March 31, 2010

The Importance of Selling- Article by Sanjay Anandaram

Article appeared originally in Financial Express. Reproduced with permission from the author.

A Professor from an international business school writes a book. The book is published by a highly regarded publisher. The book has examples from the US, Europe and India. Then gets the book written about by giving interviews to bloggers, journalists from well known international publications and the like. Naturally, lecture tours are the next step. Local industry associations are then contacted (subtly and not so subtly) to invite him for talking about the book. Soon the India chapters of these industry associations too are asked to invite him for talks. As a gesture of goodwill, he says he will waive his usual speaking fees but he’d be glad to have the publishers bring in copies of the book that people could buy, perhaps at a discount. Helpfully, he explains that the book has sold tens of thousands in India already since it has many Indian examples. And he’d be glad to sign the books, at no charge presumably. It wouldn’t be a surprise if before long the good Professor is on a lecture tour of India talking to us about Indian companies.

Now lets us look at another example.

A Professor from a well known Indian business school writes a book. He self-publishes the book and then almost shyly informs his friends and acquaintances about the book. The book doesn’t have any exciting stories or examples. It has weighty recommendations for public policy. Unsurprisingly, the book is unheard and unnoticed. The Professor too doesn’t seem particularly motivated to aggressively push the book and himself.

Two examples that demonstrate two different ways of doing things. This is not a judgmental issue – about good or bad or a right or wrong. It is the way things are and, in my view, the lessons that need to be learned from these.

Indians in general tend to be inhibited (not understated) about their achievements and capabilities. In the corporate world, this shows up in laconic responses to questions. In lackluster product literature and web-sites, nondescript product and service demonstrations. The general mindset appears to be – build it and people will buy. It appears that we don’t think it “nice” to be seen to be talking about oneself, our company and its products and services. Almost a socio-cultural issue. But if we don’t start talking about who we are, others will! And before long, who we are gets defined by others! After all, if we don’t talk about who and what our capabilities are, how can we expect others to know of them? Why should someone else spend the time and effort to learn about us?

The importance of “selling” one’s side of the story is critical. The CEO has to “sell” the vision of the company to employees, customers, partners, vendors, government and investors. But we have to be very careful about this whole “selling” business as it conjures up images of fast and smooth talking salesmen with dubious integrity. Some aspects worth keeping in mind about selling:

1. listening to the customer, understanding the product / service, understanding what the company stands for and communicating it clearly and simply
2. building relationships with various constituents. Getting to know people and their motivations. Using relationships in a mutually beneficial manner without crossing limits of integrity
3. being persuasive, hard working and diligent to satisfy the customer. Being honest enough to inform the customer when there’s no solution or when there’s been a mistake.
4. being able to spot an inch-wide opening to drive a truck through!

Naturally, this requires great articulation, presentation and inter-personal abilities. And like everything else, these are learned through experience, practice and the desire to engage with the market. It is through this engagement that we learn about the market, customers and competitors; our offerings therefore get refined and better in response.

Winston Churchill once said this about a fellow parliamentarian, “He’s a very modest man. With much to be modest about!” Well, the next time we are modest about our ourselves, our company, its products and services, when we have every reason to be proud about, think about this! Yet, remember there’s a thin line between honestly and confidently talking about one’s capabilities and disagreeable cocky arrogance.

Sanjay Anandaram is a passionate advocate of entrepreneurship in India; He brings close to two decades of experience as an entrepreneur, corporate executive, venture investor, faculty member, advisor and mentor. He’s involved with Nasscom, TiE, IIM-Bangalore, and INSEAD business school in driving entrepreneurship. He can be reached at The views expressed here are his own.