Mercuri Mail

The India Journal of Mercuri International Jan - Mar 2019

Selling in Distuptive Times

Disruption may be a new buzzword but the sales solution for it hasn’t changed in 60 years
Must Read
The Best Kept Secret of Sales Superstars


Disruption may be a new buzzword but the sales solution for it hasn’t changed in 60 years

Doesn’t it feel like it’s the best of times and the worst of times?

World changing forces are at work. Unprecedented opportunities for growth and prosperity are opening up. Yet businesses perish every day. Whole industries become irrelevant overnight.

Disruption is now a word with a new, terrifying connotation. And sales was never more difficult.

When did the world get this way? Almost 60 years ago, to be exact. Difficult to believe? Consider this 3-line excerpt from a Harvard Business Review insight authored by a legendary management guru

“Every major industry was once a growth industry. But some that are riding a wave of growth enthusiasm are very much in the shadow of decline. Others which are thought of as seasoned growth industries have actually stopped growing”

What were those ‘shadow of decline’ and ‘growth stalled’ industries the guru was referring to? No, it wasn’t smart phones or petrol cars. When Theodore Levitt, wrote on Marketing Myopia in 1960, he was referring to both small businesses like dry cleaning, electric utilities and grocery stores and large industries like petroleum and rail roads.

Levitt, whose seminal contributions are ranked next only to venerated Peter Drucker, was astonishingly prescient when he wrote:

“Management must think of itself not as producing products but as providing Customer-creating value satisfactions. It must push this idea (and everything it means and requires) into every nook and cranny of the organisation. It has to do this continuously and with the kind of flair that excites and stimulates the people in it … In short, the organisation must learn to think of itself not as producing goods and services but as buying Customers as doing the things that will make people want to do business with it “

Levitt made a compelling case on how organisations that ignore this Customer centric focus set themselves up for disruption. “The classical example of this is the buggy whip industry” Levitt wrote “No amount of product improvement could stave off its death sentence. But had the industry defined itself as being in the transportation business rather than the buggy whip business, it might have survived … Even if it had only defined its business as providing a stimulant or a catalyst to an energy source, it might have survived by becoming a manufacturer of, say, fan belts or air cleaners”

The sales lesson? Become so totally Customer centric, that you spot changing trends in product usage or Customer needs early to adapt to possible disruptions and master them.

More than 50 years later, Prof Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School added a powerful new perspective to Levitt’s insight. Christensen’s Jobs To Be Done (JTBD) theory urged businesses and sales people to be mindful of the ‘jobs’ for which Customers ‘hire’ products or services.

In a now oft-quoted example Christensen and his team pointed out that if majority Customers buy milkshakes mainly to make their long commutes less monotonous, improving the milkshake’s flavour or chunkiness isn’t going push up sales.

On the contrary, some other beverage or food that could make the commute feel better, say a doughnut or a bagel, could disrupt sales. And the real improvement to raise sales would be one that makes the milkshake even more worthwhile for the commuter Customer.

Want to keep disruption at bay and sell more? Go back to the sales wisdom of more than half a century ago. Get out of product orientation and become Customer oriented as Levitt urged. Customer-centricity doesn’t cut it any more. Try Customer obsessed!

Read Theodore Levitt’s classic of enduring wisdom here


The Best Kept Secret of Sales Superstars

“Disruption? What disruption? My numbers were in a month back”

Sales Superstars! You meet them in the award winner row at sales conferences. How do they do it? Year upon year? Are they human or aliens from another galaxy?

The book The Sales Gurus: Lessons from the Best Sales Books of All Time answers this very question when it introduces Brian Tracy’s Be a Sales Superstar as “a collection of  twenty-one essential performance tips to push sales professionals into the elite realm of the top 10 percent of sellers. In selling lore, this exclusive club is rumored to earn more than 80 percent of the money brought in by sellers”

A surprisingly simple principle that Tracy’s book puts forward is a secret he had learned at the outset of his sales career: Small differences in ability in key areas lead to enormous differences in results. So, the secret spell to enter sales superstardom is simply one word – Skills. The journey to stardom begins with a commitment to excel in sales skills.

Sales Gurus quotes Tracy, writing – “Ambition is, therefore, the single most important expression of optimism, and it is the key quality for the achievement of great success in sales or any other field. Ambitious people have one remarkable characteristic in sales. They dream big dreams. They see themselves as capable of being the best in their fields”

Here are Brian Tracy’s tips to build top class sales skills

Learn without let-up – To earn more, you should learn more.  Working harder with your present abilities won’t take you far. Highly paid salespeople spend more time and money than their average peers in upgrading their skills. Continuous learning is like a mental fitness programme for sales champions to get in shape for intense competition. Continuous learning has 3 components. They are:

  • Read continuously – Look for practical ideas to apply in your work. Visualise using them on the job and put them to practice during the day. The reading advantage works like this. One hour of reading on sales every day = One book per week. This amounts to 50 plus books a year and that gives you a huge edge over an average peer who might read 1 – 2 books a year
  • Listen and learn – Use your travel time smartly by turning to educational audios. Tracy calls it ‘enrollment at the Automobile University’. Make every minute count and remember one great idea or technique can change the course of your career
  • Learn from the experts – Take all the trainings you can get. Attend seminars and courses on professional selling Seek out advice on helpful courses to take. The next training or seminar you attend could bring you the career transforming idea or strategy you’ve been looking for

Finally, practise the 3 percent rule – Invest 3 percent of your income back into becoming better at what helped you earn that income in the first place. Every rupee you invest in honing your own skills is guaranteed to get you exponential returns

You are on your way to sales superstardom!

