Saturday, August 24, 2013

Trichy Times

Hi... I am sorry for the silence... life has been too busy.

I reached Trichy early morning... the DSE had already booked a room for me. At Rs 300/night, the room was a luxury after Chennai. It was triple the size of the Chennai hotel room. I got dressed and the DSE came to pick me up. Everyday, he would pick and drop me back. I really appreciated this 'coz the company would not have paid him for the fuel. The hotel was near the bus stand but far from the main city... so it was quite a drive... around 20-30 mins (if I remember correctly).

The biggest issue in Trichy was language. Everyone speaks Tamil... very few people know/understand Hindi/English. That is when I realized that all I want as an ASM is a territory where people can speak/understand Hindi/English/Gujarati.

Anyway, we met the distributors in Trichy- 3 of them. The DSE would meet the distributor in the morning... start the market... finish the market... meet all the 3 distributors at the end of the day and then head home. Even when he didn't have work in the evening post the market, he would meet these guys for a conversation... gossip... etc. I found it very irritating 'coz it would be 9 pm by the time he dropped me back. I could have reached my hotel by 6 pm but 'coz of his schedule and insistence that he will drop me himself I had to reach late every night. But, this practice... to interact with distributors on a daily basis built a rapport... it also built relationships... and thats why the DSE was the best in the country.

There are a few incidences that I remember very clearly:

- There was a trainee DSE with us for a few days... he was the DSE's friend... and came to the market for 1-2 days. Both of them were jolly natured... talked a lot... laughed a lot... were fat and round... they loved to eat. Every hour, they would stop to eat something... maybe have tea, biscuits... anything... but they would eat every hour. I had gotten into the habit of 3 meals in the day. I didn't need anything beyond that. They would laugh at me when I refused the food.

- On 1 day, the DSE had to go to Madurai for his monthly meeting with the ASM. He asked me to go to the market with the PSR and loaned me his 2 wheeler luna. The problem with the luna was that I could not get it up on the double stand and it did not have a side stand. At every shop, the PSR would have to help me with the double stand... and then go to the store. After a few times, he got bugged and started forgetting. I would struggle with the luna .... by then, the PSR would have taken his order and would be ready to visit the next store. Also, I didn't understand the language... at all... and the PSR didn't know Hindi/English. Basically, I was a mute bystander who didn't understand what was happening. After a few shops, I gave up. I would just wait outside. At 2 pm, the PSR (in sign language) told me market is over. I was surprised... I had been there for 4 days and not once had we finished the market before 4/5 pm. I told him thats not possible (in sign language). But, he was adamant. I left for the hotel. In the evening the DSE called to check up on me. I told him I returned at 2 pm. He also said that the market does not get over so soon. I guess the PSR was trying to get rid of me.

- I received my 1st salary and wanted to spend it somewhere...anywhere. But in Trichy a good meal would not have cost more than 200-300 bucks. I just wanted to withdraw the money... spread it out on the bed like Sridevi in Judaai and drool over it. No such luck.

- The DSE had left me at the distributor point since he had to go for some work. After sometime the conversation waned... and I was bored. I fell asleep on the chair. He asked his daughter to take me out for lunch. We went to a busy restaurant which served veg thali. She told me about the famous temples in Trichy and that I should make it a point to visit them. She did not let me pay.

I was desperate to get out of Trichy. After a few calls to the HR, she told me come to Bangalore on Sunday morning for details of next stint. I was relieved. She had booked a hotel near the bus station (the famous one... I am forgetting the name) for me.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The 1st and 2nd weekend in Chennai

I have not spoken about primary sales... which is the most important part about sales. Primary is when distributor is billed stocks from the company. This organization had a system of weekly closing. Basis a decided date, targets have to be met on a weekly basis which adds up to the month's sales number. The month's number should be met even if a particular week's number is missed out. In a well managed territory, sales will be spread out throughout the month. In a badly managed area, most of the sales happen in the month end. Ideally, not more than 30% of the business should be done in the last week.

In Bala's territory, there was one area vacant... he had to find a distributor. That does not mean his target was lower. He had to make up for the shortfall through the current distributors. This was a challenge. For example, if each distributor was doing a business of 5 lakh... he now had to make up a shortfall of 5 lakh from 2 distributors. A person buying stock worth 5 lakh will never agree to buy 7.5 lakh now. Thankfully, primary was completely taken care of by Bala and I was not privy to most of these discussions.

I was so happy when Sunday rolled around. It had been a hectic week and I needed a break. I think my best friend RT was also around. She was looking for a hotel in the same budget and stayed in the same one. After hanging out I was back in the room.. All I wanted to do was relax in the room watching TV. My parents called and forced to check my mail (no mails on the phone then) in the cyber cafe. They had sent me profiles of guys for matrimonial and I had to check them out. Not that my opinion really mattered but it was a formality. My parents became very efficient at this. They managed to line up guys in every city I travelled to- Bangalore, Mumbai, Pune, Noida, Delhi, Rajkot etc. Along with travelling for work... I also ended up meeting potential husbands. Ugh!!!

Hash asked me to accompany him to a small town near Chennai where he was going to appoint a new distributor. A DSE finds a distributor and the ASM approves him after meeting with him. For metros, even the Branch Sales Manager or Branch Manager has to meet the distributor and give their go ahead. We took a train from Chennai and reached this town. We reached the distributor's house... he was a young guy and keen on getting into FMCG distribution. Hash explained to him about rotation of money, investment, margins etc. Most distributors joined the company so that they could get a brand. Also, their money did not get stuck... claims were cleared within 15 days. It was better than putting money in a bank where the return would be lower. It was a good learning because I had to explain the same things to new distributors many times in my career.

