A few years back, I was sitting with a VP of a well-established MNC.

We worked as a vendor for that company. We had around 15 ongoing projects with them during that time.

They were what you call as – “The Client” for us. They contributed to more than 50% of our turnover.

During our conversation, the VP of the company asked me “So what do you do?”

I said “I run a business”

Not satisfied with my response, he again asked: “What exactly is it that you do in your business?”

He was trying to know my core area of expertise in running my business.

I said “I generate business and along with that I handle clients” which is very near to what I did for a living. Although, my responsibilities spread from raising funds to handling HR to doing every damn thing in the company – In a nutshell, my job was ensuring that we don’t starve without money.

The guy quickly responded, “So, basically you are a Selu”.

Now, I had never heard of the word. I looked at him with bewilderment trying to make sense of the new addition to my limited dictionary.

One look at me and he figured out, I was zapped.

I guess experience teaches you to quickly figure out the blank “I don’t know what you are talking” look on the face of mid 20 guys 😊

Not sounding rude or offensive. He explained to me “Selu means a typical sales guy. From what I understand you are a selu who is doing things along with sales but sales, is your area of expertise”.

Frankly speaking – it was a compliment coming from a guy who held the designation of VP, Marketing and Sales.

I mean, I was a bona fide engineer who had code running in every vein of his body and despite multiple rounds of de-codification to transfuse sales in my body, I had failed to rinse my blood of the code attached to my blood cells.

On my way back to home, I tried finding an answer to “Was I a Selu or not?”  (it helps to pick up such kind of stupid thoughts in Delhi traffic. They keep you busy as you are lost in your own world without worrying about the traffic mess around you 😊 )

I thought of points which would qualify me as a Selu. A Selu would be someone:

  • Who could generate leads
  • Who is not shy about calling clients
  • Who knows how to chase clients and close sales
  • Who is good at convincing clients?

I started checking the checkboxes.

To start with, I could generate leads. I wouldn’t say I am an expert but on a scale of 0 to 10 – I give myself 6.

I have done a lot of cold calling work when I started my company, but I don’t exactly enjoy cold calling. Despite all the talks about me being an extrovert, I don’t particularly enjoy calling strangers.

I take my time to open with people but when I know someone, I set up a good rapport with them.

On a scale of 0 to 10, I would give myself 4 when it comes to cold calling.

Moving to something I hate doing. Chase clients and close sales.

I don’t like to pester people. When someone says “No”. For me, it means No.

In fact, I let my displeasure known to clients when they make me go around in circles or waste my time (something, sales guys do not do. They will try hard – harder – hardest. Even a slight whiff of sales is enough to get them going)

Some say, my displeasure shows on my face.

Whatever might be the reason. I hate to be a pain in the a** to close sales.

I would give myself 2 out of 10 here.

Lastly, I am good with convincing clients where they are willing to listen to me.

I am not rating myself here because I know I am good at convincing people, provided they are willing to listen (I am not the guy who can sell an ice to an Eskimo 😊 but I do just fine when the audience is a little receptive to my ideas)

Overall, I scored poorly when it came to being a typical “Selu”.

Looked like, the VP overestimated me.

Anyways, he was a nice guy and his words of encouragement helped me a lot in life (Mr. VP – if you are reading this blog. Thanks a lot!)

But this incident convinced me that I will always need help with sales and marketing in our business.

My first serious experiment hiring a sales and marketing guy was a disaster.

We hired a Sr. Sales and Marketing VP with more than 12 years of experience. He took us on a joy ride with nothing but pain to show at the end of the journey.

How we got cheated by him is something that can be used as a case study in Entrepreneurship Development Programmes our company conducts.

Are you interested in reading one of my sob stories? Here is the blog “ How expensive resources make startups poor” for your reference.

The lessons I learned from my last sales and marketing disaster hiring were:

  • You meet cheats everywhere.
  • Do not blindly trust anyone especially, sales guys)
  • The expensive resources from MNCs barely survive in small businesses. They have the infra, team, brand to support them in MNCs. With small businesses, they struggle.
  • And last but not the least, there is nothing like a “free hand”. The moment you give a free hand to someone is the moment you are screwed.

a few months back, we decided to give a push to our digital marketing training startup by hiring a sales guy (please don’t give me “Again jasmeet! Don’t you learn from your mistakes?” look)

Come on. Don’t be such a cynic? Can a company run without sales and marketing?

How much of a work do you expect a poor soul (read : me) to do?

But this time I was cautious. As they say “Once bitten. Twice Shy!”.

I had checked all the right boxes before hiring the guy:

  • He was presentable.
  • He was from the same training business domain.
  • He knew our business quite well.
  • He was from a mid-sized company.
  • He was a starting level employee whom we could mold as per our requirements.

My expectations from him were simple from day one.

It’s a new business. I do not expect sales in the first quarter, but I would need enough brand awareness and leads in first quarter so that we have decent sales in second quarter and quarters after that.

My Digital Marketing Team and a tele-caller were to support him.

What are your thoughts?

Don’t you think that’s a realistic thing to ask a salesperson?

He said, “I will get you sales from the first month”.

Now, I have been this road before.

I knew, he was going to fall flat on his face with the “first month sale” promise.

Sales guys over commit and under deliver a lot. I would have been happyif only he could get enough leads in first quarter and generate decent sales in second quarter.

