Before joining MBA I heard a lot about understanding business at the “grassroots” level. Grass and roots kept on ringing in my ears so much that grassroots fascinated me. Later watching Harsha Bhogle’s talk at IIMC I figured that I will try out a sales job at least as my summer project (summers) although I was interested in a consulting or a marketing profile. As I got busy with the course work this thought faded away slowly. When it actually came down to summer project recruitment process I was looking at consulting or marketing profiles only. As the old saying goes “Man proposes, but God disposes”. Let me twist it a bit “God listens only to your subconscious mind”. He listened to something that was in my subconscious, “Sales”. I ended up in a sales job for my summers.
I was told to report in Gurgaon soon after my term III final exams. I thought, “Great! I shall explore the professionalism of Delhites for which they are well known”. Soon after reporting in Gurgaon I was posted to Bihar for my field work. My friends and colleagues scared me with their half-cooked knowledge of Bihar. I kept my fingers crossed.
Five of us started for Patna by Magadh express. We got deluge of information about train journey to Bihar.We prepared ourselves mentally and convinced ourselves that our reserved seats were not ours and at any time we might be asked to vacate seats by gun-toting Mafia. Nothing of that sort happened except that the train was delayed by 8 hours. We were disappointed for the lack of anticipated “excitement” in our journey.
Our half-cooked knowledge suggested that Patna will be dark and won’t even look like a small town. We were astounded to find bright light around, lot of hoardings, crowd and so much of activity all over. Our driver dropped us near our guest house in kanti factory road close to rajendranagar terminal.
The owner of the guest house welcomed us and showed our rooms which were non-AC. We asked for an AC room as it was very hot there. We decided that we will stay there although it was costly so as to beat the heat at least for 1-2 days. After having a pleasant bath we went out looking for a dhaba for food. The most striking thing we observed is that there were no street lights and almost no night life in Patna. Before falling asleep, we had a nice discussion on the telecom industry, tariff plans etc as we were going to sell telecom services from the next day.
Two of us were sent to Ranchi. The Zonal Business Manager of Bihar gave me a 30 minute induction on sales in telecom and the situation in Bihar. It was not about the tricks of selling telecom services but more about grooming me to speak firmly with the retailers and distributors as if I was a very powerful person from the company. When I asked about the technical points on sales he told me that he didn’t have time for explaining them and suggested me to pick them up from the market. Then he assigned me some key result areas (tasks). According to those result areas, I was given a list of distributors to visit. I was supposed to cover the retailers under each distributor to explain the company’s products and promotions, to observe each and every aspect of sales and distribution and report if there is any issue and last but not the least motivate the retailer to sell the company’s products.
I had to change three autos to reach Daanapur (Distributor location).I went for the retailer visits sitting behind the sales person (aka FOS: Feet on Street) on his bike. I mugged up all about the tariff plans and schemes of my company and its competitors. I spoke to retailers with full authority as if I was in telecom business for years.
I used to learn some new point every day. The telecom industry is suffering from the margin-cut due to per second plans and some other issues related to licenses. In addition to this the companies in Bihar were on the spree of giving terrific trade promotions. To qualify themselves for the trade promotions the retailers did their own calculations and came up with mind-blowing schemes for the end-user. Some of them were free sim card, Rs.50 talk time for just Rs.10 and so on. This means that there will be no single price for a plan even in the outlets that are separated by a wall. This boiled down to the situation where the one who gives the best trade promotion emerge as the winner rather than the one who gives the best network service and tariff plans.
Daily I used to come back with all the dirt on my body. In sales, dirt is the true indicator that the sales persons are indeed doing their job. Our daily expenses were giving us a heart attack. We had to shift the room from AC to non-AC. Three of us were able to convince the owner to retain the AC room for an extra charge of just Rs.50. The discussion (should I call it negotiation?) that led to convincing the owner was funny. We did so much of emotional atyaachaar that he finally agreed. At one stage my friend told him that other hotels/guest houses were providing AC for an amount much lesser than what we were paying. The owner asked us to vacate and take those alternatives in a very serious tone. I asked him to calm down and in a very requesting tone told him to just think why we were insisting to stay in the same guest house although we had so many options nearer to the office. I myself answered my question saying that we trusted him, his service was very good. I told him that charging just Rs.50 /day more instead of Rs. 300 more will also work out for him. I reminded him that he doesn’t have any guests at that time and the power cut is for at least for 2-3 hours out of 7-8 hours of our stay in the room. We told him that in case he gets guests for AC room at the normal (actually high) prices we would shift back to non-AC room. We said that firmly as we were confident that his business was really sluggish.
