Six years ago, in October 2013, I was working as an Area Sales Manager with the automotive division of Mahindra. The auto industry had witnessed a muted first two quarters and the festive season of October November followed by a discount heavy December was the last hope left to salvage things.
The festive season ( Oct- Nov) in Indian retail sales is boom time for every consumer facing industry. Discounts, new launches clubbed with the typical Indian consumer sentiment of buying new products in an auspicious period make it a season to look forward to. In 2013, all of us were hoping for the Festival of Lights to bring back something to cheer about in an otherwise gloomy year.
Mumbai Area Office, where I was working, was part of the West Zone. The previous festive season ( 2012), West Zone had sold an all-time high of 16,000 vehicles in these two months. That year, the auto industry had recorded month-on-month double digit growth. We were expecting a target at best of 21,000 vehicles for the Zone ( a 30% growth over last year – which itself was very steep considering the way the first two quarters had panned out).
In October,2013 a contest was launched for the Mahindra sales team and the dealer principals – Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho. Based on targets achieved, winners could fly to Las Vegas , Rome and Singapore ( 100% + achievement was Vegas, 95 to 99 % – Rome, 91 to 94% – Singapore). While we were all looking forward to the contest and the thought of going to Vegas was mouth-watering, we also knew that this would not be easy as the targets would be extremely stretched.
When our West zone target was communicated – 25,000 vehicles for two months ( against 16,000 the previous year), we were all taken aback. Unrealistic, unattainable, far fetched from ground reality. The motivation levels were low because of the dismal first two quaryers. One man though, was in a completely different state of mind. It was Jacob Varghese, then Zonal Head for West Zone. Jacob was highly regarded for his market knowledge, ability to get into the details and ruthless execution. Jacob also was extremely aware of the pulse of his team. He called all of his sales team for a 2 day program in Garudmaachi, a picturesque outbound venue on the outskirts of Pune. The entire agenda of the two day program was to make us believe that the targets were achievable. Jacob had his unique way of alignment. While all of us had individual Area Office targets, Jacob throughout was only harping on one number – Mission 25k for West Zone. He got in a speaker, Dinesh Nathani, who was an expert in conducting workshops which focused on mental beliefs, positive psychology and training the mind. Nathani had a half-day session which was focused on visualizing positive outcomes, letting go of negative thoughts and feeding positive energy off each other. Jacob also coined a name for the team – Western Warriors. All the departments – including HR and Finance , were made to participate in the program. A famous motivational video –“Inch by Inch’ by Al Pacino was played multiple times during the day. By the end of the two days, all of us were charged and focused to deliver Mission 25k.
For Jacob, it was not only about doing a two day program. Post that, he created a mail chain where people would continuously write about success stories, statistics and tracking of how we were inching closer each day. Jacob would also have his weekly con-calls and keep the motivation going. Jacob’s energy rubbed off on all of us including the dealer fraternity. We were out in the market for 5 days in a 6 day week trying to do everything possible to make the magical number.
For the first few weeks, the number looked a distant dream. But with each passing week, what looked improbable started coming to life. In those days, I used to handle the territories of Nashik and Jalgaon. The Jalgaon dealer, whose monthly average was 70, was chasing a steep monthly number of 200. There was a chart on which 1 to 200 was written in the backward order and with each vehicle sold, a number was crossed. I had accompanied a few sales executives to close some bookings . Travelling to the interiors of the hinterland made me get a feel of rural India. These folks had no clue about terms like recession, GDP , growth rate etc. For them, all that mattered was a good monsoon, which would get a good crop, leading to substantial income and the excess income would result in retail purchases. While the folks in the corporate would think of strategies to improve sales in rural area, at the ground, the factors involved were pretty simple. One of our prospects was a legislator, who wanted to replace his vehicle with a Scorpio. Sales thrives on relationship, especially in rural areas and because the Sales executive had a great relationship and was continuously following up, he finally ended up booking the vehicle. The biggest learning for me was that Sales is not complex, yet difficult. The folks with strong follow-up and great relationship skills would invariably end up achieving their targets. Motivation was the key and there were various angles to this – the desire to be recognized, the need to earn the extra rewards and the feeling of being a winner. If the basics were taken care of, then results would follow. The Jalgaon dealer had announced a Goa trip to the entire team,if the overall target was achieved. The feeling of group-win gave that extra push and as a result, the entire team went over-drive to win in difficult conditions. The Jalgaon momentum rubbed off on neighbouring Nashik as well. We were not sure where we would end , but all of us knew that there would be no one who would question the efforts.
Likewise, in other parts of Mumbai AO and West Zone, success stories started emerging. After two months of hustle-bustle, the festive season came to a close. Jacob Varghese’s Western Warriors had achieved what seemed improbable two months ago. We had crossed 25,000 vehicles. While a strong monsoon had helped from a macro-economic perspective, the biggest differentiator for me was a motivated unit and the power of the collective. Accolades followed. West Zone had the highest %age of ASMs going to Las Vegas. Me and 5 other people from our Area Office went to Las Vegas. Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho had brought about a fresh lease of life in a gloomy environment. For me personally, it was a defining moment in my career transition from HR to Sales and the thrill of achieving the near impossible. I had doubts about moving from HR to Sales but Western Warriors and Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho changed everything.
6 years have passed and Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho continues to be one of my favorite memories in my sales career.
Cheers to hope, motivation, positivity, team work and focus. Hopefully, the current auto slowdown will end soon and there will be similar tales told by the current crop of auto sales folks.
Gaadi Becho Duniya Dekho