Volume 6 - Issue 08
AUGUST - 2008
HARNESSING THE HEART - PART 9
…LIVING UP TO THE CHALLENGE OF CONSCIENCE IN DAILY LIFE
BALANCING the BUSINESS OF BUSINESS AND THE BUSINESS OF LIFE
By Mr. Sathya Jambunathan
Marketing, Sales and Business Development were like dream words to me when I embarked upon a career in the Telecom industry, way back in 1994. It was the time when India was undergoing its telecom makeover. Big companies making a mark in the world were slowly entering the Indian market.
Companies such as Lucent, Ericsson, Nortel Networks and Nokia had painted a picture of the high flying telecom executive armed with a sleek laptop and an even sleeker cell phone. This apart, in all fairness, the possibility of taking part in the telecom revolution was also too good to ignore.
So, with this frame of mind, I embarked on my journey in corporate Telecom India, hoping to make a mark in the telecom industry. Sales and Business Development, as good and exciting as it sounds, also had its underlying challenges in terms of meeting numbers, achieving targets and sticking to principles.
The Soothing Shelter of Bal Vikas
When I underwent the Bal Vikas (Sri Sathya Sai Education in Human Values) program, it used to be a routine “Sunday” fun time with many friends, more than anything else. Little did I realize that the seeds planted during those Sunday classes, would quietly grow into the Divine Tree whose shade I would come to frequently to seek comfort from, and derive quiet guidance and direction under its many branches. The challenge we face in our daily lives is to realize the presence of this ‘tree’ always being by our side.
Whilst in India, and continuing in the USA, a major part of my job was to interact with clients / customers and convince them of the excellence of my company’s product line. Now, convincing people about the technical excellence of a product was rather simple. In comparison, convincing a human mind to do business with us was far more tedious.
Let me share some of the simple challenges I faced as a spiritual seeker amidst the business of business. The following situations are from the dealings with one of several clients I handle on a regular basis.
Conforming to the Client’s Taste
Quite often, as a part of the business deal process, we had to “socialise” with the client. In particular, this translated as taking the client for late night dinners at restaurants of their choice. Now, being a strict vegetarian by religion and choice, my options of restaurants offering vegetarian dishes were rather “close to nil”.
All of a sudden, the business of business came down to sitting at a table with the client who was relishing a plethora of non-vegetarian dishes. ‘How do I handle this?’ was the question in my mind.
Sometimes, it may sound straightforward – my mind told me to just not go to these dinner meetings at all. But then, what about the relationship with the client? A client, who is about to sign a $5 /$10 million deal the next day morning. This was the first practical shocker, so to say.
Balancing Lifestyle Choices with Occupational Hazards
The face of the client, my manager, and my colleague showed obvious signs of discomfort, seeing me with a plate of salad and baked potato and a glass of water, in contrast to their plates of steak with bottles of beer. All through the dinner, I could sense uneasiness around the table.
Also, more importantly for me, I was in doubt, as to whether I had done the right thing by standing out with my meager salad on the table. Somehow the dinner was over, and we retired for the day. I spent that night in the hotel room, struggling to find the right balance between what I do for a living and how I live.
Another challenge was the pressure to indulge in gossip and small talk about pertinent people from competitor companies, when others were using indecent language under the influence of alcohol. I used to maintain silence, answering only when asked. On many occasions, my manager has disapproved of my being silent. Talking is one of the “biggest” requirements for sales professional, he felt. On the other hand, I firmly believed in the strength of silence.
Honesty and Transparency
Yet another challenge I faced, almost in every transaction with clients, was to “own up” shortcomings in our products. During a business presentation, when we have to showcase the strengths and weaknesses of our solution, the bone of contention for me and our sales team usually is on how much of the weaknesses we should own upfront with the client.
The standard answer I get from my colleagues is “let’s get the deal for now, and we can deal with the shortcomings later”. The standard answer I give them is that if we cover up at this stage, it will affect our credibility with the client, and also affect our reputation in the market. But, this approach didn’t go too well with my teammates.
One more aspect of sales organisation is to gather competition product information and create comparison charts. While this activity is definitely useful towards refining our products, it has its own spiritual challenges when it comes to presenting a comparison chart to the customer.
