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. ;-)