The quintessential salesman

Vinay Kamath | Updated on January 09, 2018

Title: Sell, The Art, the Science, the Witchcraft Author: Subroto Bagchi Publisher: Hachette India Price: ₹499

Subroto Bagchi’s latest work is a gripping thesis on the art of selling ideas, products and deals

You don’t have to be in sales or marketing to read Subroto Bagchi’s latest book Sell, The Art, the Science, the Witchcraft. You don’t even have to be savvy about business to read it. A breezy read, Bagchi does what he does best: selling; and in this book, selling the good tale. Bagchi is a delightful raconteur and as he has done in his earlier books, he delves into stories, anecdotes, encounters with people and his own unique experiences to make the point about selling and salesmanship and its importance in work life.

Bagchi may go with many monikers as business leader, entrepreneur et al, but as he says, “possibly the most defining skill I have learnt and practised in my life has been that of salesmanship. Of the thirty years I have spent getting up every morning to go to work, I was a salesman on the road for more than ten.”

And, that selling continues as the chief of the Odisha Skill Development Authority, he says, as he has to still sell concepts, ideas and action every day to a large eco-system of stakeholders — from government agencies to private skill development partners.

Not your stodgy fella

The author strives to dispel the notion of sales people as staid and stodgy with a narrow world view with the act of selling itself seen in a restricted light. He urges readers to take a wider view of selling, as the act of selling itself occurs at multiple levels. Quintessential sales people, he says, have knowledge, intuition, wisdom, empathy and the power of persuasion. Bagchi argues, persuasively, of course, that selling is a key component for professional success in every field, an essential skill for people at all levels in any organisation to possess. For, anyone and everyone is selling something or the other all the time — products, services, skills, ideas, concepts....

Each chapter of Sell is preceded by a page which encapsulates the key takeaway of the chapter. For example, ‘Rainy Day, Damp Spirit’, says “there are a million ways to connect with customers. Look for the story behind the product you are selling. Most customers will connect with it instantly and respond to it with the greatest enthusiasm.”

Bagchi writes about the encounter he has with a colleague in a Starbucks outlet in Washington on a damp and rainy day. Joseph, the colleague, is morose that all his competitors have the same product as he did and they didn’t perceive him offering anything different. Bagchi tells him that people don’t come to Starbucks just for the coffee but buy into the story around Starbucks: How a bunch of teachers and a writer founded a coffee roasting business, named the coffee after the first mate in the whaling ship from the literary classic Moby Dick.

Bagchi goes on to tell Joseph about Starbucks’ support of the Rain Forest Alliance and how it has emerged as a leader in sustainability and investing in coffee farmers and their communities and are leaders in ‘green retail’. “You can buy the coffee anywhere, but where else will you get the story?” asks Bagchi, making the point that consumers are sold on stories around a product. Joseph is now wiser and knows he has to look at the services he sold differently; weave the story around it, its history and where it came from.

Naked truths

The takeaway from a chapter titled curiously as ‘The Naked Hamburger’ is this: “Believe in the value of the product you’re delivering and then persuade the customer to believe in your perception.” It was the title of a presentation made by Apple’s global head of sales at a resort. In his presentation, he said a burger is not a complicated dish to prepare — two pieces of bun, a piece of meat, a lettuce leaf, mayo, onion rings and tomatoes and cheese, all stacked up.

However, the difference, he said, is that if one goes to a McDonald’s anywhere in the world, you are guaranteed a uniform product and service quality which extends to the taste of the food, the decor of the outlets, cleanliness and hygiene.

The point being made, explains Bagchi, was that a customer can question the cost of the individual items that go into a burger but they simply add up to a ‘naked hamburger’ and not a McDonald’s one. The trick is to believe in the value of the product you’re delivering and then persuade the customer to believe in your perception.

The book has more such stories. Bagchi covers wide ground with the stories and encounters, from selling to persuasion, to why it’s important for sales people to be aware of the legalese and to even being a gracious loser and win big the next time around. In ‘The Gracious Loser’, Bagchi writes: “If and when we fail, the point is to handle it with tact, poise and brilliance.”

In London, over dinner with Natalie Smith, the business director of an European software company, Bagchi discusses how Natalie loses a large deal with an European airline because she feels she did not take the deal right through to the conclusion. The client felt the delivery team did not quite measure up and Natalie felt responsible for not having briefed the team sufficiently and being with it during the initial part of the execution.

However, instead of a ‘sour grapes’ letter to the client, Smith writes a letter praising the client for their proactive and collaborative approach which empowers the potential partners. While Smith did lose this particular deal, the CIO of the airline, impressed by her approach, recommended her company to a previous organisation he had worked with and she did seal that deal.

Sell too follows the same pattern as his earlier books, such as The Elephant Catchers, where he relies on anecdotes and stories and the human element to embellish the story-telling.

Selling may look easy and logical going by his book but it’s a tough task with a lot of intangibles thrown in. It may well be an art and science, though the ‘witchcraft’ in the title may be bit of a stretch. Magic of selling, it could be definitely. I, for one, am sold on his book, or did Bagchi sell it to me?

Published on October 29, 2017

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