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Kunal Gupta, Sales Leader...... "Master of the Number & Leader of the Team"

"I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard." - Estée Lauder

However in India, a career in Sales is always considered to be one of the most difficult and a comparatively bad career choice. People however fail to understand that even in the most rewarding of career choices, not being good in sales is a recipe for disaster. Be it Medical Practitioners, Lawyers, Consultants, CEO’s/COO’s, Models, Sports Persons, Job Aspirants, Writers – they all have to excel in Sales, or they might find it difficult to succeed in their career beyond a point.

“Getting good players is easy. Getting them to play together is the hard part.”

This summarises to a large extent what a good team should have ‘Good, Talented Professionals who perform together’.

And when you club the above two together you get a Sales Leader; a Strategist, Mentor, a professional who drives the Top-Line Growth consistently for an organisation. When we met Kunal Gupta, Vice President – Sales with a leading Market Player in Batteries, Lighting Products and Appliances one could very well understand that we were talking to a Sales Leader. Armed with a PGDM from IIM, Bangalore and a BE in Electrical from Jadavpur University, Kunal with his rich sales experience of over two decades with leading corporate in FMCG, Consumer Durable and Healthcare is a sure role model for many wannabe Sales professionals.

His illustrious career journey includes heading sales and business function for BPL Ltd, Britannia Industries Ltd, Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd, Marico Ltd and Blue Star Ltd. Along with this he is a self-proclaimed Ferroequinologist (a person who studies Trains) and a Theatre enthusiast, finding time out from his busy schedule to perform couple of times in a year with his Group ‘Natokey Atak’ in Kolkata.

He shared his inputs on a varied list of subject eloquently and comprehensively….

Team Recruiters: “Learn from the mistake of others. You can’t live long to make them yourself.” - Eleanor Roosevelt
Your sales journey is quite remarkable and of course long. You have been in the senior leadership position in Sales role. Would you like to tell our readers about the top three ‘pain points’ in achieving sales target?

Kunal Gupta: Remarkable…. I don’t know… but it’s been long and satisfying for me. After Engineering, I started my career in a Techno Commercial profile and post my PGDM from IIM Bangalore started with BPL handling Strategic Marketing. It was here that I realized my comfort with numbers… my Analytical skills… and Sales is all about numbers! So for me, Sales was ‘my choice’, a number game to be understood, analysed and delivered!!

There are a few areas of concern that I have faced during my career which I have had to address immediately and I feel you can say are “pain points” in Sales or achieving targets. The numbers add up to what you deliver - it is very important to get a correct feel of market realities so that there is no last moment disappointment. It is extremely important to track the competition and not believe you are operating in a monopolistic market. Competitive pressures can actually change the scenario fast unless you are vigilant. Own the business - delivery has to follow. The system should have the trust that you can deliver and deliver in a trustworthy manner.

The need to have the Plan B ready just in case if the preferred option fails - In a diverse country as ours disruptions can take place any time. Disruptions may not be negative in nature and can actually help you in a positive manner. It is always important to have an alternative plan in place so that we do not end up in a last minute surprise.

The importance of the word "accountability" in what you deliver - if it is not there the system collapses. While handling a large team it is possible to come across entities that tend to find excuses when the numbers do not happen. Excuses may be genuine but need to be addressed in order to take the journey forward in a positive manner. The ownership needs to drive the business!!

Team Recruiters: “The most difficult thing in any negotiation, almost, is making sure that you strip it off the emotion and deal with the facts.”- Howard Baker
But human body without emotion can’t be imagined. What advice would you give to anyone planning to make a career in sales about handling rejections in order to achieve success?

Kunal Gupta: Frankly, one should experience rejections - it makes you much stronger and resolute. In the short run, it does make you feel meek as well as fragile, but in the long run it does prepare you for a much more planned endeavor with possible alternatives so as to thwart subsequent rejections.

I remember once being thrown out of a Dealer point for trying to set terms in favour of the company when I was a rookie…. the company stood by me…. it took some time for us to recover, but we finally ensured that the Dealer works as per our terms and conditions. That rejection made me a much stronger entity - life cannot be all pre-planned - it is how you handle rejections and what you learn from it.

Team Recruiters: “Coming together is beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.”- Henry Ford
Who would know better than you that team building is one of the key pillars of success and that also in sales, because it is nothing short of a battleground, where you go out and fight for your and other’s bread and butter. What advice would you give to young sales leaders about team building?

Kunal Gupta: Trust me; you are nothing without a team!! And you are as good as your team. Develop the team - be a part of the team and lead the team. The team needs to be motivated, appreciated and charged up - always ready to take on the challenge.