The 2 weeks passed by and I called the office to check on my next stint. I was bored too and needed a change of scene. I was asked to report to Trichy on Monday morning. KC was also asked to report to Bangalore office since his project had come to an end. I requested him to purchase my ticket as well, which he kindly did. On our last Sunday in Chennai I asked him if he wanted to watch a movie. I was surprised that he had not yet asked me. I was actually pissed that he had not asked me... I mean, I was not interested or anything but thats just polite, right? We watched a movie at Satyam and then had lunch at the rooftop in Hotel Ranjeet on Nugambakkam road. At night, we went our separate ways.

Next post- Trichy Times

Friday, June 28, 2013

ASM's surprise visit- The Devil is in the details... Always

It rained on the previous day... my formals had become soiled. I decided to dress safe- meaning, wear my worst clothes the next day since it was raining heavily. I also wore floaters to avoid damage to my formal shoes.
Guess what? Hash turned up at the market at 12 noon. He had told me he would come along on one of those days but I didn't expect it to be a surprise visit. This was new for me.

Lesson learned: Always... ALWAYS... give a surprise visit when in sales. Why? Thats the only way to know if someone is working. It is very easy to sneak away. I could easily have told the DSE to cover up for me while I slept in the hotel or sneak away early (since most days Bala and I worked in separate markets). In my current organization, it does not create a big issue if a MT does this. The feedback does not even reach the HO. That was not the case in my previous organization. The news would be all over by the end of the day... nothing remained a secret. For example, my junior had stepped out of the market during lunch to go to the cyber cafe to check his email (his version)... maybe he went for half an hour only when the salesman was having lunch... or maybe he sneaked away. Who knows? Fact is, the BSM (Branch Sales Manager) was in the market that day and got to know about the cyber cafe trip. By evening the HO and the entire company knew it.

Hash was not happy with my attire. He admonished me for wearing floaters. This is what he said... btw, he was wearing floaters too:

Hash: I messaged my Boss (the BSM) that I will wear floaters to work today. After his approval I am wearing them. Always dress in formals.

Good advice BUT... later I got to know, the BSM hardly cared who is wearing what as long as sales targets were met. If targets were not met, he would have a problem even with the colour of someone's underwear.

Later, when I was an ASM I chose comfort over rules. I used to travel a lot. My work timings were 9 am- 6 pm and I travelled before or after that. I lived in jeans, kurtas and floaters.

The market work with Hash was a big learning experience. I had been going with the salesman everyday and it had gotten boring. He knew his job and was doing it. Language was a big barrier for me. How do I communicate with the retailer? Has taught me to follow up on the salesman's focus brand target and day's sales. After every 10 stores, he would ask the salesman to total the sales till then and check on how many jars of focus brand he has sold. It seems like a little thing but helped a lot. The salesman became aware of what he was doing... he started focusing more since he now has a target in mind.

He also taught me to merchandise. After making the bill, we did not just hand over the jars of candy/gums to the retailer, we opened the jar... removed the cover... placed in a location where it was visible very well. This was our way of giving him service. It seems like a little thing but much later (when I was an ASM), the ASM of Cadbury would compliment on how good our market service and touch was... how well the DSEs and ASMs were in touch with the market. He was trying to develop that in his team but it was difficult.

Hash taught me to check the bill the salesman was making. I realized the salesman had been making mistakes... he was not good with calculations and did not carry a calculator (having lost the previous ones which further infuriated the distributor). I had been working with this guy for a few days and did not realize this. Again, a small thing but that is the role of the DSE. The devil is in the details.

Hash gave me an insight on the brands, supply chain, distribution, competition etc. He admonished me for not interacting enough with the retailers. He is from Mangalore but had picked up some Tamil and could understand, if not speak very fluently.

At the end of the day, I was glad he had come. I got a better perspective on what sales is all about... what is the DSE's role. I am so glad he was my first boss. Someone else would barely have cared.
Everytime a MT has been allotted to me (twice in the last 4 years), I spend enough time with that person to help her (it has only been females till now) understand sales and her project. It is very easy to ignore MTs... after all, how many actually add value? Can they compare with someone who has been in sales for a long time? But I remember the time given to me and do the same.

The 1st call to the ASM- my first Boss

So, I called Hash at night to report on my day. This is what he said;

" I want you to call every evening/night after work and report on what you have learned during the day. The more questions you ask, the better... else, I will start asking the questions and then you better have answers".

Me- Yes, Hashidhar (that is his name)
Him- What did you call me?
Me- Hashidhar
Him- Please call me 'Hash' and not Hashidhar
Me- Ok

It sounds very funny in hindsight 'coz Hash was my colleague in West when I was ASM and he is sort of a friend now. And... he is not that strict. He is actually a good, supportive boss.

I took a quick shower and left for dinner. KC had mentioned a rooftop restaurant and Sarvana Bhavan. I wondered if I should invite him or will it seem too forward? I didn't want him to get the wrong idea. Most guys don't know the difference between 'friendship/camaraderie' and 'interested'. I decided to take my chance. I knocked on his door and asked him if he wanted to come for dinner. He agreed. I insisted on Sarvana Bhavan 'coz I planned to have b'fast there and wanted to know its location. Many years later, KC would tell me that he had wanted to go to the rooftop restaurant.

Sarvana Bhavan was a delight... fast customer service, very good idlis/dosa, numerous chutneys and cheap.
I returned to the hotel and dropped dead. It had been a long and hard day.

My schedule for the next 2 weeks was like this:
- 7 am: Wake up
- 8 am: Rush for b'fast to Sarvana Bhavan
- 9 am: Reach distributor point (mostly at Royapettah)
- 9.15 am: Leave for market
- 9.15- 4/5 pm: 60 calls
- 5/6 pm: Reach distributor point... fill report...
- 7 pm: Leave for hotel
- 8 pm: Reach hotel... call Hash (cross fingers that he does not answer the phone)
- 9 pm: Quick shower and dinner at rooftop restaurant with KC where we discussed our day
- 10 pm: Dead to the world

The distributor I worked most with was at Royapettah. It is difficult to pronounce and the autowalas did not spare me. They would pretend not to understand it... even after I got my pronunciation perfect. Every morning was spent haggling with them. Frustrating!!!

