March 2018

7 Step Rule Book to Master the Art of Sales

7 Step Rule Book to Master the Art of Sales

When I had started thinking about my career, someone suggested me to spend at least a year in ‘sales’. He advised me that sales function’s exposure makes the man “A Gentleman”. It helps the person to appreciate other’s point of view, build up and tell your story, handle rejection, navigate your way to success despite challenges and teaches you “patience”. This message left an ever lasting impact on my mind and career. Being a salesman first and storyteller second, I look forward to meet the doyens of my stream, talk to them and learn from them.

Recently, I got an opportunity to meet Mr. Syed A Asim, Director, DeBox Global; a seasoned sales professional with more than two decades of experience, expertise and success in IT Sales. His illustrious career journey includes heading sales and business function for technology companies; Financial Technologies Pvt. Ltd., Dion Global Solutions Ltd. and Bonton Group of Companies to name a few.

Though we talked on different topics of concern and interest, but the learnings which I got from him about sales in general and IT sales in particular was most beneficial for me and I am sure it will be the same for my readers. So, let’s just jump into it without wasting any more time.

Mukul: You are a doyen of IT Sales in India and rightfully so, because you have successfully spent close to two decades at Sr. Management positions in IT sales. What according to you is the present character of IT industry and sales? What are the challenges and opportunities?

Syed Asim: A Salesperson enjoys these kinds of tags like ‘doyen’ or ‘you know how to make your customers pay’, but I don’t take these words seriously. My idea of sales doesn’t start and end with taking money from someone’s pocket. For me, building trust and maintaining it is more important than just selling a product or service. If you start the sales process with the idea of ‘money’, then you are limiting your reach to just one customer whom you are targeting. But if you start your sales process with the idea of building ‘trust’ then your customer will become your evangelist.

The big mistake people make while trying to understand IT industry is that they take it as a standalone business vertical, which it is not. This may sound contradictory because there are so many companies which are doing nothing except creating IT product and services and selling it.

IT is an ‘enabler’ and it must be seen this way only. Whether it is doing good or bad depends upon the good or bad of the industry whose processes it is enabling. So, if all other sectors and industries which an IT company can serve are doing good, then IT industry will automatically do well.

What has changed over the period of time is awareness and acceptance. Earlier there was very little to no awareness of what IT can do and there was resistance to acceptance too. This was the era when people believed in doing everything of their own.

IT sales started as concept selling. Entire concept was needed to be spoon fed to the customer. Now there is awareness as well as acceptance. In fact, some people go overboard with their dependency on IT. They think that it can do some magic and solve all their problems. I am not saying that it is bad for the industry, but in my opinion, it should be seen that, at what cost it is coming. If the cost of solution is more than the business itself, then what’s the point in getting the solution?

I came across an example where the IT team of a company was asked to give utmost priority to data security. So, the IT team instructed everyone in the office to change their passwords frequently, have alphanumeric constituents with one capital and one small letter in it and one special character. Next thing they found that all the passwords were pasted on the desktop or the board behind because the password were quite difficult to remember.

Another example I came across recently was in a village I visited and which was facing an acute problem of monkey menace. Monkeys were damaging the standing crop. The problem reached the District Magistrate and he promised a sum of Rs.1 Lakh, as if it was a big amount to find some scientific solution of the problem. Everyone got busy with finding frequency and pattern in monkey damaging the crop to designing a sound which could scare away the monkeys. An elderly from the village itself suggested that rather than breaking the head over it, they should rather bring/hire a baboon which scares away the monkeys.

My point is, the business function has to clearly understand and decide what problem they are trying to solve and at what cost. If they could decide it clearly and emphatically, then it will help their business, otherwise it will prove to be a burden.

This awareness is good also for us because it has made sales process easy and people are willing to listen, understand and come up with their own ideas. And with this acceptability and awareness, quality talent pool has also increased, which in turn has increased the quality of product and services, overall benefitting the industry.

Mukul: This brings me to my next question. IT behemoths like Infosys, Wipro etc. are reportedly facing challenges in the mature markets like USA and EU due to slowing down of some of the European economies, noise of protectionism, currency fluctuations etc. Do you think that export of IT services will continue to dominate the sales book of IT companies or will they look inward for revenues?

