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).