“Sir, do you sell SIMs to women?” – My first 3 months at Bharti Airtel
It was yet another of those extremely hot days in Gurgaon where even a cold drink every couple of hours wasn’t enough to help my thirst. I had an appointment to keep, with a client to get some information for my summer internship project at a media house. And I walked out of the metro station, cursing my luck for having ended up in the concrete hell that Gurgaon is; only to be swindled out of more cash by the auto-wala to take me to the client’s office.
As the auto entered the Gurgaon-Delhi highway, the client’s office came into my gaze. Something a little different from the general glass-front-tall-tower buildings of DLF that Gurgaon is filled with. I gazed longingly at the building and clicked a snap of it for my presentation; I stopped to wonder if I would get to work in a company with a similarly exotic-looking office building …
Little did I know what life had in store for me later, as I ended up getting through into a Sales and Marketing Role, in that very company in the final placements at IIMA. While I came out of the interview room with the offer, my mind went back to that very day standing in the Airtel building and gazing upwards at the painting that stretches across five floors of the building!
Life in Airtel, apart from the first 20 odd days of induction has been spent far away from those corporate cubicles that I wanted to be a part of. But somehow, I don’t quite miss the AC office room that wanted to be in. The sweaty life, roaming around green fields, roads that aren’t quite roads unless you ride in your vehicle on them and talking to over 50 retailers in villages (Ok! Pan Shops I mean) and returning back to the hotel room, all alone in the evening has been quite satisfying.
Though I’ve wanted to write a blog post every week, I’ve ended up doing none so far. Laziness, work, sleep, travel and that devil called Facebook and Twitter; where I end up live updating has ended up meaning I don’t! Here’s a motley of saved drafts or thoughts in my head, about sales life.
Sales! After about 2 months in the field, my respect for those Aquaguard fellows who used to randomly disturb my sleep on Sunday afternoons has risen many fold. Persistence! That is the first thing you learn in this field. The guy used to visit over 100 houses and knock at the doors, and be greeted with angry customers like me; and still made a pitch; and if he was lucky, a sale. Every time I feel a little frustrated and hit a dead end, I think of that; and suddenly my work seems like a casual stroll in the park!
Talking, and making small talk with people you hardly know. For someone who is hardly a glib talker and is highly apprehensive of initiating conversations with random people; sales life has been a revelation. I’ve ended up walking up to migrant labourers on a road to talk, made small talk with 100s of retailers and did the unthinkable by sharing a lunch with a complete stranger (A North Indian stuck in South TN for work) who I just met at the hotel table. For someone who used to talk very little to girls, I had to go and talk to a bunch of college girls for some market research. And the worst happened, as a person came to warn me not to; to avoid being apprehended for eve-teasing!
Targets and the chase for the elusive growth in today’s climate is what life is about. Carefully made plans to achieve them go to the drain when there’s a sudden downpour for a couple of days; and the walk-ins into stores reduces, leading to all your carefully made plans to for a toss. The countdown starts from day 1, and the chase though is quite exciting when things are going your way. Like a friend said, in sales life; the salary/incentives become the drug that keep most people going.
Life in rural India has got me used to eating, and eating everywhere. From bhajjis for 2 bucks each to villages that did not have even a single hotel that served vegetarian food; to local delicacies at dead cheap rates. Just the minor problem of an ever expanding waistline. At times, my mineral water expense for the day used to be more than the money I spent on my food!
Rural India, was a complete eye-opener to me though; and I learnt a lot. The image that I had of open drainages, cows that roamed everywhere, green grass and huts turned out to be partially true. But there were a lot of surprises too.
Very few people recognized an IIM, but quite a few knew about IIPM and even thought it was the same as an IIM! IITs though are quite popular given India’s obsession with engineering, and the presence of one in Chennai. People were quite surprised that I had gone away from Chennai for my education; given everyone in their villages aspired to go to Chennai to study or work.
Talking to a few village kids (who gave me looks like I was an alien who had intruded their space!) taught how this ‘Small world’ thing is something that is quite restricted to ones in the urban areas. For them, a trip to the nearest town was a vacation in itself; and a trip to the nearby city – a holiday; and a Chennai trip, was to most a dream. Something like that Swiss vacation we dream about.
A whole bunch of completely unexpected people were on Facebook; and using “Googal” to explore the world of internet. People as old as my mom, village kids going to government schools and who not. The free laptops doled out by the TN Govt have opened up an altogether new world to these people!
The dark side of the country was not too far away though. I saw an old lady attempt to throw out her daughter’s baby from a moving bus; and thankfully the baby was saved from a gory fate by quick action from the other passengers on the bus.
The highlight of the rural stint was a conversation with a woman in a deep rural village in South TN when she came up to our sales kiosk and asked me “Sir, do you sell SIMs to women?” My nod was met with a look of extreme surprise, and she told me how women in her village were under the impression that SIM Cards were sold only to men. Watching her joy on purchasing a SIM under her own name, made my day!
With the elections round the corner, political talk wasn’t too far away with people wondering if Narendra Modi was actually as good as the papers were telling him; and if Gujarat was that wonderful a place. It was quite surprising to see people interested and aware of a BJP leader in this part of the country, given the party’s next to zero presence in the state. And I am not sure I did NaMo-ji any favours either, with my reply to the people who asked me about him.
Being in a majorly service-based company, the customers weren’t too far off; nor were the retailers. Having been a frustrated and angry customer myself on quite a few occasions, I felt the heat from the other side of the table on a few occasions. Irate customers who called me up to abuse me for some issues, retailers who let lose some of their choicest words on me, after having faced an irate customer in their shop; and of course, the multitude of Facebook status messages of friends and Tweets where I was tagged on to, for issues I had no clue about!
Life in the corporate world also taught me to be ever-ready. Important calls when I was out in the market were quite the subject of amusement of onlookers, as I stood by the roadside jotting down notes! And now on this bus from Ambur to Chennai; where I typed out this blog post with the gentleman next to me gazing awkwardly at me …
– S.G. Shrinivas
Shrinivas is an alumnus of IIMA from the Batch of 2013, and a ardent blogger at www.sgshrinivas.blogspot.com. He is now one of the many MBAs into the world of Sales, and is loving life at Bharti Airtel!
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