The distributor had 3 units which were cycles with a flat stand to carry stocks. The territory was small enough for the salesman to cover it on cycle. It also reduced the cost of fuel and help the distributor earn more margins. It also limited the amount of stock a salesman could carry because there is a limit to how much the cycle unit can hold.
Here is the challenge for the DSE/ASM:
- Should they convert the distributor to a auto or let it be on a cycle? Which is better? What if sales are low because it limits how much stock a salesman can sell in a day? Most distributors try to keep their costs as low as possible... even at the cost of sales.

There was a salesman who was very young. For him, it was a very unique situation- a female coming to sell candies with him and spending all day. While working in the market, he would stop at a shop and buy me a cold drink. It was quite embarrassing because he earned less than 10k/month and I did not want him spending money on me. Insisting did not help. He would force a cold drink on me and not let me pay. On one of the days we went for lunch to a small place where food was cheap and served on banana leaf. I was quite a sight but being fair in Chennai meant that I was noticed everywhere and had gotten used to it. I guess it is because of this that I don't care what people think or say. I have always been like this but have developed a thicker skin due to this experience.
It was June and monsoons had started. It would rain while we were in the market and then we had to find shelter. The cycle carrying stock would be covered with a plastic. Also, the salesman would not be able to ride on the bicycle when I was around 'coz I was on foot. Walking all day is very tiring and kudos to this person who didn't mind it at all. He told me of an incident when he was selling to a retailer. The cycle with stocks was behind him near the road. Someone came and stole a whole carton of candies which made the distributor furious.

Next Post: Hash's surprise visit

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Down Memory Lane


A new world beckons

Tom I leave for the unknown... have had to pack my luggage without a clue as to where I will be, for how long and doing what... I hate to leave... home is such a good place, the most difficult decisions of my day have been what to cook for lunch/dinner... And as things started getting exciting (with bro's JEE and AIEEE pouring in) I have to leave.
Mom has been cracking jokes about how she is losing 3 maids (me)... and bro is going to miss my laptop. Kya ajeeb log hai!!!
Cheers to a new life and good-bye to the old one... no matter how it turns out, I know I will survive

SUNDAY, JUNE 10, 2007


Hi... I am sorry for the silence. It is very much unlike me. I have joined work... which involves travelling... after a week of induction at Gurgaon, I am in B'glore for 4 days and then off to one of the Southern states for 2 months of sales stint.

Tom is my B'day and I had been praying I would not sent to a rural area atleast for that day. Last year on 11th June, I was on the train from Chennai to A'bad. The best part of the day was when I reached home a few minutes before midnight. I promised myself I would make up for it this year... don't see that happening. No problem, I will have the gr8test b'day ever next year.
Do you remember about the time you learned to swim? The water seemed scary, didn't it? You were worried about how cold it would be... wat did you do then? Just closed your eyes and jumped into the pool? Thats wat the last few days have been like. Before leaving, I was freaking out... just wanted to run away (always feel that way before beginning something new)... but then I took the plunge... 


Current location: Chennai
Arrived on: 15th June
Duration of stay: 2 weeks
Next destination: Madurai

Weather: Pleasant... humid... (it rained the day I arrived. God is gr8!!!)
No of friends here: None
No of aquaintances here: Not sure

Work timings: 10:00 am to 7:00 pm (excluding time spent commuting)
Time spent commuting: 2 hrs (approx)
Office: hahaaha!!! The market is my work place.
Dress code: A conservative as possible... it doesn't help that my skin color makes me stand out anyway (A shopkeeper asked the salesman if I am a foreigner... yeeks!!!)

Food: Strictly South Indian... North Indian food is quite bad out here.
Nuisance: Auto-walas and lecherous men (Thankfully, I don't speak a word of Tamil)
Language: Use sign language to communicate... my Tamil is limited to "cheri" which means "ok".... and "ille" which means "yes" or "no"... I am not sure which.

TUESDAY, JUNE 19, 2007

I wish...

  • People would stop talking to me in Tamil after knowing that I don't speak the language
  • People would not call me once I am asleep... catching up on sleep in the distributor's office is very unprofessional
  • The weather would stay this pleasant
  • I would not have to fight with the auto-walas morning and evening
  • The Punjabi dhaba would cook some authentic Punjabi food (minus ants in the lime juice and plus some spices)
  • Men would stop staring at me when I am in the market supervising the saleman
  • I could watch a movie
  • I could go home

SUNDAY, JUNE 24, 2007

Non-conversation material

Some incidents that can only be felt (since they don't make gr8 conversation material)

  • Working in all sorts of places: slums (mostly), posh areas (rarely)... meeting people from all walks of life
  • Watching a kid sail a paper boat in the puddle of rain water (One of my fav activities as a kid... had even tried to fish with a stick and rope in a pond)
  • The distributor leaving the office in the rain to offer you a lift to the bus/auto. I was touched. 
  • Women in the slum gheraoing you (like they do to foreigners) and trying to communicate in Tamil while you reply in English
  • Having your close friend as your neighbour all over again
  • Dressing in your worst (the rains soiled my formals on the previous day)... and your boss decides to accompany you to the market.... IN HIS FORMALS... eeekss!!!
  • Trying on all the pretty clothes at your fav store (Wills Lifestyle)... but buying nothing... I always do that... 
  • Detailing your day's events to the Known Stranger (known as K.S, henceforth)... over dinner on the roof-top restaurant while it is raining. 
  • Watching with glee as your bro gets ready to join college (switching to lens, shopping for clothes, gyming, getting a weird hair-cut)... the golden days
  • Craving for Pav Bhaji

