Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ten Lessons from Rocket Singh: Salesman of the Year

Note: This was written as part of Inside IIM's Movies & Management series this week. You can read everyone's views and participate in the discussions here: 

Rocket Singh - Salesman of the Year is one movie I loved watching, and continue watching even today! A movie with a heart, it had some brilliant performances and messages in it. 

From a management or a sales perspective, here are my Ten Lessons from the movie

1. You don't quit the company, you quit your boss: While the entire culture of the company had been in a negative spiral with bribery and poor service rampant, a sympathetic boss who was working towards changing the culture and making a difference might have resulted in Harpreet (Rocket Singh/Ranbir Kapoor) staying on in the company. Bad bosses often are the reason why people change their jobs, and it is the same case here as Rocket's boss is hell bent on insulting him and taking his case at every opportunity, from calling him a zero to reprimanding him in front of others.

2. The ability to think on your feet - When Nitin (Naveen Kaushik) finds out about the business that Rocket is running under his nose, and confronts the Rocket Sales Corp team, Rocket Singh displays the quick thinking that every salesman needs to display very quickly in his career - the knack of converting a bad situation into an opportunity by thinking on your feet. He goes on to offer a partnership to Nitin as well, and manages to convince him to join the team and work with Rocket Sales Corp. rather than AYS. Even in my short sales career so far, I have faced a couple of situations like these with retailers/customers and rather than apologising, it is better to convert the issue into an opportunity to serve him better, and blow him off his feet.

3. Partner rather than Employee - In the scene where Rocket talks to his friend, Girish (D. Santosh) about expanding Rocket Sales Corp by adding a new partner - the Chaiwaala - Chhotelal Mishra (Mukesh Bhatt); his friend is astounded that he was going to make the Chaiwaala into a partner in the company. 

Rocket replies to this saying, "If he can do the work of a partner, why can't he be one." This gesture by Rocket goes a long way in gaining the trust of the Chaiwaala, who goes on to play an important role in ensuring that Nitin does not blow the roof on their undercover operation; and made sure that everyone had that sense of belonging-ness in the company, rather than being just another salaried employee. 

4. Don't hesitate to learn from people below you in the general hierarchy - Harpreet/Rocket in the movie, allows the Office boy/Chaiwaala to do the work of a computer assembly guy. Something that people with king sized egos might not have allowed. “Woh kaise kar sakta hai mera kaam. What does he know”, is the attitude people generally display in such situations. 

People in sales or any line of work, make the mistake of underestimating or demeaning their subordinates under the impression that they aren't as good as them. That high horse is something that people should attempt to get down from, and accept that there are people lower down who might be as good or better than them, and having a Diploma from a management institute does not make them better than these guys. People, in my opinion, should be ready to learn from anyone; and accept the fact that there are others who are as good as them and respect them for that. 

5. Establishing trust by going out of the way - More than your capability, it is the trust that you build with your clients that generates the business for you, especially in B2B situations. This one is beautifully displayed at two points in the movie. Rocket's first major order - where he says he will service them in the night, and does the same; establishes his reputation and leads to his second order. 

Even at that time, Rocket is goes out of the way to sign a two way deal with his client, which might have led to a major financial loss to him if he hadn't accomplished his promise; in order to just win the trust of the client. And it was this trust and rapport that he built with his clients that served his company more, and led to its downfall when it was forcefully taken over by AYS as they couldn't accomplish the same service levels and trust with the client. 

6. Ah well, office politics! - Something that is renowned in today's 'performance-oriented' corporate world where it is what you do that matters, and not your age. Given that people often never see what you do, there is a lot of bitterness when someone else takes the post which you think was rightfully yours. Or when you are led on with a 'carrot stick approach' saying you will get a lucrative promotion, but in the end given a kick up your back side when it finally comes to the decision. You can get a complete flavour of it in the movie, when Nitin goes ahead and picks up a new guy for the role that he had promised the receptionist (Koena played by Gauhar Khan); and tells her 'Sab log to Vice President nahi ban sakte. You need a qualification for it'

7. Diversity or eye candy? - 'Tu waise saamne hi bait. Teri wajeh se orders hame jyaada mil jaate' (or something on those lines), tells Nitin to the Koena; indicating that she was there more as eye candy to impress the clients coming down to the office rather than for her capabilities. In today's diversity hungry corporate world, there still are plenty of incidents that come into light, where a woman is treated as eye candy in the team or is there just for the heck of it; rather than for her actual capabilities. It is quite an insult for the woman as well, that she is being picked up for something else, rather than her skills and talent!

