Personal Selling – Will it survive WFH?

The other day in our town hall meeting our VP-Sales announced that henceforth all sales folks are to work from home. I have been in the sales profession for the last fifteen years, and with this company for the last five. I could see most of my colleagues clapping with their emojis during the zoom meeting. And the thought process started working… Why did I join Sales as a profession in the first place?

Being a B.Sc 2nd class graduate from a mofussil town in North Karnataka, I had no option of pursuing further studies due to my precarious financial position and my mediocre academic background.

My first job was as a sales executive in a weighing scale company in Bangalore. The pressure on numbers was part and parcel of my sales job. Incidentally, a few of my colleagues left the sales profession within a year. Those with a better academic record decided to opt for a full-time MBA while others opted for a factory job. I still remember one of them, Ganesh, who told me on his last day, “Ravi, I have decided never to get into the sales profession again in my life. Travelling daily on a bike on traffic-congested roads, customers reluctant to meet you, and if this is not enough, my manager screaming down through my throat asking for the numbers is more than I can bear.

Somehow or the other, I had started enjoying the profession very much. Within the first month, I was able to close a major order and there was no looking back, thereafter. All these years I have been reaching or surpassing the targets. Even in my company, only I would turn up to the office on Saturdays, and my colleagues from production, design, and QC were envious of me. Their tone would express their envy that salespeople have all the freedom in life, they come and leave the office whenever they want, etc. Bhaskar from the accounts department, while clearing my conveyance and outstation claims, once commented, “you lucky guys, you travel by taxi, live in five-star hotels, dine in the best of the restaurants; and all this at company expense.

I could not explain to my colleagues doing their desk jobs in an air-conditioned and predictable environment that I was in the field most of the time, working in ‘unpredictable enemy territory,’ where even getting a glass of water, leave aside a cup of tea, was a luxury.

But then, how did I survive and grow in this sales profession? Was it the salary and incentives? It was much more than that. As a salesman, I was not perturbed with rejections. Even though seven out of ten prospects did not show interest in my products, it was the sheer thrill of meeting new people every day. Was meeting these prospects easy in the first place? A friendly conversation with a security guard or complimenting the receptionist to get the decision maker’s name was more of a fun game than a chore.

Quite often a client would be reluctant to share competition details. Going out of factory premises for a cup of coffee or a cigarette, discussing office politics, and sympathising with him on his personal challenges would help break and melt the ice.

Talking with security guards with key phrases in their mother tongue also revealed crucial information about competition activities, which was not only fun but also adrenaline-boosting. However one needs to have a considerate manager to encourage you. My first manager, Mr. Inamdar recognised my passion for sales and the results I was generating. He once said, “Ravi, I do not care what time you come to the office, or how many calls you make. You have been given targets in terms of the number of units, value, and profitability. You know the company guidelines and policies. Within that framework, please get the results. If you need any help, please let me know. However, keep me updated on important developments.” He turned a Nelson’s eye if I crossed company limits on my daily expenses. Once in a while, he would say “I trust that you have spent money from your pocket during this outstation call. The company rules do not allow me to pass your travel expenses, and I have to follow company rules. You may cover this amount in your local travel.”

Mark Twain once said, “I did not prevent my school from getting me educated.” On similar lines, my manager, Inamdar was never an obstacle between me and my targets. He was an exception. Most of my subsequent managers were sadly, otherwise.

Pradip, one such manager used to always hanker about reports. I once told him, “I have surpassed my targets, why then do you insist on daily activity reports?” He said, “In our company, we get orders even otherwise. What I need are reports.”

The town hall meeting on Zoom was in progress. I was drawn out of my reverie. The people who were clapping for WFH sales, did they ever have a passion for sales, I wondered? Both the stakeholders, the management as well as the salespeople were gung-ho about WFH selling, but what might be the real issue?

Harsh Goenka-led RPG enterprises have announced that the sales force henceforth shall work from home. The group has companies like CEAT Tyres, Zensar Technologies with a Global employee strength of 30,000. The office-bound staff is to work 50% from the office. ( WFH: Home will Always be an office for RPG Staff ) . WFH has the following advantages for management:

  • Lower office procurement costs in terms of rentals or purchase
  • Lower operating overheads in terms of electricity, house-keeping, tea/coffee, cafeteria, etc.
  • Lower sales expenses in terms of local and outstation travel, lodging, and boarding expenses. The company also claims that for the salespeople it also amounts to the following: Lesser fatigue, lesser travel & quicker TAT (turnaround time)

In the above article, it was claimed that this would lead to higher employee efficacy and business output with an improved work-life balance.

WFH may be the need of the day. But will the management ever realize that there is another side to the story? For a few star performers, Selling is more of fun, passion, and a personal adventure on a daily basis, which distinguishes them from the crowd. Will WFH and its related efficacy claim, ever address this passion?

And, how will star sales performers differentiate from the crowd?

For details: Contextual Selling – A New Sales Paradigm for the 21st Century

Rajan Parulekar – Director, Hospitality Paradigm

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