Why is sales so distasteful?


When I talk to MBA students about sales as a career, a distasteful look fleets across their faces. I sympathise. The image of a sales person conning you into buying something you do not need comes to mind. I did hardcore sales for 2 years and then decided never to do it again. Lo and behold, for the last 10 odd years I have been spending an increasing proportion of my time selling. As I grow more senior in an organisation, I am selling my organisation’s products to customers, the organisation’s prospects to shareholders and the organisation’s values to current and prospective employees.

The reason selling seems distasteful is probably because I am dependent on the ‘buyer’ to make a decision and therefore I am in his power. Maybe this hurts my ego. Another reason could be that there is no set formula for success and we need to make a new effort and come up with a new tactic for each sale. This means we need to understand and adapt to each situation as it comes. There is no predictability and so a perceived loss of control.

Is convincing people not selling? Am I not spending my day in and outside office convincing and being convinced. How can I escape selling?

So let us get real. We sell all our life and sales is unpredictable. There is statistically a 50 percent chance of success or failure. If our success rate more that 50%, we are ahead of the curve.

Although there is no formula, I have adapted the old Xerox methodology for selling. This was called the SPANCO method.

  • Suspect – list of all potential customers that I need to convince
  • Prospect – a short list of qualified suspects
  • Approach – what tactics do i adopt for each customer
  • Negotiate – Come to terms, monetary and otherwise
  • Close – get a letter of intent or be the only one in the running
  • Order – get the money or a contract

In order to sell anything, including myself for a job, I can follow this method.

  1. S: I make a list of all potential companies that I can apply to.
  2. P: I create a set of criteria to short list the targets. This can be based on location, salary, other perks, culture, learning potential, availability of jobs, seniors’ feedback, competition with other job seekers, company financials, company potential etc. I give weight to each of these criteria in order of importance. I then do my research and give points for each criteria (simple one is: 1 for favourable, 0 for no information, -1 for unfavourable). I then perform a weighted average calculation for each suspect and come up with a short list of companies.
  3. A: For each company, I find out who to contact, what is the job, how to meet the person, what makes that person tick (what is in it for him), why will they take me, where and when should I meet the person, in essence the who/ what/ where/ why/ when/ how of each prospect. I need to have a 3-line pitch ready. This is when I customise my resume based on the requirement (equivalent to a proposal).
  4. I do the homework and then I approach the company. Once I have reached a decision maker I make my short pitch and get him to engage so that there is a follow up action. I cannot get a sale done in one meeting and this this stage takes time, with different meetings, different deliverables and maybe different approaches.
  5. N: Once the prospect is convinced about the product (me), he needs to get the company to shell out money (salary). So a negotiation starts with maybe the purchase department (HR in this case). This is the time when I need to evaluate the relative merits and demerits of the competition, so I need to know who is the competition and I project myself as the ideal product for the job in the most cost effective way.
  6. C: This stage is when I am the only candidate in the running and the numbers have been negotiated. This is where I am waiting for an appointment letter. Many times, specially like now, these letters can be withdrawn or a renegotiation can happen.
  7. O: This is when I have actually joined or I have a proper contract with the company, the PF has been set up and I am a bona fide employee.

How do I get a job in these troubled times?


These are bad times. Demand for MBAs is less than supply so salaries are going south. All MBAs are not created equal, some are more equal than others – some MBAs will get better jobs by virtue of their work experience, their college reputation and the location of the college.

