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Review: Sell; The Art, the Science, the Witchcraft by Subroto Bagchi

Each of the 30 chapters in Subroto Bagchi’s crisply narrated book carries a serious sales mantra

books Updated: Apr 06, 2018 17:55 IST
Sujoy Gupta
Getting his teeth into a sale: At the Pushkar Camel Fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan.
Getting his teeth into a sale: At the Pushkar Camel Fair in Pushkar, Rajasthan.(Bloomberg via Getty Images)
Sell; The Art, the Science, the Witchcraft; Subroto Bagchi; Rs 499, 244pp; Hachette

Subroto Bagchi is admired and respected for co-building a one-office, one-country IT startup to an Indian MNC with 43 offices in 17 countries in fewer than 20 years. He is an author too and this book is a treasure chest. Bagchi calls himself a “salesperson” and generously recounts personal experiences from across the world, sharing lessons learnt, insights gained, wisdom gleaned from dozens of clients to whom he’s personally sold the services offered by his company. He knows his onions since he’s cooked them himself or sometimes been cooked!

According to Bagchi selling is also about magic, and he’s met quite a few wizards. Indeed, Sell casts its own spell because it is replete with the author’s encounters with wizards among salespeople and he’s spelt (pun intended!) out their wisdom for readers.

This book on salespersonship could well have been conceived and delivered as a handbook or perhaps textbook targeted at thousands of students eager to rote-learn sales techniques. Mercifully, the author abandoned such temptation and delivered a work that’s as far away as possible from a “How To” product. Each of the book’s 30 chapters carries a serious moral or, using jargon, sales mantra. Bagchi’s crisp narration is compelling. Lessons in the art, science and witchcraft of selling are tantalisingly camouflaged in parables unfurled with an accomplished raconteur’s panache.

Consider this edited excerpt. “I found myself in Silicon Valley. My task was to entice tech companies in the Valley to award R&D assignments to us. It was a time when most executives in American companies didn’t know where India was.” It took months for Bagchi to win a big multi-year business basket. “When I look back, that win is one of the major factors that eventually shaped my destiny.” The moral: Never give up cold calling because the process keeps your spirit of inquiry alive.

Subroto Bagchi (Courtesy the publisher)

Or take this valuable insight: In sales you need to focus on three things – physics, chemistry and maths. Physics is the matter, the form and function, the price of what you sell. Chemistry is the relationship you build with the customer. Maths is revenue and profit that come from what the customer pays you. In this triad, it’s chemistry that’s most important. If that isn’t in place, you won’t succeed. Countless examples abound where wrong chemistry brought about the downfall of good products, great pricing notwithstanding. Moral: Use the chemistry to improve the physics to deliver the maths!

And then there’s this humdinger on coping with failure: “In sales, we obsess about winning. In truth, the scope to improve, to innovate, to break new ground requires us to fail. But even as we deal with failure, we gloss over them. In typical sales meets and conferences, wins are given exaggerated attention, losses are quickly buried under justifications and pointless blame games. To keep the big picture at the centre of one’s vision, one has to develop a reflective space, the ability to step back and be authentic. Finally, there may always be failure that needs to be handled; the point is to handle it with tact, poise and brilliance.”

Read more: Subroto Bagchi | How to scale up

Sell contains many delicious anecdotes that proffer insights and morals. However, the book’s own sales pitch is affected by some proof-reading and copy-editing shortcomings. To read ‘gauge’ as ‘guage’ hurts one’s eyes.

But let’s not bother. As a seminal volume, Sell stands tall on its own merit. Subroto Bagchi has contributed hugely to uplifting the quality of contemporary Indian management literature. We need more books as valuable as this one.

Sujoy Gupta is corporate biographer and business historian.