On the weekends we used to visit different places in Patna like Gol ghar, Gandhi maidan, restaurants, theatres etc. There is also a pub in fraser road owned by Haryana hurricane Kapil dev. Being a teetotaller I had to order the mocktails but I loved them. Their menu contained exhaustive options for both veg and non-veg starters. There were no malls in Patna city. One mall was in pipeline and would be operational in a month or so. We visited two theatres mona and regent. Mona was like any multiplex in a metro but ticket price was around Rs.200. Regent reminded me of my childhood when I used to watch Chiranjeevi’s movies in my town with lot of noise and whistling around. We watched IronMan-2 in Hindi in regent theatre. Whenever Ironman outwits Vanko there was ear crackling applause in the theatre.
Through my visits to retailers and to different places in Patna I got an opportunity to interact with different people of Bihar. A person like me who was used to upper middle class life in a city like Hyderabad would feel guilty of extravagance although I am not prodigal. Majority of the people in Bihar don’t spend much although they can. They are very price-sensitive leading companies to promote their products as the cheapest of all.
People of Bihar are very expressive. One of my colleagues took surveys on the company’s brand image. He asked them a question and they gave lot of details with appropriate punch lines like “Jhoote mein Baata, Lohe mein Tata” in order to emphasise their ideas. Being from Bihar might be a reason for still moving still shaking Shekhar suman. Every Indian loves to hear speeches of none other than Laluji.
People of Bihar are very helpful. I read about the politics, corruption, mafia etc. in Bihar. Initially I was scared to death to speak to people and to add some serious tone in my voice whenever it was necessary. Slowly I realised that media rarely highlights common man. A common man is just like any other common man either he belongs to Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Delhi, New York, London. Once I was lost and couldn’t figure out the way back home. I asked a commuter for help. He came along with me all the way till the auto stand and got an auto for me back home for right fare. All the people I worked with were from Bihar. They were very helpful on the field. Initially I couldn’t handle an unhappy retailers. My colleagues guided me appropriately to dissipate their anger.
It was almost a month and a half in Bihar. Everything became routine. I found that there was nothing new to learn. With the suggestion of our alumnus who works for the same company, I told my mentor that I learnt almost everything about the business. I asked him to assign some new work to me. He gave a sarcastic smile emphasising "everything" in my sentence. The next day I got a call from him and an instruction to immediately start for the town named Nawada to participate in the launch exercise. This gave me an opportunity to explore rural Bihar in a bus that was tightly packed with people sitting on the seats, standing inside the bus and sitting on the top of the bus.
The launch experience was terrific. It was very hectic for those 10 days. We were very enthusiastic about launch and encouraged each other. Our enthusiasm diffused our fatigue and rejuvenated us. The critical part was to educate retailers why they should invest in our company rather than others? They needed someone from the company to spend time to explain each of their doubts. That’s where I came in. We launched the service grandly and reached the launch targets.
I came back to Gurgaon and gave an informal presentation on my field study with some recommendations for improvement. After presentation, I went to Hyderabad (Home) for a week to relax.
One day at home I reflected upon the past 60 days. What has these 60 days done to me? I should say they have brought "temporary culture change" in me. Now, I bargain even in a store that says fixed price. Shopping became my hobby. Whenever I go for shopping I am watchful about the prices and keen at observing the selling process. I became, shall I say, mentally flexible. Things were so much unstructured and uncertain during those 60 days that I developed the habit of generating multiple options for multiple scenarios. Last but not the least I was able to come out of the feeling that the hardest path is the only righteous path. In fact there will be at least two righteous paths in most of the situations. Don’t take one without exploring the other.