When I was 17 years old, a real estate agent - M.M Goyal of Jaico Real Estates in Mumbai told me a Hindi dialog. He said 'Vyaapari woh, Jo Bechta bhala'.
Translated, it means "The businessman who knows how to 'Sell' is truly successful".
25 years later, I couldn't agree with him more.
No matter which profession or job you are in, you have to know how to sell if you want an accelerated career.
Here are seven compelling reasons I have learnt personally:
1. Sales make you believe in yourself.
When I started an unheard concept of creating online contests (contests2win) in 1998, I couldn't even explain the idea to people because the online world was alien to them.
In a famous meeting I had with Gunender Kapur (GK) of Hindustan Lever (that lasted for one hour), in which I pounded the idea of online promotions for the Annapurna Brand that he headed. He finally exclaimed, "I like you, I like the idea of 'contesting', but pray tell me what is 'online?' GK did not know what the Internet really was!
I did hundreds of meetings like those during 98-99, only to face rejection, doubts and outright bewilderment. But each meeting made me hone my skill of explaining my idea in more detail; it forced me to add so many more dimensions to my concept in more ways than I had even envisaged. It made me learn my business better and reinforced my conviction in it!
Thirteen years later, how much I thank those painful years for teaching me the hardest lesson that an Entrepreneur sometimes finds most difficult to learn - to continue to BELIEVE in her idea when the world says 'Huh?'
Just the sheer passion in your eyes and speech will make people like you, notice you and even believe in you instantly. Even though they may not understand your idea.
2. Sales trains you 'Patience'.
A gentleman called Gareth Thomas who was a management trainee at Channel V in 1998 liked the concept of online contests.
Channel V had a popular 'Viewers Choice' awards on their channel and they were keen to convert the same into online contests.
The only problem was that Gareth liked calling me from my office in South Mumbai to meet his boss Vivek Paul usually at 2 pm to their Lakdawala office in Khar, and after making me wait till 5 pm, he would send a message via the receptionist (or come down himself) to tell me that Vivek could not meet me.
Both Vivek and he repeated this 'ditch' game three times with me. On my fifth visit, after the usual 3 hour wait, Vivek did finally meet me and gave me the business of hosting the Channel V Viewers' Choice Awards on my website.
Despite the bitter anger and frustration of wasting time 'waiting', I learnt the hard lesson of being patient.
Sofas, secretaries and guards in offices became my best friends.
Waiting became my meditation.
Today, if I have to wait for a day, a month, a year or even a decade to achieve what I really want, it's cool with me.
The religion of Sales has taught me that the fruit of penance is very sweet.
3. Sales makes you meet like minded people.
I met Rajiv Hiranadani (another ACE Salesman) when we used to both wait for 3 hours (minimum) to meet N.P. Thirukode of Shaw Wallace at Ballard Estate.
As salespeople, we clicked despite the fact that while sitting on that sofa we were arch competitors. Rajiv used to sell Yahoo and I used to represent MSN (Microsoft) as a sales partner.
By 2002, we had become good friends and I invited Rajiv to start up Mobile2win in India. By meeting him constantly, I understood what he was about.
More importantly, if he could wait with a smile for 3 hours to close a small deal, he was my clone. He was my kind of CEO.
Today, 10 years later Rajiv is still running that business. (Read this story of my exit from mobile2win)
When I last counted, I had 5199 visiting cards that I have collected as an online entrepreneur.
Each and every one of them has a Sales Contact.
You have to go out there, SELL and in the process meet the most interesting people in the world. For all you know, your business soul mate could be one of them!
4. Sales teaches you how to 'read' People.
My 2win founding team member Raj Menon (Ace salesman again) and I had gone to Sony India (in their Faridabad office) in June 2003 to pitch a brand new format of contesting that we had conceptualized in collaboration with Jet Airways.
At the Sony office, we met a gentleman called Dinesh Chandra.
I began presenting the pitch. It was a 12-slide deck. The pitch price was on slide 12.
Raj and I have trained each other to watch and observe the client as a pitch progresses. As I crossed slide 9. I saw Raj reach for his phone. That was a subtle signal for me. I slowly finished slide 10. Just as slide 11 came up, I saw Raj's sms message on my phone. It said 'Do not go to 12. End now'.
After slide 11, I declared that we had reached the end of the PPT and thanked Dinesh Chandra for listening.
Just then Raj pretended to get a phone call, and in a couple of minutes, Raj looked at Dinesh Chandra and asked him 'Sir, do you mind if Alok and I step out? I have an urgent business matter to discuss with him'.
Dinesh said "Sure."
Raj took me out and said 'Alok, Dinesh loves it. I saw his expression. We have asked for 7.5 lacs on slide 12. He will pay 15 lacs'.