2 months went by without much happening on the ground.

All we had with us were excuses like:

  • Fuel is expensive (he had agreed to a flat pay package which included all T.A/D.A in delhi/ncr region) because of which he avoided field trips.
  • Colleges are not entertaining me.
  • I am trying best to generate leads, etc, etc.

Like always, I went to meet all his leads. Something, I did with my last sales guy too.

We did 3 free presentations for colleges where the sales guy could not get a meeting for paid services.

I have worked with a lot of small businesses and trust me, acquiring paying customers is easier said than done.

You really need to work out of your skin to get some initial clients.

When you start with excuses, you are starting on a wrong foot. I did try to explain this to the marketing guy.

But for some reasons, He seemed to have figured out how he will win business.

In between, I got busy with my existing business and that is where shit happened.

One day, I caught the guy watching a movie on youtube in office – he was having a gala time when I was struggling with issues at hand.

Then, one day he was found roaming around ideally in office. He said, “he did not have any work as he has completed all calls for the day”.

Long story – cut short.

When we sat for our quarter review, he had 3 leads out of which one converted and fetched us peanuts in billing.

He said, “Does not look like we will succeed in this business model”.

We pivoted in between to target clients through direct calling (his forte from his last call centre job ). We just wanted him to succeed and help us succeed (desperation).

Again, he failed.

In between, he did pitch some wonderful ideas (that’s what he thought) to multiply our business by 10 times by spending 5 times of what we were spending.

Huhh! Sales guys and their ideas. I have been through it.

The day they start failing is the day they start giving you more excuses and most of those ideas involve “bigger teams”, “more expenses” and them, leading the sale.

We had to give him the pick slip.

Another sad ending to my experiment with sales guys.

I, the “Selu guy” now needs professional help in handling sales guy.

I am confused. 10 years and i still cannot handle sales and marketing in startups and small businesses. There has to be something i am doing wrong?

I spoke to few other friends who run small and medium businesses.

They too had similar stories to share.

No one has been successful in handling sales and marketing team.

While all of them (including me) are doing decent sales and marketing with help from techie guys but when it comes to handling sales guy, we all have failed miserably.

Which brings me to the question “How can small and medium businesses solve this marketing and sales puzzle?”.

With sales and marketing team, the problem is you be too strict with them, they hate you for not giving them the freedom. You are called a tyrant, insensitive and are hated for being such a prick.

And as soon as you give them a free hand, you are royally screwed.

They turn into Tyrants.

At least I can write with confidence that I have been royally screwed (no offence to the queen 😊 )

When I was hiring the Super expensive guy (don’t tell me you forgot him. He is the protagonist (Err….antagonist) of my last sob story) – a friend who had been through the process of hiring expensive sales guys had strictly advised me against taking this step.

I didn’t listen to him and the results were as expected.

The other day I met a client. A veteran in sales and marketing.

They use an app which tracks the movement of their sales guy every minute.

Though I was not convinced with the idea of being a “helicopter boss” (I will hate it if someone does this to me), he convinced me with his thought process.

He has spent 20+ years in sales and marketing and his fundamentals were quite clear. His sales team does sales and those who do not do sales are all shown the door.

You cannot take him for a ride because he keeps a track of your position every single minute.

In my case, I have been naïve in being the nice guy who is burdened by something called as
“empathy”.

And before I end, here is the epic ending of the story “ the guy always had a sob story (Cant blame him! he picked a lot from me). He wanted us to release all his salary as soon as possible. We told him we had a 45-day F & F rule. Before we knew, he has disappeared with our laptop which was his way of blackmailing us to get his due salary immediately.

He returned after a lot of persuasion from our poor HR to return the laptop.

I am confident all the data we had on the laptop is gone including of all the leads we generated and all the marketing material we had.

Here are the lessons I learned from my second failure in leading sales:

  • Find the right people in “sales”. For ex, do not hire call centre guys for field sales. The bad weather and bike trips are too much of a pain for them. They are used to closing sale sitting in A.C office. My advice is to avoid them. Do not fall for that professional demeanour or the sophistication. They are trained to be like that in call centre but when the time comes for field sales, they will falter and will avoid going out.
  • There is nothing like a “free hand” in sales in small businesses. You have a limited budget and every penny counts. Be on your toes from day one.
  • Focus on reporting. Our guy hated reporting and I gave him a leeway. It ultimately came to bite me back.
  • Don’t be shy of doing cross check when they do field sales or use the app my client uses for his sales team. It will help you.
  • Do not entertain excuse. You being nice, will be confused as a weakness.

And last but not the least, don’t be in business if you want to keep everyone happy.

As a wise man once said, “Go and sell ice cream if you want to keep everyone happy”.

Since I have always thought of keeping people around me “happy”, the season is right for me to sit by the side of a road and sell “Ice-cream!”.

Jasmeet Singh on EmailJasmeet Singh on LinkedinJasmeet Singh on TwitterJasmeet Singh on Youtube
Jasmeet Singh
Just another Entrepreneur at Lessons At Startup
Jasmeet has been a part of multiple Ventures. He earns his bread and butter by hanging onto his first venture, a Software Company located in India.

He is at present working on a new startup idea which like all startups will be "Disruptive" (at least he thinks so :) )

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