The Most Important Training Begins

I woke up with a jolt. It was almost 8, I had to bathe and reach the market by 9. I rushed. There was no time for b'fast. I called the DSE (Distribution and Sales Executive). My phone did not have too much balance. He was leaving for the market and I was to meet him there. I remember reaching late.
There I was - no food and no sleep. I just wanted the day to end so I could crawl under the covers and sleep.
The DSE was Bala. Whenever anyone talks about sales, below are the qualities you are expected to have:
- Be gregarious
- Outgoing
- Talkative
- Be able to connect with people

Bala is none of the above. He is tall, dark and completely no nonsense. I never saw him indulge in small talk. He is all business- very professional.
It was a very interesting market. The company had just launched a brand called 'Foot pop'. It was a lollipop in the shape of a 'foot'. It came in 2 flavours- strawberry and caramel. Every box had an assorted mix... also, the box was a very funky one. This what we were supposed to do- after the retailer has purchased the box, tear it open and it would automatically transform into a merchandising option. In a shop, confectionery is placed in a jar. Since 'Footpop' was being sold in a cardboard box instead of jar, the retailer would stock it in another empty jar. To prevent this, the box got transformed into a something which could be placed in the shop. Cadbury would later (2008) launch their chewing gum in a cardboard box instead of jar too.
Anyway, the product seemed perfect- kids love anything quirky and innovative... the foot shaped lollipop seemed like a winner. Except, it wasn't. Parents did not want their kids to eat a 'foot'. They thought this would encourage a bad habit and make kids suck their foot. Yeah, I know... how dumb!!!
But, the product bombed. I spent those 2 weeks selling a lot of 'Footpop'.
The Brand Manager of FP was Bala's ex-boss (previous ASM Chennai) so Bala sold FP like a crazy man. Plus, there was an incentive on it.
This is how he worked- we would enter a shop, he would give a menacing look (his normal facial expression), the retailer would back off, he would just start opening jars, place them on the shelf and ask the PSR to make the bill. The retailer would comply obligingly. Chennai is a credit market. A jar of confectionery costs 100 bucks. The retailer would pay 50 bucks, sometimes even 20 bucks, every week to the guy who came for collection. Bala knew the capacity of every shop and would not bill beyond that. For example, a retailer pays Rs 20 every week to the distributor... he will be happy to buy 5 jars at a time but the distributor would not want to give him 1 jar at a time. This greatly affected sales but thats the market reality.
I spoke to the ASM at night and narrated my ordeal- how I could not find a hotel room etc etc. He admonished me for not calling him. I could have gone to his hotel. Well, I didn't think about it... it did not even strike me. He was from my B-School but I had only spoken a few sentences to him in office... did not know how to call him at 5 am.

I am posting some posts from my old blog when I was in Chennai. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Chennai Times- Most important day of my life

I had to go to Chennai as a Sales Officer. This meant living on a SO's allowance (thankfully, not the salary). I had to stay in a hotel for Rs 350 per night and Rs 110 as DA (daily allowance). The 110 was supposed to cover my food and miscellaneous. Apart from that, I could claim laundry and travel expenses (on actuals). The HR female gave me few contact nos of hotels. Such cheap hotels do not book in advance. I had to reach Chennai in the morning, search for a hotel, get dressed and reach market by 9 am... a daunting task. I was also given the contact no of a Summer Trainee who was working on a project in Modern Trade. He was staying on the same allowances. 
A and I left our excess luggage at the office... the caretaker would shift it to the guesthouse. We carried only 1 bag. A also carried his laptop. I had left mine at home. There was no point in dragging a laptop everywhere. 
After work I met Tangy at Crossword. He gifted me a set of green wooden bangles. I still have one of the pair (the other one broke). That was my only b'day gift that year. The bus was at 10 pm... I reached the boarding point and called the trainee. He was kind enough to book a room in the hotel opposite to his. He was staying at a hotel- JJS Guesthouse for Rs 375/night. I did not want to pay more than my allowance. I was obviously on a pocket money from dad and wanted to spend as little as possible. 
The bus left at 11 pm. Reality about buses from B'glore to Chennai- the drivers are crazy and reach the city at the oddest time. I reached Chennai at 4.30 am. No kidding. I called the trainee who was kind enough to answer his phone at that hour. He gave me the directions to the hotel and was waiting outside when I reached. 
That is how I met my husband. 

I had expected meeting my husband to be more dramatic but if someone would have told me at that moment that we would be married someday I would have laughed. KC's reaction would have been same. 

Anyway, so he took me to the hotel opposite to his. Everyone was asleep and I was asked to come after 7 am. It was 5 am... how was I supposed to kill 2 hours? We then went to his hotel... his friends had checked out a day earlier and he was sure there were vacant rooms. Even here I was asked to come after 7 am. KC suggested I kill time at his room. Where else was I supposed to go at 5 am? I was not comfortable being alone with a guy in his hotel room. I decided to find another hotel. I went to every hotel whose address the HR female had given me. Guess what? They all charged atleast 500 bucks/night. I was so screwed. All the while, KC called me and urged me to come back. He was sure I would find a room there. But stubborn headed that I am, I wanted to try all the other options first. I went to the hotel where I had stayed during my summer training. I was a trainee at Taj Coromandel and they were not paying a stipend. Few months before the actual project we had gone to the company for a 7 day stint. It was a shady hotel but cheap at Rs 300/night. I didn't mind staying there 'coz my batchmates were around. This time the hotel felt shadier and I was reluctant to take a chance with safety. I came outside the hotel and wondered what to do. 2 guys approached me and asked if I was looking for a hotel. Thats when I freaked. I took the nearest auto and rushed to KC's room. 
His room was tiny, it had 1 bed which took up half of the room, a TV, a bathroom and a tiny stool. I perched myself on the stool... it was very tiny and I longed to sleep on the bed. But KC was sitting on it... he could hardly invite me on the bed. We watched TV and talked for the next 1-1.5 hours. At 7.30/8 am, I tried to negotiate with the manager on the room rate. I did not want to pay Rs 375. Due to the language barrier I brought down the rate (or so I thought). KC was surprised... he had been staying for 2 months and was not offered any discount. 
I rushed to the room, slept for 10-15 mins, got dressed, called the Sales Officer- Bala and rushed to the market. 

