Rajiv Gulati imageIn Conversation with Rajiv Gulati, Board member, Startup mentor, previously President – Global Business, Ranbaxy and CEO at Eli Lilly & Co. in a candid chat with Anant. Stories from the field, what makes a sales person good and Rajiv’s belief in behavior and technology in supporting salespeople effectively. [This is part 2 of a two-part series. You can read part 1 here.]

Anant: What are some of the recent trends you’ve seen on how sales teams in organizations function, how you’ve seen them change?

Rajiv: Employee turnover has increased significantly – it’s gone up nine or ten times. Sales is, according to me, the most important job. Even the CEO’s job is to bring in business. 

In the ‘80s when I started my career, India’s GDP growth was 2%, population growth was 2%, it was a poor country. After 1990 and the liberalization, private banks came in, private insurance companies came in, call centers came in, the opportunities became humongous. 

A: You’ve talked about how you invested significant energy on recruiting the right kind of people, motivating and developing them? Any examples you can share with us on how you motivated your frontline team? (interview snippet below)

R: We used to have an initial one month residential training program for fresh graduates. But we realized that we are losing maximum people after three months – when the morale is the lowest. 

[Listen to your frontline] So we started running refresher training after three months. People would come, and everybody would say, “I’m sick of this job. It’s very tough. Doctors don’t listen to me. I have to wait for two hours. They don’t give me interviews, they don’t prescribe my product.” Another guy would say, “By the way, my situation is the same.” And then they would realize that  it’s normal, everybody is going through the same thing. And then we would say, “Okay, what have you learnt, what have you done well, where can you do better.” And the morale would start going up and up forever after that.

A: With the advent of technology, the journey plan is fixed, the customer is fixed, the content is fixed. In this scenario what sets one apart as a sales rep? What are some of the traits you’ve observed in the best sales people?

R: You can do whatever you want, in the end sales is an art. (interview snippet below)

All my working career, I’ve spent at least two days in the field carrying a bag with the sales rep. Even as Chairman of the company or a President of the Global Business Worldwide. I’ve carried the bag in France, in the US, Dubai, of course I’ve carried the bag in every state of India. 

So let me give you an example. Suppose I was inducting a sales person, I would say, “What do you see?” You enter and you see a huge statue of Shirdi Sai Baba, just for example. So when you enter, your greeting would be, “Doctor, jai Sairam! Today is Thursday, it’s a very auspicious day we’re coming to call upon you.” You have to make a connection with the customer.

All the science, all the tools are on one side and the relationship that you are able to build is on the other side.

It said that a poor salesman makes customers out of friends and good salesman friends out of customers. 

A: Like you said, sales is an art. What, according to you, are two or three things that successful salespeople do in terms of daily activities? 

R: In 1999, I came back from the US as managing director and I told you I carry the bag every month.

Thinking outside the box 

So I was working in Kerala with a brilliant sales rep who was a young graduate. 

One day he asked me why daily call reports were not being reported electronically. I told him that Lilly couldn’t afford to give laptops to all their salespeople in India. And he said, “Why can’t we report through cyber cafes?” This was 1999, cyber cafes charged about a nominal rate. I promised to look into it. 

The Chief Information Officer released the funds immediately, we developed it and 10 countries copied our program. Our Indian IT Team won all the possible IT awards in the company, from an idea which comes from a sales rep.  

Keeping an open mind

Now I’ll give you another story. 

In a bid to prove why I needed 250 sales reps, I once plotted a distribution curve in each of my therapeutic areas – to find out what percentage of business comes from what proportion of doctors.

What I found out was that for antibiotics, it’s a straight line. The more doctors you cover, the more sell. But if you go to oncology, you cover eight cities, a few hundred oncologists, 90 percent of business is covered. 

I figured since we had specialized expensive products, we needed to cover fewer numbers of doctors. My National Sales Head and his team were adamant that every sales rep will have 200 doctors in the list and will call on them every month. 

So I asked if anyone would be ready to experiment – Reduce the number of doctors and increase the frequency. So call on 100 doctors twice a month instead of 200 doctors once a month. One young manager agreed to try it. Three months later when he presented the results, all regional managers adopted it. 

Now we have a young regional manager who is willing to experiment, we have a young sales rep who tells me, “Why don’t we do it electronically –  it is more productive”. And then we have a National Sales Head who comes from the old school saying no. 

Keeping an open mind, having common sense, thinking outside the box, trying to find a solution – those are the traits, you can see them and those are the people who have succeeded in life. 

A: You know our background in behavior and nudging. The whole concept of the nudge is you leave the decision with the end user. I leave the choice with you but I kind of gently point you in the right direction and if I consistently get you to do that  – your behavior becomes what makes you a better salesperson on the field. What are your thoughts around this?

R: Let’s talk about human nature. What would you do better – if it were your decision or if you were directed to do so by me. Everybody would like the choice left to them. Instead of directing, you’re nudging, you’re giving gentle suggestions. The sales rep is getting those messages, assimilating them and coming to a conclusion on how to alter his behavior – that’s his or her decision, which will yield far better results that if they were being directed. 

I would say worxogo has done it better and reduced the regimentation because you have recognized that each sales person is different, unique. I think that is a single biggest, or the most significant part of your program.

We talk of segmentation. When I teach marketing, I say segmentation is half the people like red, half of people like blue. So I say, “oh, if I launch purple, everybody will buy it.” But nobody will buy it. So I have to choose one segment and sell either red or blue, that’s only when I’ll succeed. 

You have taken segmentation to the nth degree and you have segmented to the individual. You’re giving the nudge that’s customized to each individual salesperson and that’s why I’m a strong believer in this [behavior shaping nudges] absolutely.

Photo by Christina Victoria Craft on Unsplash