Sell: the art, the sci­ence, the witch­craft

The Smart Manager - - Read­ing Room - By sub­roto bagchi

Vikram Sri­vats, a tall, lanky man with the de­meanour of a sci­en­tist, doesn’t come across as some­one who works in sales at all. Yet that is what he re­ally does. He sells Blue­tooth™ li­cences to elec­tron­ics man­u­fac­tur­ers of all kinds, that is, those who make ear-phones, head­sets, med­i­cal equip­ment and nav­i­ga­tional de­vices that sit on an au­to­mo­bile’s dash­board. Some­times he sells tech­nol­ogy li­cences to semi­con­duc­tor com­pa­nies who, in turn, em­bed the tech­nol­ogy onto their chips. These deals are com­plex, to say the least; many of them take months at a time to close.

Sell­ing in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty to a cus­tomer who will then em­bed it in their equip­ment in­volves deal­ing with mul­ti­ple or­ga­ni­za­tions within the client’s or­ga­ni­za­tion. You don’t sell to one per­son; you sell to many. You don’t sell to just one depart­ment, you sell to many. Of­ten it gets so com­plex that Vikram describes the sell­ing process as he ex­pe­ri­ences it as ‘nav­i­gat­ing the Arc­tic ice’.

‘Nav­i­ga­tors on ships travers­ing the Arc­tic,’ he tells me, speak­ing about his work, ‘which has dense ice packs that of­ten hide moun­tains of rock within, must have very spe­cial skills. They need to chart the course and map the ter­rain; else, they run the risk of get­ting lost and, some­times, end up sink­ing. Client or­ga­ni­za­tions are of­ten like that. You can’t stum­ble once you’re in there. You have to nav­i­gate con­stantly. You must be able to map the in­flu­ence of the peo­ple in the or­ga­ni­za­tion – both the for­mal struc­ture that is vis­i­ble above the sur­face, and the shadow struc­ture be­low it. With­out that, you will get nowhere.’

‘But surely a nav­i­ga­tor in the Arc­tic has a much more dif­fi­cult task than a sales­per­son?’ I asked, some­what scep­ti­cal of his view. ‘Deal­mak­ing is not such a com­pli­cated process, is it, Vikram?’

‘Ev­ery deal,’ Vikram ex­plained with the pa­tience of a kinder­garten teacher, ‘has at least eight dif­fer­ent peo­ple in­flu­enc­ing it. The per­son you are in­ter­act­ing with di­rectly is just one of them. A good player maps all the stake­hold­ers, iden­ti­fies their per­sonal mo­ti­va­tions, gauges what their end game might be, and what they know and ap­pre­ci­ate of what the seller is try­ing to bring to the ta­ble.’

Vikram went on to talk about the stake­hold­ers in deals that he was most fa­mil­iar with – the ones that a

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