Next post- My most important training begins

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The South Times

We were not given our final locations till our arrival in the regions. The HO decided which trainee will go to which region. The BM/BSM (Branch Manager/Branch Sales Manager) decided on our final locations.

A and I landed at around 8.30/9 am. There was a cab waiting for us. The South HR Manager asked us to check into the hotel... freshen up... have lunch and then come to office. We were relieved. We were prepared to go directly to office and this was quite a relief.

We were booked into a very good hotel. Generally, people stayed at the guesthouse but since the ASM (Area Sales Manager) were in office it was full. In the afternoon, we reported to the regional office which is located very close to the airport. We met the other ASMs during lunch- Hash and Sash. I remember both of them very clearly. Hash was from my college and this was his 2nd job. He was handling Chennai metro. Sash told me a funny story much later... when training was over and I was his colleague. He was sent a summer trainee. The ST (summer trainee) was supposed to call the BSM every night and brief him about his day. On one of the days, the BSM asked Sash to call him and take the daily report. So, Sash called him... and the ST started on his learning ... Hash put the phone near his bed... went to the loo... washed his face... changed his clothes... picked up his phone and said; "Good... good work. Keep it up!!!" and hung up.

A and I were given a manual on all the terms used in the company.... the margins... calculation. This is the most important thing to know in any organization. We spent the day writing everything down.
The plan was that we would be in Bangalore for a few days... then I would go to Chennai and then to Trichy. While A would be at coastal Karntaka... we would be informed about our next stint after that.

BM: Well, we wanted to send you to Madurai but then took some pity and decided on Trichy

The next day I went to Bangalore market with the BDE. I don't remember him very well. He spent most of his time on the phone 'coz he was handling 2 territories. There was an area vacant and he was responsible until a new DSE joined. I reached the distributor point at 9 am. The distributor was an old lady... The only other woman distributor was in Mumbai. The office/godown was on the 1st floor. The delivery guys would pick up the cartons with jars of confectionery and throw them out of the window. The cartons and jars were strong enough and did not even get cracks.
In confectionery, the most important thing are details... and distribution. Even you don't have a strategy to grow your territory but plug all the inefficiencies it will be enough.
The 1st aspect was loading of the van. You need to have stocks to last through the day. This is difficult since there are so many brands and SKUs. A DSE (distribution and sales executive) has to check the sales on the same beat the previous week and ensure atleast those stocks are loaded. If run out, it a loss of sales.. you cannot come back to pick up more stocks.
I spent 2-3 days doing 60 calls per day. It was very, very tiring. On my b'day I was hoping the DSE would take a hint and let me leave early. No such chance... I completed my 60 calls... went to the hotel and dropped dead. I was so tired and a little feverish... a lot of calls went unanswered.

Lesson learned- Always take the day off on your b'day. I generally am on leave on my b'day. Why not? It is an important day and deserves its due.

Next post- Leaving for Chennai

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Day 3-6

We spent all week in induction. On one of the days we were taken to the factory for a visit. It was amazing and heavenly. Being among different flavours of gums and candies was .... like magic. We were also given presentations by department people. I remember one of the ppts... a guy with bad English was presenting. We were riding on our high horses 'coz of our MBA degrees and had a chip on our shoulders. Throughout, we kept making jokes about the presenter and trying to suppress laughter. I think he got the hint and was not too happy.
By then, we had singled out the person none of us would get along with. It was H... he was a loner... did not speak much and so none of us trusted him. During breakfast we were all sitting at the dining table and having our food. Nobody was talking... we were all focused on the food. H singled me out and asked me why I was silent. Everyone noticed this. It seems like a harmless remark but the way it was spoken, it was like he was taking undue interest in me. Everyone started teasing me with him after that day.

By now, we had started harassing the HR to divulge our locations. We were to be shipped off on Friday. Yep, we would be working on Saturday.

But before the locations I need to tell you about a man I met. He was the MD then. I don't remember the first time I met or spoke to him but I do remember every conversation after that. He is short, bald and fat.... and he is the most charismatic man I have ever met. When he entered a room, people noticed... when he spoke, he was so articulate you wished he would never stop... you felt special in his presence... he has the personality that leaders in organizations can only attempt to have. I had read in Sidney Sheldon books about men having 'charisma'... I never understood what the word meant until I met him.

Coming back, one of the days we were cooped up in the conference room with HR and harassed her to tell us our locations. The MD entered and joined the discussion. He asked all of us to name the one location we would never want to go to. This was tricky... either they had already decided the locations in which case it wouldn't matter what we said.... or they had not and our frankness could send us to our hell. Most of us were diplomatic... while some were dumb enough to state their preferences. The HR and MD had a gala time. We also had a detailed discussion on food/meat in North East- dog meat, worms etc. North East as a location was our collective nightmare.

One day before our flights, we were given our locations. And here they are. I don't remember all of them clearly... but...
- Sri Ganga Nagar
- Kanpur
- Orissa
- Siliguri
- Chennai/Bangalore/Trichy
- Dhulia
- Indore
- Coastal Karnataka
- Gujarat

I was going to Bangalore along with A after which we would be sent off to our respective locations in the South. The plan was to shadow a Sales Officer for 1 month and then handle a territory independently for 1 month. We would be informed about the next stint after that.

On reaching the guesthouse we got busy with packing. I had brought everything from home (at that time my 'everything' fit into 1-2 bags... not anymore). I was carrying everything to Bangalore since I didn't know what was the plan next.

