Soft Skills instead of Selling Skills
I have had the fortune of being a serial entrepreneur and this only meant that I never give up on hopes, ability to make a difference and aptitude to learn. Founded Netlabs in 1995, co-founded Servion Global Solutions in 1998 and am into my third start-up, Green Quotient Systems (www.gquotient.com) since 2009. Groomed with professional skills for 14 years, with the final element of guts and gumption egging me, I ventured on my own in 1995. It has been a fascinating journey, never short of dull moment, but a life that I am still not fully equipped to balance risk and rewards. In my professional career, I have been exposed to selling to OEM Clients and Channel Partners and not so much to enterprise customers.
In 1998, when we created Servion, there were 5 promoters with diverse work experience and skillset with overlaps sometimes. We had consciously decided to focus on our core competencies as a founding team and expand the business to international markets. Early part of this arrangement, I started developing the APAC market for Servion, a company that was a pioneer in automated customer interaction management.
One of the challenges as a Business Development/Sales person is to be able to adapt quickly to the cultural aspects of a diverse market like APAC. I quickly realized that physical attributes and acceptable behavior played a crucial role in breaking ice with a prospective international client. I was comfortable with the Japanese customers and can look at their eyes, but was uneasy looking up, at an Aussie Client, being the Indian of average build. It was easier to bend politely than to return a firm handshake from a six footer!
By the time, I shifted base to Singapore, I had become quite adept in handling enterprise sales and more specifically to banking customers in India and Middle East. I saw an opportunity to break into the Japanese market though another customer of us, Citibank. A bank was being revived by the new owners shifting the focus from Corporate Banking to serving Retail customers. We had presented to the new management a customer acquisition and retention strategy using technology along with the provider of the core banking software.
I had spent some time in Japan in one if my previous companies as a product manager and learnt a bit of the language. It came in quite handy to make the customer comfortable in our interactions and also build a trusted by exhibiting customs and manners that would put them at ease. It takes a while for them to do business with a new company and my local sales manager was pleased when I used soft skills and not an aggressive sales approach.
Slow, but structured to a fault, the Japanese client showed appreciation of our partnering approach and selling technology was a breeze after this. There were three stakeholders in the project and we complemented each other to execute the plans on time and it was a great leaning to see the client marshal the resources. Patience as they say is a virtue even in the most trying moments – they are our client for over 10 years now!