Job portals are out. Every one has his resume out there and are competing for the same jobs. I need to do something different.
I have a target list of companies that I want to join based on my chosen career path. What should I do? I need to categorise these companies as A, B and C based on an arbitrary ranking of desirability. A-type companies have a brand and most MBAs will flock there. These companies will be choosy and I do not have a chance. B-category companies are the ones I need to target and I will use the C category companies to hone my skills.
I need to do my research on these B-category companies. Basic stuff like company financials, market share, positioning strategy, pricing, competition and organisation culture.
In these times, the order of the day is to increase sales and decrease costs. How do I use this to get a job? Simple: offer them customers / sales and offer them a variable component of salary based on performance indicators.
For example, I want to be a financial analyst. Given the markets right now, the glamorous and cushy jobs are not there any more. So what can I do? I can go to a company that wants to expand its customer base rapidly (say Reliance Money) and make a proposition to them – I will get them 5 new customers a month or increase their Assets Under Management by 1 lakh each month and I will take 75% of my salary as fixed and 25% as variable based on pre-defined targets.
Where do I get the customers? In these times, everyone wants someone to trust with their money. Would my relatives trust me with Rs. 10,000 a month? After all I am a relative – hence a known person, specialising in financial management and Rs 10,000 will not kill them. 5 relatives a month can get me half way to my target and the next month I would achieve my target! I would be doing the same stuff as a Financial Analyst, giving reports to my clients, gaining experience, creating a loyal client base and when I get a job in an A category company, I move with my clients. If I am doing a good job, the word-of-mouth will get me more clients. One existing client can refer at least one more person and I could have a multplier in operation. If I am not doing a good job, then I know this is not my career.
I know that it feels queasy to talk about sales when I am specialising in finance. But reality is that we are selling/promoting ourselves each day of our life. We just did not stake our careers on selling.

So I have this brilliant idea! What can I do with it?


“I am a new joinee to my organisation and I have a great idea which can add to the bottom line as well as advertise me to the powers-that-be. However, I am not confident that my boss agrees with me. “

Step 1. First things first. Do I really know that my boss will not agree with me or is it something that I ASS-U-ME (some one said: let me not make an ASS of U and ME)? I need to sound out the office grapevine in terms of my boss’ personality and what makes him tick. Basic stuff: if I make my boss goods good, he will help me. This is not the time to advertise myself, I first need to establish credibility. Therefore I need to give my boss the credit for the idea and hope he will take you along. If not, I go to step 2.
Step 2. I need to go over my boss and I need to tread carefully.
  1. I first need to find out who are the influential people (every organisation has an informal org chart based on power and influence) and what makes them tick.
  2. I need to find out a way to approach him/her in an informal setting. One of the ways to do this is to join a club in the organisation that has the secretaries / the receptionists as a member. Typically the CSR or the cultural clubs are my best bet. This allows me to find out more about my target – his moods, itinerary etc.
  3. I need to have my 3 point pitch ready – how will the organisation benefit in money terms, how much will it cost and how long will it take. If I have not done my research, I am dead and the secretary will cut you dead subsequently.
  4. Once I find an opportunity, I need to introduce myself, make my pitch (in one minute) and ask for an opportunity to give a more detailed 15 minute presentation. I will probably be asked to send him a presentation.
  5. I need to create a brief presentation (3 slides: a. proposal and benefits – what and why; b. implementation and costs – who, when, where, how; c. next steps). The covering slide should have my boss’ name first and my name second.
  6. I should now go to my boss and tell him that I accidentally met the influencer and had an informal chat and now have this opportunity and want his feedback. When my boss sees his name on the presentation, he will have no choice but to help.
  7. I then make the presentation with my boss and defer to him all the way.

Step 3. If I have a go ahead, I need to implement the idea. However, this may take a lot of my time and may impact my immediate deliverables. I need my boss to agree to the change in appraisal KPIs.

There is a possibility that my boss will not like what I have done. There is also a possibility that the influencer may think that I am suited for my boss’ role but I may personally not be ready yet. I need to be ready for these eventualities and the consequences.

How to ask for advice


Drucker, in his book ‘The Effective Executive,’ points out that the more senior a person is, the less time he has to himself. Since that person is also paid more, time is at a premium.

So if I waylay him and ask for advice, he will not be very keen on doing so – not because he does not want to, but because he needs to shift gears, listen to me, think of an answer or answers and then discuss them with me.
Furthermore, do I really need to be spoon fed? Does it create a good impression about me?
What I would do is the following:
Step 1: Do my research
    1. take the problem, analyse it, come up with 3 alternatives (1. do nothing, 2.do something radical and drastic, 3. something in the middle)


  • for each of the alternatives, understand the consequences. I need to remember that there is no right or wrong decision, there are paths and there are consequences.



