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.
- S: I make a list of all potential companies that I can apply to.
- 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.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
“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. “
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
If I repeat, I remember.
If my memory is refreshed, I will recall faster.
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.
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?
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
- 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)
- 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.
- 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