Syed Asim: It’s not that Indian IT companies were not looking inwards for the revenue; they were. But since the revenue per unit was so small as compared to mature markets you named, they had no option but to look outwards and it has done great service to the country in terms of providing employment as well as earning foreign exchange.

Now, due to increased awareness and acceptance at every level of the society, domestic market is also poised to grow very big. The idea of ‘Smart Cities’ and ‘Model Villages’ and big push for infrastructure will provide huge opportunity for the IT companies, domestic as well as foreign and more so if entire plan is executed with transparency. Not only the government expenditure on these plans, but multiplier effect of these expenditures and increase in economic activity due to it will continue to push the domestic demand of IT product and services.

Efforts like demonetization has also forced the end users and companies alike to shift from cash transactions to cashless transactions, which in turn has invigorated the demand for IT products and services. So, there are a lot of things happening which indicate positive future for domestic market of IT products and services. But till the time it takes a proper shape, exports will continue to dominate the sales book.

Mukul: Of late, Indian companies have been forced to move from one business scenario to another due to various factors like technological advancement or disruption from a powerful competitor. For example, before Telecom operators could think about how to realize the money they had invested in 3G, they had to jump start to 4G or before Organized Modern Retailers could even think of reaching operational level profit, they were fighting technological and reach superiority of Online retail. Similarly, what I am seeing that before Indian IT companies could realize full potential of IT services sale in the country, they are already battling with low revenue mobile applications business disturbing their sales register. How complex is the scenario and what should be strategy of IT companies to beat that?

Syed Asim: Mobile applications have helped to popularize the use of IT products among end consumers and it is good. But to say that it is posing a challenge to the sale of IT services is not correct. In fact, it has paved the way for bigger things in the background.

Yes, the economics and sales practices of mobile applications are certainly different from other IT products and services, but interpreting it as their challenge is wrong premise. I have told you earlier that the projects initiated by Government of India offers a great potential to IT companies if implemented with transparency. It will offer same opportunity to mobile application business and both will continue to grow in the time to come.

Mukul: India is the country of entrepreneurs and IT entrepreneurs can be found probably in every nook and corner of cities like Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Gurugram, NOIDA etc. But I feel that it is more difficult to integrate the product to market than designing and developing it. What is your take on that?

Syed Asim: A good product is something which can’t be compromised at any cost. This helps in building the trust. What you are promising to your customers must be delivered. 

But if you ask me what should be given priority, then I will say that ‘sales’ should be given priority without compromising on the product. 

So, sales first approach is always better. It helps you to design a better product according to the need of the consumers and saves cost as well, which in turn guarantees success.

Mukul: You are probably one of the few persons who not only launched an “IT product” specific to Indian market when penetration of IT knowledge was very low in the country, but made it hugely successful as well. What advice you would like to give to the entrepreneurs to create a sales funnel for their product or services and master the sales?

Syed Asim: You know, even if my customer calls me in the middle of the night, I respond to him with full attention and alacrity. I don’t let him feel that he is not welcome. Once I close a sales deal, I make it a point to address all the problems regarding the product, after sales, if there is any. I don’t end my sales process with taking money from the customer. Moreover, I don’t sell something to someone if he doesn’t need it. 

I have always approached my customers as a consultant first, and then I graduate to a guide and then a salesman. It has helped me to understand the need of customers first, then advise him about the right solution and then pitch my product. This process has helped me get the sales numbers and I am sure it will help others as well. 

Now consider if you start as a salesman first, then what will happen. You will start selling without letting your customer tell you whether he needs your product or not. What kind of impact it will have on him?

Your sales process should start with your sales introduction big enough to pack the glimpse of your offerings and small enough to let your customer have all the time to list out his needs, requirements and work. He may not know whether he needs your product or not, but once he is done with his list, you will be in a better position to guide him towards your product or services. It will allow your customer to feel respected and you to attend his questions with proper answers.

Make sure to have initial agreements on the benefits of your product with your customer before signing off the final sales deal. These small agreements will help you to repeat the benefit of your product into customer’s mind and iron out all the difference before the final sales deal is sealed. It will also save you from lots of after sales service headaches. Most of the after sales challenges arise due to mismatch between expected benefits from the customer’s side and promised and delivered benefits from seller’s side. And if any challenge emerge out even after this, then be there for your client, even if it cost you time and money. It will go a long way in building trust and establishing long term beneficial relationship. Be genuine not a fool, be honest but diplomatic, be helpful, build trust…….it will help you in sales. 

