Friday, May 8, 2015

Sales Managed

By this time I have begun to realise that Jugal Hansraj and I have so much in common in so many ways. I write so infrequently now that every time I come back to it, it’s a comeback, just like Hansraj gets roles so infrequently that every time he acts, he debuts. And like my writing, no one misses his acting.
Okay, sorry. Some of you do miss my prose, I admit.

So this post is about the life of an Area Sales Manager (ASM). Basically an overpaid and underworked salesman and an underpaid and overworked manager. The purpose of this post is not to advertise or chastise the profession. The intention is to advertise and chastise it. I do not intend to critique a specific FMCG company. I intend to critique them all.
My intentions are noble, or so I would like to believe. And hence, the post is meant to be taken with a pinch of salt, unless you’re an ASM with Tata Chemicals, in which case you can take a carton of salt and sell it in wholesale at an undercut price.

To an outsider, it’s tough to explain that we ASMs are employed and yet don’t have an office. A lot of aunties go up to my mother and ask the typical ‘apka-beta-kahan-kaam-karta-hai’ and ‘office-kahan-hai’ types. Mothers usually have these very simplistic explanations to everything. So I, apparently, go door to door, selling stuff and taking payments. But she still can’t get over the fact that I don’t have an office. ‘Kahin-kuchh-toh-hoga-na’, she enquires almost every time she calls. And at last, I cede and give her the address of my Carry Forward Agent (CFA).

ASMs, I believe, are the only breed for whom ‘work’ (and not ‘home’) is the driving word when they ‘work from home’. Almost 60% of the productive work gets done from home while the remaining gets done at the distributor office (usually his home, so technically still ‘work from home’). And yet, whenever the bosses call and enquire about our whereabouts, we are always in the market (even at midnight). Don’t get me wrong, but not having an office also has its merits. We, for instance, do not suffer from Monday morning blues. For us, every day is a Sunday and every day is a Monday. A better metric for us is the day of the month. So while the first three weeks of the month have 21 weekends, the last week has all days working. It has as many productive man-hours as the first three weeks combined, out of which the last day alone is 50%. So our typical month is like a typical Dhoni knock. Nudging, pushing and prodding for the first three-fourths, taking quickly run twos and threes for the next few and finishing it off with a last ball six.

Just that MSD meets his numbers more often.  

I doubt there’s another profession that has its evaluation parameters so tangible and measurable. And I also doubt there’s another profession that has its evaluation parameters so confusing and ambiguous. What’s absolutely clear is that growth is an absolute must. What’s absolutely not clear is which growth we’re talking about. So when we ring up our bosses after the month closing, gleefully narrating our double digit volume growth over the same month last year, they gently remind us how the growth over the previous quarter has been stagnant. And when we call them next month, about how the territory has shown great volume growth over last year as well as the previous quarter, they quickly remind us that the growth in value terms has been sluggish. And when we show both volume and value growth over last year as well as the last quarter, there’s always a smaller territory in the region that has registered twice the growth during the same period.
And yet, the band for success is fixed. There are no Bs, Cs and Ds in sales. It’s either A or nothing. In percentage terms, anything between 0 to 100 percent is a failure. It basically means you can neither plan nor execute (and neither do you go to the market). Anything between 100%-105% is an A and means that you can plan and execute well (doesn’t matter if you go to the market). Anything over 105% is again a failure because you can plan and execute but can’t control (because you don’t go to the market).   

But hey, we still love our jobs! For it allows us to travel (to non-descript upcountry locations), meet new people (bluffing salesmen and stingy distributors), stay among the locals (in shady hotels with bedbugs and ceiling fans inside bathrooms) and enjoy different cuisine (by chance and not by choice).   

But more than anything else, I love my job for the sheer learning potential it offers. One learns to lie with a straight face (boss I will definitely do my numbers), be overly optimistic (boss I will definitely do my numbers with or without the stock), be overenthusiastic (boss I will definitely do my numbers with or without the stock with one week to go), be prophetic (boss I think I will do my numbers with or without the stock with one week to go ), make excuses (boss I would have definitely done my numbers with or without the stock with one week to go had there been no earthquake in Nepal) and make promises (boss next month I will definitely do my numbers).

And I also love it because it has a jargon of its own. No, no, we do not invent our own words. We give a different connotation to the existing ones. For instance, ‘align’ means dissemination of information, ‘stock’ denotes shortage, ‘target’ means impossible, ‘phasing’ is a myth, ‘delivery’ mean late, ‘commitment’ means anything but commitment and ‘closing’ means fear. There are also a few phrases that we hold up our sleeves that come out as and when required (and are never ever true). To the retailer: ‘Sir bika toh apka, nahi bika toh humara’. To the subordinates: ‘Tu kaam kar, incentive mujh par chhod’. To the distributor: ‘Sir abhi aap pay kar do, baad mein adjust kar lenge’. And to your boss: ‘Sir market mein hoon’.

Phew! Long rant. Still love my job, for there are only a few professions that one can bitch about so much and yet keep one’s job. Possibly because our bosses don’t have the time to read what we write. Or maybe the upcountry town they’re touring right now has our distribution, but doesn’t have internet.

Or electricity.