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Monday, July 18, 2011

Why should graduates prefer Sales function?

Last week, i was coaching a final year engineering graduate, Atish.

Atish was finishing his degree in Telecom Engineering. His marks for last three years were between 57%-59%, missing the first class by a whisker. His academic track record suggested that he was ill at ease in Engineering subjects. On the other hand, he seemed to be comfortable in 'extrovert' skills, which was noticed by his excellent rapport with friends from different culture and economic background, his participation in college events, his liking of people-related experiences. So i suggested him ' Why don't you make career in Sales'. He immediately retorted 'I do not like sales.'

Whenever i meet graduates, i encounter this general dislike of 'sales' function. So when i probed Atish, what does he not like about sales, he told me about one of his friend who was selling 'electronic components' to retailers. He said ' My friend keeps on moving from one shop to another, shows the catalog, takes the order ( or the money), and moves to the next shop. He is constantly travelling, staying in not-so-good hotels and is generally hassled'.

If that is the 'view' of sales, how can Atish want to go to Sales? Other graduates tell me about the FMCG 'salesman' they see at a retail Kirana stores, while some others tell me about the pharmaceutical 'salesman' they see in the doctor's consulting room. With this limited, and uncharitable view of a salesman, it is difficult to chose sales, even when it is the most appropriate function for someone like Atish?

On the other hand, see the other side of the story. In an organisation, Sales is the most critical function, because it brings in 'revenue'. And because it is a critical function, it is also the best-paid function. Without working in sales, it is very difficult to reach the top. And unlike other functions in an organisation, the correlation between your effort > output is the highest. You immediately know what you are doing wrong, because of which you can correct yourself quickly, and learn therefore at the fastest speed. What else you would want in a job?

I therefore feel very 'disturbed' when graduates avoid 'sales' function just because they are not fully aware of 'what is sales'. So here is an attempt to unblock the negative bias of sales.

Sales is a function where one has to convert a 'suspect' into a 'customer'. Marketing is a function that converts 'prospect' into a 'suspect'. For instance, marketing job is to get me 'interested' in buying 'sedan car'. They provide me lot of information ( in a broadcast mode) to convert me from a prospective customer into a suspect customer. Once i am interested in their car, and enter in the car showroom, it is the job of sales to convert me into their 'customer'.

Due to this correlation between marketing and sales, sales job have different shades of complexity. The complexity varies from type of product, nature of product ( must-have or nice-to-have), price of the product, type of customer ( is it specialist individual like a doctor or an entity like company).

The type of product varies from simple product selling > services selling > complex solution selling. Product can be as simple as soap or toothpaste or it can be as high priced as car or flat. Services can be as simple as selling repairing service of mobile to a complex selling of investment service. Solution can be selling a solution of 'method of testing a car's engine' or selling a solution of 'fitting a car body to the specification of a customer ( which Manu Chabria does when he makes vehicles for celebrities).

Complexity determines the skill requirement of 'sales' function. Low-priced products like soap are easier to sell than high priced products like flat. Must-have products like insurance are easier to sell than nice-to-have products like financial advice. And selling it to individuals is far more easier than selling it to companies. More complex and difficult is the selling, more is the 'specialised skill and knowledge' required. You cannot selling 'testing solution' to a car manufacturer until you completely understand his requirement, competitor's products and your product advantages. In complex selling jobs, 'marketing and sales' are almost bundled together. In lower complexity jobs like soap salesman, marketing and sales are unbundled.

While sales function combines your 'engineering knowledge' with your 'people-skills', design function combines your 'engineering knowledge' with your ' intrinsic technology skills'. Combinations are different, and if someone like Atish, who has a head start over others in terms of people-skill, should he not use this for his advantage by working in sales?

In technology selling, the complexity of selling is very high. It not only requires knowledge of product and technology, but it also requires another unique ability: converting extremely complex technological language into the language of buyer. This skill is so difficult to acquire, that in technology, 'sales' skills are more in demand than even 'design' skills. For instance, when you you think of Apple computer, whose name do you recollect? Do you remember Steve Jobs, the man who 'configured' and 'sold' the first computer, or do you remember Steve Woznaik, who designed the Apple computer?

Side Bar: Marketing is systematically taught in MBA courses because it is a 'thinking' competency. Sales, being a 'doing' competency, is still learnt best in a job. That is why many 'people-skill' graduates take up Marketing speciality in MBA. For engineering graduates, who do not like technology very much, getting into sales function is perhaps the best opportunity to enter this critical organisational function.

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