8. Focus on making money than the customer - AYS with its market leadership position ends up in a position where it is hell bent on exploiting its dominance by squeezing money out of clients without giving them the value for the same. When Rocket enters the fray with his promise of amazing customer service, he captures the market leadership position quickly and it leads to AYS' downfall in the end. Equivalent examples from the real world can be seen in every field, where a new entrant has reached the very top just through amazing customer service, and treating the customer as their king - examples in point being IndiGo in the airline industry or Flipkart!

9. It is the people who make the brand - 'The brand had no value, sir. You were fooled. It is the people who made the brand', the Sunil Puri, AYS Chief is told. With a few dedicated people, you can build a winning brand. You can rise to the very top. But once those people are missing, the brand is lost. The brand has no value at all. Examples of this can be found in plenty of places where amazing start-ups are taken over by industry leaders, and then flounder completely; when the people who made the brand are no longer there!

10. And finally, "Jisko kuch nahi aata, woh salesman ban jaata" - This is something that many people, even in management schools feel. That sales is a career that is for laggards and not for the intellectual ones. Sales is something that can be done by anyone, and is generally for the people who can't get anywhere else.

In reality, sales is a highly demanding line of work, that requires its own skill sets - the ability to be persuasive, determination, the strength to deal with repeated failures and dead ends, people management and engagement skills and what not. And it is certainly not just for the dim-witted. 

It does take a great deal of intelligence to make someone pay higher for a product that is hardly very different from another competing product. ;-)

Friday, October 4, 2013

The First taste of Failure

“Ma’am, please! Please give me that quarter mark somewhere,” he begged, in a tone that would cause pity in even the strongest of hearts (or so he thought!).

“Dei, ask her for a quarter mark somewhere da. That’ll double into a half, and when it gets rounded off, you’ll be fine,” his neighbour told him. “After all quarter mark da. She’ll give it off somewhere. She can’t be that strict also.”  The teacher, though, did not look like one to budge. She had the reputation for being a strict one, but one of the best too; when it came to the subject. Tears welled up in his eyes.

“Dei, what da. 10th Half Yearly la Century. 12th Half Yearly la Half Century?” his friend chided him jovially. He tried, but couldn’t manage a laugh. All his mind went to was, to what if she refuses to give the quarter mark? He couldn’t even dare to imagine the disastrous turn that his life would take. How would he explain that tiny red mark in his report card to his parents? What would he tell his friends whom he would soon meet in the lunch break, who would ask him what his score was …

He had always been a high flyer, the ones typically called nerds, in his middle school days. One of the extra-sincere ones who completed all their home-work on time, had their books neatly covered in brown sheets, came to school 30 minutes ahead of time and the one taking copious notes as the teacher went on and on, about the history of the country and the freedom struggle. Math had always been his forte, and loved his numbers from a very young age. The kick that he got from having his name scrawled by his teacher for being the first in the class to solve a star mark problem was like none other, to him.

“Go for the IITs. Slog for just two years, and you’ll be set for life,” people told him. He thought things would be a cakewalk for him. And here he was, struggling to clear his school mid-term exams; and suddenly life seemed like a walk in a dark tunnel, filled with Tamil Cinema goons who were punching him from every corner. And he could see no light at the end of the tunnel either.

Seri, give me your paper. Let me see,” she said. His heart beat went up a few notches. If only she gave this reprieve, he would somehow manage things; and escape the agony of his first F grade. “What is this pa? I’ve asked you some derivation. You have written nonsense all over, and in the last line you have written the formula; and concluded in a pencil-underlined-neat- flourish ‘Thus proved’. What did you think, that I won’t read all this and give you marks?”

She turned the page over. “You’ve drawn a neat diagram. But this is not a drawing class right? That’s there in the question paper itself. You’ve just copied it out neatly. No direction of current marked. No this, no that. What can I give you here? Nothing. Even what I’ve given you right now, is way too much.”

One more turn of the paper. “What is this? You’ve copied out the question. But where’s the answer? Only a huge blank space. Wasn’t I the one invigilating your exam as well? When you asked me for an additional answer sheet so soon, I thought you were writing so much. But looks like you just rewrote the question paper with blank spaces for someone else to write the answer in!” she exclaimed. And his heart sunk. It looked like he had hit a dead end.

I should probably have listened to him and added some answer in the blank spaces that are there, and taken it to her and pretended she had missed out checking this question,” he thought to himself. He walked back dejected, and thought he’d meet the teacher once again in the evening and beg for that elusive quarter mark.

And so he did. “Ma’am. Please give me a quarter mark somewhere. I’ll pass this time. I’ll make sure this never happens again.”