At night.. around 9 pm... my then bf came to meet me. He was excited 'coz he was also going to Mysore for a few months. We would be close and meeting up would be possible. I was not thrilled with the news. During the 2 months vacation we had barely kept in touch. It was difficult since my parents are conservative... and he did not have access to e-mail. I had realized that I was in love with the idea of 'love'. This relationship had no future. The hope was that the constant travelling and job in sales would bring a silent death to the relationship. So the news of both of us being in South was not welcome at all. I decided to end the relationship as gently as possible. I had done the hanging on to a relationship earlier and didn't want to do it again. I wanted to be free to experience my job without anything or anyone pulling me down. I had decided to live out of a suitcase for 2 years... decisions and relationships would have to wait until then.
The reason I am writing about this is.... everyone who had a relationship found it a tough path to navigate... some relationships fell away while others survived but after many hardships. And those who were single found it more tough... for 2-3 years, they would have no home or permanent location... where would they meet up girls... date... and find a life partner?

When you commit to a life in sales, many things need to be compromised. You cannot have hobbies or relationships... keeping up with friendships is difficult... and nobody understands this.

The next day we were at the airport for our 6 am flights. We all hugged and patted each other's backs.... like warriors going to battle... who knows what the experience would be like... how many would survive? The test had begun. That was the moment we felt closest to each other. The next 2 months helped us bond further. Who else would understand about 60 calls... about long days and lonely nights... about bad food... unknown languages... travelling on local buses... dealing with distributors in remote towns...

To be continued....

Friday, May 24, 2013

Day 2- The 1st day of market- Chirag Dilli

The HR female- let us call her Aditi, asked us to report to the North branch office in Delhi the next day at 9 am sharp for our 1st day of market work.
"Please don't be late else the Sales Manager will take my case... also, all units have to leave for the market by 9 am... if you don't reach on time, the entire schedule will go haywire".

We were very excited... this is what we had joined for.
But first I need to define/explain some terms:

- Distributor: The most important person in the market... and he knows it. Your month's targets, promotions, life, death are dependent on him. On a serious note, he is the company's partner and provides infrastructure for distribution. Every organization has a different infrastructure requirement but it basically works like this:

    • He earns margin... anywhere from 5-7%, depending on sector
    • He employs a PSR (pilot sales representative) to take orders in the retail and wholesale market
    • He employs delivery guys and puts vans/cycles/bikes/tempos for making deliveries
    • He buys stock from the company... a healthy stock norm is 7 days and less... anything above 15 days is very unhealthy and earns the company a bad reputation
    • He has to follow specified company norms in terms of maintaining reports, stocks, distribution (width and depth) etc
    • He always gives credit in the market. This differs for every sector and city. In Chennai, credit given is 90% of sales... while Mumbai is mainly a cash market
- Retailer: The person who buys stock from the distributor to sell to the consumer e.g chemist, grocer etc
- Wholesale/wholesaler: The market in which goods are sold in bulk to a retailer or consumer. They are middlemen and help the company reach retailers who don't buy directly from the distributor. They also give credit to retailers which is an added incentive to buy from them.
- Unit: A van/tempo/cycle/bike etc in which delivery is made
- Ready stock: In this method, the PSR and delivery guy go to the retailer together.They take the order and supply the stock at the same moment. This is generally used for products which are impulse purchase e.g confectionery. 
- Order booking: In this method, the PSR goes to the market alone... takes orders... returns to the distributor office, makes the bills... and stocks are supplied next day by the delivery guys. This also leads to order cancellation the next day if the retailer changes his mind.
- Sales officer: The guy employed by the organization who overlooks all the above. He has sales targets which maybe different for each brand. 
- Area Sales Manager: He is allotted a team of sales officers in a particular territory. Example- Gujarat generally has 2-3 ASMs for each organization
- Branch Sales Manager: Also called Regional Sales Manager or Sales Manager in some companies. The ASMs report to him. He handles 2-3 states in a region.
- Branch Manager: The titular head of the region. Generally, everyone in the branch reports to him (sales, admin, HR, planner etc) except for accounts. Accounts is always a separate function.
- Primary: When stocks are billed from the company to distributor, it is called primary sales
- Secondary: When stocks are sold to retail/wholesale by the distributor, the sales are called secondary
- Offtakes: The sales that happen when the customer purchases from the retail are called offtakes
- Beat: Every PSR has a beat or route that is covered. He has 6 beats (1 per day) with Sunday off. There are 30 (personal care) to 60 (confectionery) stores per beat. 

I came across these terms in my MBA but could not make the head and tail of it.... one day on the field and everything was crystal clear. 

So, coming back... we were supposed to reach by 9 am at Defence Colony, Delhi from Gurgaon. No big deal... it takes 1-1.5 hours. We should have left by 8 am, maximum. But, did we? 

In the morning there was another gentleman staying in the guesthouse. We  found him intimidating and waited for him to finish breakfast before we had ours. Don't ask why... we were MTs... always deferential, scared, obliging, obedient to a fault, ready to do anything. The gentleman finished his b'fast at a leisurely pace at 8.45 am since it would take him only 15 mins to reach office. We left for Delhi at 9 am.
9.30 am onwards Aditi started calling frantically. The BSM (Branch Sales Manager) was screwing her happiness for our unpunctuality.  
We reached office by 10.30 am... this young (early 30s) guy pulled us into the conference room and screamed at us. He was going to be my future boss in sales. 
We were divided into groups and sent off to the distributor.
DS and S were in my group. We reached the distributor... he allotted us a unit each and we set off. I met the Sales Officer- Kuldeep in the market. He was quite smart... spoke very well... was fair... and a Kashmiri. He had worked in J&K as well. I was surprised to know that candies and gums have a high demand in that state... specially fruit flavoured liquid filled gum. 
My beat was Chirag Dilli. It is an area I will never venture into again. We visited every outlet on foot (since the Sales Officer did not have a vehicle) while the PSR and delivery guy travelled in the tempo. Generally, the SO (sales officer) would sit in the front with the driver (due to lack of options) in the van. We went to every outlet (only retail), showed samples of products- new launches, regular brand with a new promotion, focus brand which has incentive etc and tried to sell to the retailer. We had to cover 60 outlets and this was in June when heat was at its peak. Have you been to Chirag Dilli? It has such narrow lanes that a vehicle cannot enter. We walked to these outlets, took the orders, came back to the van and carried the jars to be delivered. 

