Sell: the art, the science, the witchcraft
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