  • I try to have at least 2 positive and 2 negative consequences for each alternative



  • I try an get one more ‘out-of-the-box’ alternative and its consequences



  • I then evaluate each one of them and come up with the most plausible alternative


Step 2: Find an opportune moment

I try to find a suitable time when the mentor is amenable to spend 5-10 minutes with me. This may need a prior appointment. I should be prepared to tell him the following:

    1. I have a problem which is ….(one sentence)


  • The impact of this problem on me (or whatever) is ….(one sentence)



  • I have come up with some solutions and I need his advice on whether I am taking the right step / approach. I do not tell him the solutions right now.


The advantage of this approach is that my mentor does have to waste his time. He knows I have done my homework, and I am coming to him for ratification. This allows him to give advice based on some foundation and my line of thought. It also tells him that I understand the value of his time.

Step 3: Prepare for the meeting

I make a mind map or a set of slides outlining the problem, the constraints, the assumptions, the alternatives and the consequences.

I print this out. This is dicey. I personally do not like to print and waste paper unless it is something to be kept for posterity. However, most seniors i know like to touch a piece of paper and scribble their comments on them and give them back. I typically ask the mentor what he would prefer.

Step 4: Meet, present, take advice and get out, fast

I do not need to say more.

Step 5: Give feedback

This is important. After I have done what I decided to do, I send my mentor a small email or a handwritten note explaining what happened and thanking him for his help. I cannot emphasise this more.

How to read a book (and make notes) effectively


One of the problems we face is of information overload. We read books, handouts, newspapers, magazines and Internet articles and are expected to have instant recall of the right information at the right time.

How do we typically read?
We take a book, sit or lie, (maybe with the TV or the radio or the music system on) and read it from cover to cover. If there is less time (like the night before the exam), we read faster. Our minds wander off and we rudely pull ourselves back from that seductive wonderland, cursing the exam or the deadlines. We get irritated, do not brook any disturbance and feel a sense of achievement when we have finished the book. We remember something about it the next day but within a week, it is gone.
If we are more active, we sit upright and we highlight sections of a book. This gives better focus as our hands are busy, and at the end of it we have a fluorescent, highlighted / underlined book. But when we need the information and we read the highlighted paragraphs, do we know what we highlighted and why? We also realise that we have highlighted 50 % of the book. Do we know which book to refer? And if it was a library book?
If we are even more active, we make notes. Start from the first page and assiduously copy salient paragraphs. Better than highlighting as we are actively writing and therefore cannot daydream. Since we are copying, we are reading a paragraph twice or thrice and slowly. If time is short, we make notes faster (illegibly). Sometime we are in-the-zone and we make notes of the book without even knowing what we are writing. Reminds me of lectures – same process – at the end of the lecture, lots of notes but no remembrance of the lecture.
When I read my notes (if I can decipher my handwriting) I have no clue what it was about.
Ah yes, the internet! How can I forget the proliferation of e-books and search engines. So now I can search for anything I want, whenever I want. Does it help? When was the last time we were able to get stuff that was relevant? And if I am in an interview, do I say, “Hang on guys, while I get the answer from my mobile phone!”
Why can’t we really read?
We need to participate actively in the reading process (as opposed to passively be awash with information), analyse and categorise the data in real time such that the information makes sense and we are focussed enough to retain this information in our mind, actively looking for cross references, coincidences, linkages so that the concept stick.

We need to have a some sort of Knowledge Management System (hey! stop groaning) that allows us to keep the information in a readable, recallable format such that if we look at our notes, we can grasp the concept in its entirety, recall the salient features and delve deeper due to the references and cross references.

Sounds like an awful lot of work! Might as well just read and hope for the best. But think about the following plausible scenario:

Placements are round the corner and the chaps coming for an interview are jaded lot who just came from a set of colleges like ours, who want to go home and who need a reason to flunk us. So they ask the first candidate (poor him), a question about the latest fad, say, ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ and our colleague’s mind freezes. Man, he had just read that book and now he doesn’t remember a thing!
When he comes out, all of us crowd around him and in a daze he tells us about the interview. All of us power up our laptops and Google for ‘Blue Ocean’. Of course, this question is not asked again in the interview, but something similar and equally arcane is.