During lunch hour, the PSR and delivery boy carried their tiffin and went to find a place to eat. Kuldeep and I had a juice. After lunch, we resumed selling. Our target was to cover 60 stores. Kuldeep had to fill a DMR (Daily market report). He had to write down the name of each outlet, tick on the brands he saw there and mention the sales for each brand he sold in the outlet. At the end of the beat he would mention his observations on the market. The report was then read by the distributor, signed and stamped. Kuldeep then posted it to the sales office. On receiving it, he got his DA (daily allowance)- between Rs 100-150. This allowance is given for market work. It is supposed to cover cost of food, water and some amount of travel. If any sales officer's DMR did not reach for a particular day he was not given his DA. Due to the unreliability of the postal services, every SO kept a xerox of the DMR as proof of market working.
Now, there is a much better method to get the market report. A software has been added to the SO's phone. He just types in everything at the end of day. The report is in BM's mail by morning. 

I survived the 60 calls... I did not faint... DS, S and I assembled at the distributor point and left for Gurgaon. It had been an exciting day and made all of us sure of our career choice. None of us regretted the decision. 

The market was most difficult for Delhites... they were afraid someone would recognize them. My dad would have had a heart attack if someone he knew saw me selling candies and gums to paan galas in my native place. He would be the talk of town, not for good reasons. N, D and A were very conscious... I think D's dad spotted N travelling in the van with the PSR and asked him about it in the evening. 

Lessons learned:
- Be punctual. It was drilled into us that units HAVE to leave for the market at 9 am. This was rule number 1 in every market... our 1st job of the day as SO or ASM. No compromises. My sales stint during MT made me a robot and I always turned up on time. There was not even 1 day that I was late. The 1st job is the MOST important. What you learn stays for life. I learned the importance and adherence to time. It has stayed... sure, I do get late sometimes... but I am not habitually time... I am not consistently late. Instead, most times I reach before time and have to spend time waiting for my team/colleagues. 

- There is no ego in sales. Imagine selling product of Rs 100 to a paan wala. He can easily brush you off or even throw you out of the shop. You can't pick a fight 'coz you need him (more than he needs you). You will visit him over and over again for business. 

- Lunch was a practical problem throughout my sales career. Where do you eat lunch? Nobody likes to eat out everyday... even if I carry a tiffin where do I eat it? For a lot of people, it is easier to get into the habit of skipping lunch. 

- If I was the Professor teaching sales/distribution, I would throw away the textbooks and make the students work in the market for 1 day. Thats all that is needed... everything else is gyaan (gaaassss). 

To be continued... 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Day 1

The caretaker cooked awesome b'fast in the morning. The HR female had raved about his food. It was only later that the food went downhill to the point that, when my mom came to visit she was horrified that I was eating such bad food. A cab arrived to pick us up... this luxury was only for the 1 week period.
We arrived in the posh office at 9 am all dressed in our formals. As soon as I got out of the lift, I came across the other 2 trainees from Delhi. N (HR female) tried to introduce me to D since they are from the same college but he completely ignored me. That was my first taste of 'Delhi' snobbishness. I had my least interaction with him in the first 2 months and maximum after that... and then we became friends... and now, we are just acquaintances.

We were seated in the conference room. According to the itinerary someone from each department and brand would present to us. Guess which department we were most eager to interact with? Sales? Marketing? Nope, it was HR. We wanted to talk money.

We met N and A, the most friendly and jovial HR females. Most HR professionals are friendly but these girls were genuinely warm. We had maximum interaction with them and they always had a listening ear.

Anyway, as it happens... nobody had time for us. There we were- all eager and charged up... waiting to make good first impressions but people were too busy to pay us any attention. We spent time interacting with each other. There was easy banter between DS and SS... they were from the same college and SS kept pulling DS's leg. It lightened the atmosphere and none of us had to try and make conversation.

But, this was at the back of everyone's minds-
9 of us had joined for sales. The most important part of sales life is - "location". Where you end up for the first 2 years will make your experience heaven or hell. Atleast 4 out of 9 wanted to be in the North- preferably Delhi... 2 would have been happy with any location... 2 of us were from West and would have been happy with anything except East... 1 would have preferred North or South...
The reality is that only 1 location would be available in North (going by past trends)... and none in a metro. Metros were most coveted and given to the best ASM once they have proved their mettle. We were there to struggle it out in some remote, upcountry location. The tension beneath the banter was electrifying. We were all competitors and everything was fair in the war. People were willing to go as far as possible to bag the coveted location.

One by one departments made their presentations. Finally, N came to present... another legend in the organization. He handled the brand which made the most profits... the brand which only the best and trusted would handle... the brand that made careers successful... he gave us a dirty look like presenting to us was a drag of his time. He gave the most boring presentation EVER. And he knew me and A since he had interviewed us. We tried our best to defend him but the rest had written him off as arrogant.

What do I remember about everyone on the first day? What was my impression?

N: HR female... so obviously, very nice and warm and caring. Typical Dilli attitude
D: Spent most of his time on the phone helping his girlfriend pick courses for her 2nd year in MBA. Completely lost
A: Hmm... don't really remember
SS: Happy go lucky... the sort of guy who can strike a conversation with anyone.... but not in a good way
DS: The brunt of all jokes... someone whose case you can easily take and he will not mind
S: A serious geek. He was describing Vipassana that was part of the MBA course. D and S, both attended but the way they both described it... the former thought it was hell... while the other thought it was heaven.
H: Very silent... too silent
AB: The quiet manipulator.... the one who will only blow rings of diplomacy... who will say stuff without committing anything
Me: Guarded.. introverted...
A: The Bong... need I say more?

