Thursday, June 04, 2009

Why Am I A Salesman? - A Tag

This is in response to Mad Momma's tag, on why we became what we have become.

Truth be told, I never thought of becoming a salesman.

When I enrolled into b-school (a necessity since I was unemployable as an engineer), I lied through my teeth in the interviews. I claimed to be an Operations & Systems enthusiast as I 'wanted to build on the knowledge base of my graduation'. What base? I can hear my Engineering classmates asking as they die laughing!
Well, I said it purely because I thought I could 'defend' it if questioned further.
My father harboured hopes of a Finance specialisation because ever since an Eureka Forbes salesman woke him up from a Sunday siesta, he did not wish a 'Sales & Marketing' career upon his worst enemy.
I, myself, had no effing clue.

Within two weeks of joining class, I knew exactly what I did NOT want to become.
Operations and Systems were out because of my traumatic graduation experience. HR was not available as a specialisation. Finance ruled itself out, thanks to a particularly charismatic teacher who insisted on taking surprise tests on days after campus parties!
That let me with Marketing but I was told negative choices are always the worst choices. And this brought a sense of foreboding.
However, when I started reading some of the books prescribed for the initial courses, I was pleasantly surprised that I was enjoying reading a text book for the first time in my life. And very soon, all the guys whom I was enjoying having drinks with turned out to be crazy about Marketing as well.

It has been a decade since I graduated but I remember almost all my projects and several of the better classes quite vividly.
Developing Advertising for Bacardi. Consumer Behaviour of the cinema-going audience of India. An iconic professor bringing alive an Industrial Marketing class. A new way of measuring advertising effectiveness. Some memorable pieces of advertising.
After all that, it never occurred to me that I should even be applying for jobs in banks and consulting companies. Truth be told, I wouldn't have got jobs there even if I did!

Within 7 days of starting my first-ever full-time job, I was on the northernmost edges of Chennai trying to sell toilet cleaners and shoe polishes to New Demeris Store.
Within 15 days of reaching Chennai, I was changing local trains at Basin Bridge junction, arguing with auto drivers in Veerugambakkam, head-butting distributors in Anna Nagar and tearing up Savlon posters in Ambattur!
Throughout my Chennai stint - which was my baptism into Sales - I was so pooped that I hardly had time to take off my shoes before I fell asleep. As my ferocious boss (who turned out to be quite nice AFTER the stint ended) used to say, "A good MT stint should make you want to leave the job but leave you with no time to look for another!"
Post my action-packed stint in Chennai and North TN (populated by distributors whose names translated as Big Dick!), I was inflicted with a curious version of the Stockholm Syndrome.I hated Sales but I hated the other options even more.
I remember being lured by a job in the then-booming dotcom industry - as a Content Manager of a portal, which did not last long enough for me to land up for an interview!

Post Chennai, I went to Andhra Pradesh - the land of chillies and Chiranjeevi. Again, I was traipsing around Naxal-infested, drought-affected, heat wave-impacted districts - collecting drafts and despatching soap to Rao & Reddy of Rayalseema.
By this time, my intention to leave Sales had reduced. I was spending the Sundays drinking with friends in Hyderabad, Mondays giving excuses to my boss and the remaining 5 days in places with unpronounceable names. This was fun, especially if you had distributors who had names like Gattu Malaiah Nagaraja Chetty or owned restaurants that made the most amazing Guntur Chicken and who allowed you to send them large quantities of fabric whitener to meet monthly targets.
It is during this stint that I wrote this piece in one inspired burst at a Cuddapah cyber-cafe. As I glance through it nine years on, I am unable to make out who would have liked this - people in sales or out of it?

Any shreds of doubt I may have harboured in my mind about a career in Sales & Marketing vanished the moment I entered the Patna godown of my company as a freshly confirmed Area Sales Manager. The guard stood up and gave me a cracking salute!
People have strange reasons for doing strange things, which they are loath to admit. But to be perfectly honest, the communal standing-up of the staff whenever ASM-saheb entered was a very important reason for me. That - and the Murgh Malai Kabab at Hotel Chanakya.
It is in the United States of Bihar (including today's Jharkhand as well) that I became a hard-nosed salesman who saw it all. Kidnapped distributors. Rifles at contract terminations. Diverted trucks. Bounced DDs. I saw it all with a childish glee. And wrote about it as well.