In a competitive environment, the human mind often resorts to conveying what it does better than others. It’s always an external competition. I noticed my teammates resorting to degrading remarks about the competition. It was however an irony to see these same teammates, when they joined the same competitor company, they praised that company’s product and degraded their previous company’s product – it was all in the name of doing business.
For me the main question was if the above mentioned challenges were part and parcel of sales jobs, then do I give in, to make the client happy or do I stand my ground regardless of people and situations?
Gaining the Respect of Colleagues
In the face of these moral dilemmas that I confronted as a part of the corporate culture, the Divine Tree from the seed of Bal Vikas, which was silent so far, showered its grace in the form of self-confidence, self-satisfaction, and clarity of thought towards sticking to principles and to values.
In terms of food situations, every lunch / dinner used to be a challenge in itself - overcoming the desire to decline the invite and then on top of it being a part of the table. But over a period of time, my sales team and sometimes the client took notice of my persistence with vegetarian ways. Once we were in Little Rock, Arkansas, for a two-day business meeting. We were in the midst of the final negotiations for a large deal.
Keeping a few pertinent people from the client side in good spirits through this final stage was of prime importance. So, when our meeting took a break for lunch, discussions started on where to go and what to eat. Given the stress of back-to-back meetings for the previous two days, everyone wanted a good “bite” as they call it here, in the USA. Finally, after 10 minutes of discussion, they decided to go to the most popular “steak house / bar” to informally celebrate the deal which was just a formality at that point.
But at the last minute, to my pleasant surprise, a senior member from the client side changed the venue stating that he had realized that restaurant didn’t offer any vegetarian dishes, and hence he had found a good but a not so well-known restaurant which offered a variety of dishes for everyone in the team. My hungry stomach swelled with joy and I thanked God profusely!
Silence: Strength or a Social Stigma?
Avoiding gossip discussions/small talk on many occasions, earned me the nametag of a “silent” individual. Over a period I noticed that whenever my teammates started talking, after 5-10 minutes into the conversation, if they saw me in the room, they would either change the topic, or quietly move away from that place. I was later told by one of them, that out of respect for my preference to silence, they refrained from indiscreet and idle talk in my presence.
Contrary to my company’s beliefs, owning up shortcomings in our products, and also a fair comparison to competitor products was greatly appreciated by the client, so much so, that they overlooked some of our competitors to choose us, just for this one point of honesty and straight forwardness.
Many a time I used to be overlooked for important final stage deal negotiations. Once, in the midst of an important business deal, which if won would be a landmark deal for my company, at the penultimate stage the client found a glitch which although not too big to be worried about, was never mentioned to them.
This glitch never had the potential of breaking a network, but did have the potential of breaking the “trust” of the client. The question now was as to who will tell the client that this was a genuine oversight on our part. After much deliberation, my team picked me to do this so-called “dirty job”, with fingers crossed that the client doesn’t drop the deal. As per plan, I conveyed the news to the client, whose reaction only strengthened my beliefs. He mentioned that he trusted my words more than anyone else, as in the past I had owned up our product shortcomings openly. Needless to say, we went on to win the deal, which made our company the first ever company in United States to offer a nation-wide network.
Playing the Game of Life, Fairly!
Life is a game, play it, Bhagavan Baba says. ‘Play it’ – we do. But then, ‘How fairly do we play it?’, is what is more important. Can we be true to ourselves even at the cost of losing our so-called friends, promotions, bonuses, and commissions?
Baba explains that stones exist, plants respond and animals react. It is only humans who have been given the supreme power to discriminate. The Sri Sathya Sai Education in Human Values programme in its truest perspective has helped me reach where I am in my life today. It continues to help me progress through the four states of stone, vegetable, animal to human and in that process enables me to follow Baba’s maxim, Life is a Challenge, Meet It.
From the worldly perspective, I was made the sole point of contact with this client, handling around $10-15 million worth of business. But from a spiritual perspective, I feel greatly blessed, that amidst all the hustle and bustle of Business, I am constantly guided by the Divine to carry out the Business of Life.
Illustrations: Ms. Srikarthika Jambunathan, SSSU alumna
Vol 6 Issue 08 - AUGUST 2008
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