While working with a FMCG co. I was given the mandate to Head Sales and work on increasing the Sales nos. in the geographical region assigned. On analyzing the business I realized that the company needed to move away from the Super Distributor setup on to a Direct Distribution Network with a dedicated team. I was given a free hand by the Management and I slowly built up a dedicated Sales Team. My team delivered and we were soon doing three times the Turnover within 4 years and I was awarded the Best Head of Sales. I have no doubt in my mind that the achievement was of my TEAM without which no change would have taken place.

Similarly, I remember in one of my stints we were doing record numbers month after month and cutting a cake to celebrate the occasion every month. The team was fully charged up and there was this urge within the team to do even better.

As they say nothing succeeds like success. A charged up team is much better than a group of very talented professionals performing individually. Ideally all cylinders should fire but even if someone falters now and then, there is always someone to make up for it!!

Team Recruiters: “It is not load that breaks you down, it is the way you carry it.”- Lou Holtz
Sales is a very high pressure job. Under pressure, many start living an unhealthy lifestyle hurting not only themselves, but also their family members. What advice you would like to give to people working in sales on how to manage stress and work-life balance?

Kunal Gupta: If you do not have family support your job suffers. At times it is difficult to switch off after a hard day's work but try to maintain separate compartments - do not let your professional pressure eat into your family space.

In reality, one often comes across professionals who take their job to the bed room - a sense of passion is all fine but beyond a point it does affect your family life. Do remember you are also a son, husband or a father which is in addition to your professional engagement.

For a Sales Professional often there is a lot of travelling involved… you are on the road for days together. It is hence imperative to spend quality time with your family when you get a chance!! While travelling you tend to get into bad eating habits and not taking proper rest. You manage when you are young but sooner than later it takes a toll on your mind and body and there are high chances of burnout!!

The lifestyle you maintain, the food habits, do tend to take a toll. Be smart….be healthy, it’s your Life!!

Team Recruiters: Military simulation is an important way of training people for an emergency and today’s work environment is nothing less than an emergency where you are not only fighting against consumer choice, biases and heuristics, challenges of competition but rapidly changing technological up gradation and environment as well. Help us to understand how anyone can keep his team motivated under such circumstances?

Kunal Gupta: You need to be agile and willing to accept change and change yourself accordingly. Gone are the days of product rationing and sales allocation - those are all history. Be adept in getting into the shelves before someone else does it and does it better than you. It is indeed a war in the market and only the tough survive!!

Different situations throw up different challenges and at times to acknowledge and correct it in time takes a big ask and that too in the corporate world where the analogy that success has many fathers and failure has none holds true. The challenges of the market forced the Promoters to cut down on costs. The company was successfully selling two Brands of the same product with two separate Sales Teams. What seemed as a wise move was the decision to merge the two Sales Teams and ease out the comparatively weaker members. The cost cutting target was achieved - what apparently it looked to be a success turned out to be the other way round and within no time the numbers started going haywire. All brainstorming could not stop the numbers from spiraling downwards. The crux of the problem was that the team itself was not convinced and hence was unable to communicate to the market that they were selling two competing brands from the same company. Realisation finally dawned and the problem was addressed by re-strategising the product segment and impart training to the team.

Do remember recognition and appreciations are indeed very important in any profession - sales included.

Team Recruiters: Last year, Amazon bought Best Buy, a brick and mortar retail chain in USA and has made strategic investment in More and also in Big Bazaar in India. Wal-Mart also purchased Flipkart at astounding valuation of approximately $20 Billion. Now, Flipkart has started a furniture concept store in Bengaluru.
While FMCG Sales are going down, Retail Chains are seeing a huge growth in private label. Online Retail companies are also pushing new brands and gaining huge traction for the same. Old dynamics of sales have turned completely upside down now. What would be your advice to any company looking to successfully make their product profitable?

Kunal Gupta: Change is the only thing that is constant. Shift from General trade to Modern trade and onwards to online is something that is part of the process. Private labels will increasingly improve their share unless you can make your product stand out and preferably command a premium. You have to have that product differentiation that makes you the first choice.

A comprehensive Sales Strategy today would include a mix of Dealer Network, Modern Trade and Online Marketing. The percentage share might vary with the product and its segment. The Market dynamics today compel the strategist to utilize all avenues and options available to clinch the deal. One cannot leave anything to chance. For as I said earlier “Be adept in getting into the shelves before someone else does it and does it better than you!!”

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