AB and I had something in common... we were guarded... we didn't just start blurting out what we felt. Thats how we were groomed in our B School. It discouraged spontaneity. This was the corporate world... every word must be weighed. A was always like that but I learned the hard way.

SS, DS and A were from NMIMS. I think they teach a special course called "How to Ass Lick your way into the corporate world". They had that in common and it wasn't very effective.

We were a competitive group. It was something like being part of a group in B School. In TAPMI, we are all assigned a group of 9 people... then there are 2 core groups within that... We are encouraged to bond, spend time together... hang out... it is supposed to help work together. Below are the stages we go through:
- Spend all our time together... work on assignments, go for dinners, hang out... trips to beach... to valley view... end point. Oh the joy!!!
- Slowly, you tend to bond more with 1 or 2 people... smaller groups are formed... chemistry builds up
- Conflicts come in... ego clashes happen... you defend and support the people you share most chemistry with
- Groups change... now, you share better chemistry with someone else
- Conflicts come in... loyalties change
- You all end up having conflicts with everyone
- Everyone hates each other
- The group outings stop
- You no longer want to meet up for group work... all assignments are managed in smaller groups or through the internet so that you don't have to meet each other
- End of story

This group had a similar story.
More tomorrow...

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Day Zero

I had signed a slip after I was selected. The offer letter was to come later.

Reality: The offer letter arrived 15 days before I was to join the company. Thinking back now it is a scary thing... so many things could have gone wrong. Such things happen, even if rarely.

After 2 months of awesome holiday at home, I geared up to join my 1st job. I packed everything remembering below conversation:

During interview:

Me: Sir, which location will I be placed at? My parents would like to know this

Branch Manager of North and South (a legend): Well, initially we will send you to difficult markets like Assam, J&K etc

HR female giving him warning looks.

Me (thinking- I will not ask any more questions... I am scared to find out more)

Parents reaction at the answer: Can't you find another job???

Me: You are joking right? Jobs don't just hang from the tree.

My parents and brother came all the way to Gurgaon to drop me. It sounds ridiculous now 'coz none of the other Management Trainees' had their parents drop them for their first job. It wasn't weird then... I was used to my parents dropping me everywhere.

We drove to the guesthouse which is in a posh area of Gurgaon. I would love to buy a flat there someday. It was a 4 bhk with a caretaker. There were 9 others with me.... 4 Punjabis, 1 Mallus, 1 Tamilian, 1 Marathi, 1 Bengali, 1 from UP and me. 3 from SCMHRD, 2 from NMIMS, 1 from SIBM and 2 of us from TAPMI.

8 of us were staying at the guesthouse and we discussed the people who interviewed us... our colleges... some gossip ... etc.

The Job

I don't want to get into "how" I got the job. For that I will have to write about my B school and everything. I can write a separate blog about it.
Here are a few highlights:

- Everyone joins a B school for the placement. My college was snobbish enough to think otherwise... and made our life miserable during placements by scheduling exams at the same time. They have realized their folly now

- I got placed by 9 am on placement day... there was no day 0, day 1 etc. Everything in 1 day. 99% of the batch was placed by 12 noon

- There is an IT company which comes with a truck and loads all the leftover students in it. Don't worry if you don't get a job, you can jump onto the truck

- Getting a job on campus is so damn easy (even though it didn't seem that way then) compared to the job hunts later on

- There are 3 kinds of students during placements

  1. Those who know where they want to join and get in... like me
  2. Those who don't care where they join as long as they get a job... they generally have 20 companies on their wish list. They spend their time running from interview to interview and scattering their energy and focus
  3. Those who come with one objective and end up doing something else. One guy I know wanted to join banking... thats all he talked about in the 2 years... but ended up joining IT. It was not 'coz he could not get into banking... he didn't even go for the interview
- What you study in B School has no relevance in your work life. Those case studies are useless too. I did not use even one word of my textbooks in the first 5 years of my career. Of course, the long words help in clearing interviews. This relevant for all courses- sales, marketing, consumer research, finance, HR, supply chain, distribution etc etc etc. 

- What will help will be skills... writing research papers, making presentations, learning excel, team work. Being a team player... working in a team... leading a team are the most important skills that you can learn. Of course, what you do in the 2 years is upto you. 

I got into my preferred organization for sales. I wanted to ultimately get into marketing but for now I was keen on starting with sales. Some of my batch mates advised me (unnecessarily) that companies don't hire females for sales and I should look at other career options. That is pure bullshit. Companies are falling over each other to hire females for sales since it makes their sex ratio look good. It makes them look like a women friendly organization. 
Some GOOD FMCG organizations have openings only for females. 

Reality- If you are a female and shortlisted after an interview and there is a male also shortlisted... you will got the job considering that both of you are equally good. 


I have worked in sales.... FMCG sales, to be precise. Every kind of sales has its own rules but FMCG sales is the most coveted of all. Thats why I had to specify.
I just realized that there are no (or very few) blogs which prepare (actually prepare) you for a career in sales. No... this is not like 'Earning the laundry stripes' where a woman described her stint in sales in HUL. The intention is not write this from a gender perspective even though that will come in ... since I'm a female.
The sales experience is cherished one... every hardship goes into making who you are... it is also a badge of honour... not everyone lasts in sales... and nobody understands the business better than a sales person (definitely not marketing). Don't believe me? Most FMCG companies insist on a sales experience for marketing... let me correct that... all GOOD FMCG companies insist on a sales experience for marketing. Some organizations have a sales stint for every department... finance, marketing, HR, supply chain. It is may or may not be vice versa.... A sales person may or may not get exposure to other departments.
So, here goes. This is what it is all about. Throw your text books aside... 1 day on the field is equivalent to 5 years of reading text books (and even then it may not be enough).