For example, if I come to you to sell a phone which may be having some shortcomings and I tell you first about the shortcomings, then would you buy it; Of course, not. If I tell you all the positives but keep quiet on shortcomings, then what will happen after sales you can very well imagine? But if I tell you all the shortcomings but I keep my focus on the positives and the positives outweigh negatives, then you will not only buy the phone but you will be a satisfied customer as well.

Mukul: Data science, AI, Robotics…. how are they going to change how we consume information technology as an end consumer or as a company doing business, whether they are into IT or not?

Syed Asim: I have told you so much….now you answer this question…... (After some silence)… Alright…… I told you in the beginning itself that IT is an enabler. Someone buying it will understand its benefit only after using it. Using big word sometime becomes fashion. People don’t want to be perceived as an ‘IT illiterate’.

Tell me one thing…. If your aunt is in hospital and she wants to see you. Will it help if you send a robot having your face and artificial intelligence and she knows that it is a robot and not you?

Mukul: No….

Syed Asim: That’s what I am saying; IT is meant to enable your job. Now it is up to you to decide in which part of your job you want to use AI.

AI is a comprehensive word and for it to work, you need a good amount of unstructured data points and experiences captured on the continuous basis. You will have to see which function of your business will fulfill these criteria, what benefit it will offer to you and your consumers once it is implemented and at what cost. Say if it is bringing down the cost of production or bringing you more consumer or increases consumer retention etc. then it is good for you.

Availability of unstructured big data points and behavioral aspects in any function means load of information to be processed by human mind, which will surely be beyond its capacity. So, it automatically warrants machine intervention. But it does not mean loss of human employment potential in that organization. For example, if a bank uses an AI enabled chatbot to handle customer grievances, then it will be able to solve these problems more efficiently and at a bigger scale. It will enable bank to utilize human resource more efficiently in the direction which can help in maximizing the revenue like acquisition of new clients or finding new opportunities with older clients.

But, Experience of these things can be felt and measured only after implementation in different functions. 

If you are selling it, then you should properly guide your customer. You must lay out all ‘if’ and ‘but’ in front of him to enable him in making the informed decision.

Mukul: One last question; will Skynet ever take over the world or there are Sarah Connor and John Connor to save the world from it? Or John Connor will be co-opted by Skynet and there will be no Sarah Connor to kill him before he is co-opted?

Syed Asim: I understand from where you are coming. I have seen the movie. A possibility has been explored were robots fitted with collective artificial intelligence group takes control of its own evolution and stops taking instruction from its human masters. There is an assumption in movie that in the days to come, we will be dependent completely on technology and artificial intelligence in all spheres of life.

So far, this assumption is not completely off the mark, but at the same time, it is also getting accepted that too much dependency on technology can lead to disasters. Data Security and related theft to name one is a case in point. There are voices of caution from no less than Elon Musk.

There is law of equilibrium which need not be breached. If it is breached then it automatically corrects the course and brings it back to the equilibrium; sometimes coupled with disaster. Whenever there will be an extreme push in one direction, there will be pull back for sure. So, I personally don’t see a possibility of Skynet taking over the world.

All these things are still futuristic and evolving to give it a decent picture. Till that time, we must enjoy all the technological advancements we can achieve……and not to forget these challenges will throw up abundant opportunities for people who are developing it and selling it. So, I see it more as a good opportunity than anything else!!

Now, let’s quickly wrap it up….. My Rule Book of Sales has the following lessons:

  • Introduction: Long enough to excite your customers and small enough to allow your customers sufficient time to talk about their work, needs and requirements. Your transition from a speaker to a listener should be real quick. Also, it will make the customer feel respected.
  • Understanding: A clear cut understanding of the customer’s requirements, your own product and it’s fitment to address the identified requirement. This will make the customer feel that his views are appreciated and his problems are being addressed. He will not have the feeling of being told off.
  • Honesty: Honesty in approach to address the customer’s problems and fulfill requirements. It would be right to list out the shortcomings of your product, but put greater emphasis on its positive qualities and abilities to solve the customer’s problems. It will build trust.
  • Affirmations: Small affirmations need to be collected to every query raised by the customer and addressed by the product. This will imprint positivity about your product or services in customer’s mind. Here, your transformation from active and patient listener to a consultant and guide must be real quick and smooth. It will strengthen the root of trust and sow the seed of mutually beneficial business relationship.
  • Pre-closure of sales: Before signing off, run through all the affirmations of the customer quickly so that he is convinced that all his concerns are being taken care off. From here your role as a salesman starts…….. Pitch the price here….. Since the customer will be convinced about the product’s ability to solve his problems, hence he would not like to lose it and will zero down on your product.
  • Closure of Sales: When everything is agreed upon, then move fast to close the sales.
  • Be there for your customer even after sales: If you are there for your customers even after sales, it will give you more customers without any extra effort, because your satisfied customers will become your evangelist. They will not only talk about your product in their circle, but even pitch it on your behalf.
I hope all your questions are answered. 

Mukul: Yes Sir... You have given my readers a practical guide of becoming a better salesman. Thanks a lot for your valuable time and sharing your experience with us. 

Personal Branding Why

Personal Branding: Why?

This story is bit old though totally relevant to everyone. It was early 2008 and I had joined the food retail business at middle management level of a leading business house of the country, having their interest in cement, chemicals, apparel, commodities, mutual fund and many things more. Though I was part of Category Management team, but as a part of my induction program, I had to go through training at couple of stores for three days. It was early days of the business, that’s why, probably some of the things from the “must have” list were not in place.

In the evening of one of those three days, I was standing in one corner of one of the store assigned for the training. Suddenly I heard someone shouting at one of our Customer Service Associate. I rushed there to understand and solve the problem, because, after all, despite being the new employee, I was a senior level person having authority over many such stores. As I reached there, harried and insulted CSA hid behind me and explained the situation. I tried to calm down the customer by assuring him prompt action on his complaints. This particular situation was definitely the result of poor or no communication between store and category team. Though customer’s anger was justified, but poor CSA had no control over this situation. Customer was unplacable and I had a serious task in my hand. I had to show my team down there that I can not only handle the situation but act like a leader and solve their problem. In order to calm the customer down, I said, “Sir, I understand that our team somewhere has failed us, but this is a big company, a big brand promoted by a very big business name, not only in this country but in world as well. I request you have trust in that name, if not in us.” Hearing this, he promptly said, “Yes, I trust that name and that’s why I keep coming to the store despite not finding the services up to the mark and yes, I don’t trust the people like you who jump from one organization to another for few lakh rupees. For people like you, it’s the next car, next vacation, next big thing matters but not the loyalty and trust.”

His diatribe against professionals like us was totally uncalled for, but I somehow managed to calm him down. At that point of time, one point struck me very hard and that point was we all, the employees of the organization, were working really very hard make this business take shape, succeed, make shopping experience of our customers pleasant, but for any failure like above mentioned, it is only the people on the ground and like us are getting blamed and not the top boss. First strike of this point was disheartening, but second strike was enlightening. The man, the business owner, had an unassailable name built over years and through generations. They have stood for certain values, come what may, over all these periods and throughout many generations. And that’s what has made his audience trust his name so inexplicably.

A brand is just not a name, or a picture or a sign; it is a communication of certain values and certain benefits, which helps the people in solving their day to day or long term problem and helps them grow for betterment. And if this communication is for the person, then when established, helps in tiding over many troubled phases. ‘Nano’ car project failed, but no one questions the strength of ‘Tata’ brand, several of spaceships could not take off, but no one questions the innovative skills of Elon Musk. You may find many such cases, where the brand of business owner helps the actual business to tide over troubled times.  That’s why building a personal brand is very necessary in these days of ever changing life and business scenario, where nothing else is permanent. We all are now forced to be in startup mode all the time, mostly by technological upheaval taking place all the time. Casually we are creating our personal brand when we write our resume, create our LinkedIn profile, post updates on Facebook or Tweet, but are we making a serious effort to do it properly is a big question. A casual effort will always yield casual result. This leads us to know that why some personal brands are much more powerful than rest of the lot.

Personal brand is very important arsenal to win over the competition and will gain more prominence in coming days because period of long employment has long gone. No organization will have the time to assess all the skills of its employees, nor it will have the business interest. Technology will keep forcing them to innovate and as the innovation will continue, demand for new skills will keep emerging, forcing the earlier one out of the system.       

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