 “I won’t give you this quarter mark,” she said; much to his chagrin. “You will remember this for life, and will make sure you never end up in such a situation ever again.”

And that turned out to be the best lesson he learnt in his 15 odd years of schooling - Make sure you never end up regretting a past mistake. “If only I had done this earlier …”

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Return to the Red Bricks ...

"Sir, aap? Kahaan jaana hai aapko?" asked the ever so sincere guy as I got off the auto. The last time the guy had, was the first time I had been there - a nervy but excited entrance into a campus much revered by B-school aspirants and others alike. 

"Sir? Aap se hi poocha .." he reminded me and broke me out of the nostalgia I had sunk into so quickly! "Old student bhaiyya. Dorm 4 jaana hai," I replied quickly to avoid giving him any suspicions of a random stranger having walked into the campus. From student to old student, but it was a unique and proud feeling to tell him, I had not too long ago been a part of this wonderful institution as well! "Arre, aap log to aate hi rehte ho. Chalo yahaan sign kar do," he said, and let me pass into the campus; for my first visit back to IIMA after graduating about six months ago. 

Two weeks prior to that, I had received a call from the folks at Airtel to ask if I wanted to go back to campus for the Pre Placement Talk by Airtel; and I had no second thoughts while saying yes. Who wouldn't want to go back to the place - that gave me so many memories, great, good, bad and ugly! 

The walk up the Harvard steps took me back to the times where I sat there late into the night, talking about some crazy ideas with my friends! LKP's grass as pristine as it had ever looked resonated the wonderful memories of the convocation and the proud walk up the stage to collect the diploma. The mess, as good as ever. And the dorm, a lot more active than it had ever been in my days there. 

Random talk with friends in the dorm, the walk around campus in what else but a campus T-Shirt, going down the Old Campus classroom corridor to that place which has the photo of the graduating batch; and spot 380 odd proud faces beaming down at you. And somewhere in the bunch, you spot yourself; and have your case taken for having looked like an uncle back then with the moustache! 

The folks outside the campus were there as well. The Dosa-uncle gave a smile to show he recognized me. But made me the laughing stock of the group with his follow up question 'Shaadi ho gaya bhaiyya?' and saying I've become erm .. Healthier! The coffee that was once the solution for the headaches, the pressure, an insomnia cure during boring lectures and for time-pass when there was little left to do, now cost an insane 20 bucks! "Sir, ab to naukri mein lakhon kama rahe ho. Bees rupya hi to hai!" he said when I asked him about the inflation. 

The walk to New Campus and CR7 (not Cristiano Ronaldo!) kindled memories of the numerous quizzes, PPTs and the random bakar during the breaks between sessions! And the spaces near the canteen reminded me of the disastrous Mafia game sessions - the hang of which I never got!

And the PPT! Who knew the recruiter code, and waiting in the Placement office before the PPT. Like every other student, I just walked right up to the classroom only to be brought back to the placement committee office. The same PlaceCom who had looked so serious in the days in the institute, treated you so differently once you are an alumnus. But my biggest worry was to avoid looking like a fool in front of Airtel's top brass while sharing my experiences from the corporate world and the Airtel Young Leader Program in the PPT. 

But it really hit me the most, that I was no longer a student when eager fachchas tried to interact with me and ask intelligent questions possibly under the impression that these may fetch a brownie point some day during the placements (Just like I did in my Summer Placement Days!). And oh! The authority with which you could break the line and pick up the Sub and the cake before it emptied out. 

I took a walk around IMDC, with the grass still wet from the previous night's drizzle. A place I had sworn to avoid after the ugly memories of the tears and sadness during the disastrous summer placements of mine. But this time, my memories drifted to the fond and unforgettable hugs given to your best mates during the final placements and the relief you heaved once you had that placement offer! If only those very friends could have been here as well, I thought. 

As I walked around campus, there were stares from people who were probably wondering who is this guy walking around at such a leisurely pace, when there's so much to be done and so little time. There were these surprise meetings with people who recognized me from this very blog, that were extremely humbling. And the mandatory meeting with the PSBBians and MANITians at IIMA!  

The two days I thought would suffice to relive the campus experience (and IIMA gave it all including the splitting headache that I often got when I was there!), but the taste of those two days, only left me yearning for more; and hoping I get a chance to be back on campus soon!

When you go back to your undergraduate engineering institute after a year or two, you still have people you know from your college days. But in your B-School, after a year, all that is left for you to enjoy are the memories from your two year stay there! The next time I come down to campus, I may not really know anyone out there, but I am sure the memories and just the feeling of being back at WIMWI, will make it a memorable time :)