From Bihar to Bengal to Bangalore to Hyderabad, I sold soap, mosquito repellants, soft drinks and coconut oil. Some where in the middle of it, I counted 56 months of selling. Many well-wishers condoled this milestone. Most of my friends congratulated me because they saw me having a lot fun on the job!
Of course, riding pillion on a bike in the rain while following a soft-drink truck in Whitefield is not too many people's idea of fun. But it is mine... so there!

From frontline sales, I drfited to other roles (which are kept reserved for older people) in sales and eventually into Marketing.
I now sell newspapers to unsuspecting souls in Delhi, which unfortunately does not include my in-laws. When I accepted this job, my wife harboured deep suspicions that I may be riding pillion on a bicycle at 4 AM as the paper-vendor goes around throwing paper in balconies. But that's clearly not how it works.

So, what kept me in Sales & Marketing?
The most important reason is, of course, that I have reached a state where I thank my lucky stars that I love doing what I do because I have now become unemployable in other jobs.

Also, this is one job that never gets the limelight but never the sack either. So, when hot-shot I-bankers careen wildly between million dollar bonuses and bankruptcy filings, Brand Managers of soaps & oils remain solidly in a band of 10% growth in sales volumes, salary increase and body weight. Even if we did have the brains to trade in currencies & commodities, we certainly don't have the balls!

The third reason is probably that in no other profession do you get to meet so many interesting (read: crazy) people and go to so many exotic (read: inhabitable) places. In all my sales stints, I used to churn out monthly newsletters, which got forwarded far and wide. The people who complimented me for my imagination probably never realised that I was reporting the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth!

Also, it is that Sales & Marketing is all about giving people a choice.

If you are bored of a sticky oil, we will give you a lighter one. If you are not happy with an overpriced floor cleaner, we will give you a cheaper one. If you like your newspaper to be intelligent, we have just the one for you.

Even if you don't know what you want, we will try to give you one of that as well. Seriously. How many of you wanted a Zoozoo before you saw one?


Yayaver said...

never have anyone sketched the job of sales and marketing with such a unique and pecuilar way. Bravo for this post. But u could have better paid bollywood journalist or box office trade analyst also. i am sure for previous jobs are suitable for you due to yours encyclopediac knowledge and command on language..Great post.

DivSu said...

Hi Diptakirti

I've been enjoying reading your blogs for quite some time now but never left a comment. After this post I just had to, since this sounds so much like my husband's story :) Incidentally, he found one of your posts on my feeds sometime back and traced you back mentally to having common roots. Not sure if you might remember him, Subhash, IIM-C, 2000 batch, into Reckitts as MT and later worked in North India with Reckitts for 3 years. Rings a bell??

the mad momma said...

"when hot-shot I-bankers careen wildly between million dollar bonuses and bankruptcy filings"

You bet dude... you bet.

Thanks for doing the tag. I KNEW you'd be the right person to pick.

Gautam Ghosh said...

Brilliant one.

Finally I get to link to a post of yours, as well it talks about career choices ;-)

Am going to Lucknow for a week from 9th to 16th June. Are you visiting?
Since we don't meet in Dilli at all :D

sumana001 said...

Your best post ever. This has the seed of a bestselling novel, I tell you. Seriously.

The Theme said...

brilliant, Dipta!
amazing post!

White Magpie said...

Absolutely. Those toughened on front line sales esp FMCG never loosen up. It's a good alternative for the one year compulsory military stuff they have in the West for young uns. I had a whale of a time in my sales days across North. Somehow selling concepts these days is not the same but can't think of getting out of sales.

iz said...

I love this. You make me want to go to remote places and meet these characters.

Sudeep said...


d_grail said...

Loved my MT sales stint,it was the most fun and work I ever did.

Then I came back to the "systems" job I was recruited for.
Many a times,I think about the switch.

been reading your blog for long.had to delurk today.

rakuboy said...

absolutley true to the core...
was feeling sick of my ASM job and was contemplating to quit the line altogether... am now thinking otherwise...

sudin said...


Spirited_soul said...

Hi Diptakirti
i am a first time visitor on your blog,but reading your posts made me your fan boss.Superb posts,and quite insightful. I have just entered a Bschool and planning to take up Marketing,and all your marketing and sales posts really had a lot of "gyaan" in them.....lovely writing style

Gyanban said...

Once a bad putty cath allllways a bad putty said tweety!

In my tryst of being a successful sales guy I realized one should not bring the skill back home.!You can take it to anywhere else on the planet.