That Chip:

My mother had an excellent piece of advice that unfortunately was like pearls before swine. She had this idea that I should approach as many people I can-during walks, during running of errands, during basically any outside activity that I was indulging in. I, however, deigned not to and hoped that as a bona-fide Top B-School student, the customers would come to me and all I would do is award the best the policy. Unfortunately, my theories are, more often than not, light years away from reality. The reality hit me like a Rajdhani Express and all I could do was stare ( yes, no preparation before that too).

4. Thou Shalt Not Let This Define You:


A second year student of PGDM-FT at IMT Ghaziabad, she prefer to let her words do the talking.  ...