In my 20 years of experience I must have read an average of 1 non-technical book (not to mention manuals and other stuff pertaining to the job) a month, which comes to 240 odd books (actually a lot more) but for the life of me, I don’t remember most of it. That was a colossal waste of time and money.
Bottom line, if I cannot recall what I read, there is no purpose in reading.
What creates good recall?
  1. Remember doodling in class? Very enjoyable, and sometimes, part of your notes are inside that doodle. How can I make doodling a part of notes-taking? Remember the game of remembering 10 objects in a tray? If you used the ‘a-b-c-d’ concept of linked association, you could remember it. Most good mnemonics are humourous in nature.
  2. If I take one concept at a time, or one paragraph at a time and, in real time, categorise this topic and put it in conjunction with other topics, I would have made a better imprint in my mind. Add to this some colour, some squiggles, some cartoons and some highlighting, then I am interested in and looking forward to what the lecturer is going to say (of the book is talking about) so that I can make more squiggles and create something Picasso-ish (or maybe Pollock-ish).
  3. If I repeat, I remember.
  4. If my memory is refreshed, I will recall faster.
  5. I don’t need to remember every line, unless it is a drama script. If I remove everything but keywords, an article/chapter can become quite small.
  6. If I have a top level map of where I am and where I need to be, I remember the roads quite well. So a map of a book shows me how things are linked and helps me remember

If I can use sight, sound and other senses, I can recall better. My daughter creates a rap song for her history lessons, throws in some guitar chords and she remembers it all!!!

Is there a methodology to make notes in such a way that it is easy to recall?

Can this be used to take down lectures and notes from books?

I use something called mind maps . A mind map of this URL is shown here.

Freemind and XMind are pretty good Open Source software, which you can install and use to make notes. It can also be used for brainstorming, outlining a project, a project report and I even use it for presentations.

I have, at the end, included a mind map of this article. You will notice that there are more things in it, and it summarises the article quite well.

But before you jump into mind maps, there are a few things to keep in mind. If you just create a mind map of a book, it is like taking a short cut, and purposeless.

Some tips on how to read a book

    1. Approach the book outside in. This is not ‘Alice in Wonderland’ (you know, “begin at the beginning…”). Look at the cover, back cover, about the author, and read the table of contents. Close it and try to recall the table. This starts creating a map in your mind about the book and the overall territory. Read the TOC again. Think about what is different about this book. Why did this book get written (and no facetious remark, please, about making money etc.)


  • Understand why you want to read the book. What is it that you want from it? Is it just the concepts? Or is it to prepare for an exam? What type of exam is it? Therefore what do you need to extract from the book.



  • Get an idea of the time it will take to read the book. If you do not have enough time, what are your priorities? Do you need to read every line, every chapter? So what happens if you do not read this book?


All the above should take you 15 minutes maximum.

Now start with the first chapter (or the chapter you need to study)

    1. Take a guess about the chapter. Read the section headings. Look at all the diagrams. Skim very fast, without stopping.


  • Now read the first line of each paragraph



  • This is the time when you are going to do your first recall. Create a preliminary mind map.


This should take you another 15 minutes. Later this will improve to 5 minutes.

    1. Now read the details of the chapter, which are necessary and fill out your mind map.


  • If you have to remember stuff, create funny mnemonics.



  • Time taken for this depends on length of the chapter, the complexity and the amount of work needed.


Take a break. Reward yourself. Then go to the next chapter and do the same thing.

Link up all the chapters in the mind map. One advantage of this is that if you leave the book half way and come back to it, just by looking at the mind maps, you will retain the continuity.

If you can get together in a group and every one does a book and gives a presentation, you can all cover a lot of books. Share the maps.

What about those lectures?

Create a mind map during the lecture in your notebook. Do not use your laptop. Use color pencils, doodles (and save the desks).

Listen to what the instructor is saying, and THEN put the keywords down. This is important. If you don’t understand, you cannot write it down. Ask for a clarification. If we just blindly make notes, might as well bring a Dictaphone to class. Don’t worry that your mind map is a mess.

In the evening, recreate the mind map on your laptop. This is your first revision. Add in more details from the internet or the book. See if you can cross reference with other lectures or book reviews.

Revisit the map before the next class or while waiting for the instructor. This should hardly take you one minute and you will know what happened last time. If there is a spot quiz, you are ready!!

Scan the map periodically or before a test / interview.


Mind maps of this article


The above is a collapsed mind map. Here is a detailed one. Please download and view