I came back and sat down. Dinesh asked me 'So, what does the Jet proposal cost?
I gently said 'Sir, it costs Rs. 15 lacs'.
Dinesh said "Done". "Send me the purchase order." That was the fastest sale I have ever done in my life.
Both Raj and I left stunned and ecstatic.
Only a week later did we find out who really read whom!
It turned out that Dinesh Chandra was launching the Sony WEGA range in India for the first time and an interactive contest in Jet Airways that collected a live database for him was the most effective marketing he could have achieved.
He had actually 'read' Raj and Alok better than we thought we had read him.
In retrospect, we think he could have paid 30 lacs if we had known what he was planning to use the campaign for.
Sales makes you understand people - it trains you to see their invisible smile even when they maintain a poker face, it shows you the twinkle in their eyes even though they may be wearing sunglasses.
5. VCs love SALES people!
I have been involved in raising Venture Capital (10+ transactions) for my own companies and for the companies I have mentored over the past 13 years. I have a fair idea of what VCs like in Entrepreneurs and their businesses.
One of the things they expect is the fact that the entrepreneur should be able to SELL.
And here I mean Sales that are not necessarily revenue centric but also the ability to sell the idea, the concept or the service to potential customers and clients as proof of validation of the business.
Take what happened to me for the first time when I raised venture capital for Contests2win.com.
In June of 1999, I walked into the Khaitan Bhavan offices of Acqauvit (what became E-Ventures in India) for the first time. There I met Neeraj Bhargava and Rajesh Jog.
The first question Neeraj asked me was "So, how many brands have used contests2win? What's your proof of concept in the real world?"
Simply said, he was asking me 'Boss, have you sold this idea to real brands or is it a concept on paper?"
I answered and said "Neeraj, seventy five of the Fortune 500 brands have already worked with us. Of them, fifteen have become repeat clients."
Neeraj could not believe me. He was a McKinsey veteran and knew how difficult it was to get even a single Fortune 500 brand to sign on.
I showed him the roster of clients and the campaigns they had done.
In that conversation, I volunteered and said "Neeraj, but you must know that all these brands have worked with me for free. I have not charged them anything".
I still remember Neeraj's reply so clearly. He said, "Alok, if you have got 75 brands to work with you, I will get them to pay. That's the easy bit".
E-Ventures funded me because I had shown proof of sales of a concept that did not exist in the world before - and none other than the biggest brands in the world being customers of that concept.
Today, when I sit in competitions in which real entrepreneurs compete for Money, I reflexively ask "So, who all have bought this?" Ever so often I have seen VCs politely asking entrepreneurs to come back to pitch to them AFTER they have had their first sale.
If you want to raise Capital, be sure you have proof of SALES in your pitch.
6. Sales teaches you the business models of the world.
I have sold over 2000 campaigns to over 1000 brands that belong to almost all the Fortune 500 companies in the world.
In the process, I have been exposed to the business models and insights of industries as diverse as telecom to trucks, airlines to antacids.
While selling my wares, I have been exposed to the sales problems of my partners, because after all, what they buy from me in terms of advertising solutions or games is only to help them sell better!
There is no MBA in the world that can teach you or expose you to live case studies, management issues, problems and solutions of the world's biggest and best companies. Going into their offices to SELL them something is the best MBA program a person can attend.
Sales is the best education you get PAID to receive!
7. Sales helps you Sell 'yourself'.
What happens in a Job Interview?
The candidate 'sells' his personality, abilities and his experience to a potential employer. A resume is the sales pitch in a word format, while the interview thereafter is a meeting to close that sales pitch.
In today's hyper competitive world I see the best bred, most outstanding professionals fast becoming extinct in the corporate world - because they don't know how to sell themselves.
Today, it's not good enough to be very good at your job or to have an expertise in your domain - you have to know how to sell yourself.
Take Steve Jobs for instance. He was not just brilliant in his vision and execution. He was a superlative salesman too - every keynote of his is a salesman's Bible. When he would go up on stage to present Apple products, the crowds would go crazy. He reinvented the concept of creating an explosive cocktail of emotion, innovation and sheer stage magic to capture the imagination of consumers; as if he was a rock star performing with his instruments, in front of his fans.
In the years to come, you will have to become a Rockstar yourself.
Think of what happens when people search for your name on google. What do they see? A list of linkedin, facebook and twitter links? I say that they need to see more. If you want to create an impact, you should be blogging, presenting a point of view, saying something compelling. They should be 'pre-sold' on you.
In February of 2010, Harvard Business School sent me an invite to speak to its students as part of an India Week. Their mail said, 'We like what you write on rodinhood.com and wish you can present the ideas to our students'.
I think I had achieved a very rare and honorable 'personal' sale!
Alok blogs at http://therodinhoods.com