Must Read


What got you into your first job? If you are like the vast majority of us, ‘passion’ may not be a ready answer.

Discovering one’s passion early on in life and building a career around it is the lucky lot of a select few. The rest of us get pitchforked into jobs largely as a matter of chance or happenstance.

Passion then jumped in on the way as we worked at our jobs and picked specific areas, we enjoyed, to create a career. This is even more true of sales than of other careers. Few consciously choose sales for a career.

That’s the story of Carl Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You – Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work you Love

The book has 3 lessons that could be invaluable to salespeople in particular:

 i) You can learn to love what you do, even if you don’t get to do what you love

As Cal Newport discovered in his own career, loving your work is a function of expertise and experience. Once you are in a job, if you work hard, practice a lot and keep adding to your skills, you are bound to start loving your work. The feel-good passion that most of feel, comes from an intrinsic motivation that’s the result of 3 things

  • Autonomy - a sense of control over your time
  • Competence – the feeling that you are good at what you do
  • Relatedness – the connection you enjoy with others in the course of work

 ii) You must become a craftsman to collect the skills you need

When you work towards mastering your ‘craft’ or become a craftsman, you will look for problems to solve at work. What you cannot solve will highlight knowledge and competence gaps you will close by developing new skills. Continuous, deliberate practice will keep you in a state of flow, boosting your autonomy and competence. You soon emerge as a master craftsman in your area of work

  iii) Be ready to say ‘no’ to anything that takes away your control

As a master of your craft, you should be willing to decline any rewards that takes away your well-earned autonomy and your carefully laid out plans to build on your competence

The craftsman mindset you employ to master the sales craft, earns you what Cal Newport aptly calls ‘career capital’

When you work and practice hard in developing all round sales skills,

  • You develop traits that define great work which are rare and valuable.
  • Demand/supply dynamics dictate that to get these traits you need rare and valuable skills to offer in return.
  • These rare and valuable skills you can offer constitute your career capital.
  • The craftsman mindset, with its relentless focus on continuous improvement is a good way to acquire career capital

So, in creating the work you love, the craftsman mindset always trumps passion

Takeaway quote:

If you want to love what you do, abandon the passion mindset (“what can the world offer me?”) and instead adopt the craftsman mindset (“what can I offer the world?”)”

The craftsman mindset of what I can offer to the world is most ideal to guarantee success in sales

Ravi's Corner

The Craftsman
  • Elumalai, my wise old gardener
  • A man of surprises
  • A Pruning here, a Sowing there
  • Gentle Fingers turn the soil
  • Nutrition and Water for life and rejuvenation
  • A burst of colours hot and pastel
  • Heady scents and fragile fragrances
  • A bouquet of sensations that calm the mind
  • A man of surprises
  • Some secret conversations
  • Who knows what it could be
  • The sky, the sun , the rain and the breeze bless them both
  • A man of surprises
  • He acknowledges  my joy and sweat
  • Yet stays detached
  • So detached
  • I ask- are you not  passionate about what you do?
  • A man of surprises
  • I do what I have to do and do it well
  • I am a Craftsman –it has taken a while..


  1. "Get closer than ever with your Customers. So close you tell them what they need, well before they realise it themselves” – Steve Jobs
  1. “Filter everything you’re doing, saying and pitching through the customer point of view, and you’ll improve just about every metric you care about today.” – Matt Heinz
  1. “Don’t let your expertise become your enemy when selling. Instead, always have the patience and empathy to ask questions about the buyer’s situation. Believe me, your sales results will improve when you do” - Pekka Sahlsten in Customer Centric Selling Blog
  1. “Lavish plenty of attention on your Elephant. Make that big company feel looked after and cherished. Return calls speedily, Answer questions quickly. Address problems immediately. Be kind to your Elephant, and it will be kind to you” – From Bag The Elephant by Steve Kaplan
  1. “One of the best predictors of ultimate success … isn't natural talent or even industry expertise, but how you explain your failures and rejections"--Daniel H. Pinkl
  1. “Traditional salespeople educate buyers about a product and assume buyers will know how to apply the product features to meet their needs. Customer centric sellers are able to relate conversationally with buyers about product usage” – Michael T Bosworth and John R Holland in Customercentric Selling
  1. “…it is the improving and advancing of all the skills and professionalism of every person in your company on an on-going basis that is going to turn your company into the Ultimate Sales Machine. Training is proactive. It keeps your company healthy and prepared no matter what crisis arises” - Chet Holmes in The Ultimate Sales Machine
  1. “These days, people want to learn before they buy, be educated instead of pitched.” — Brian Clark
  1. “Champions keep playing until they get it right” – Billie Jean King
  1. “In times of drastic change, it is the learners who will inherit the future. The learned will find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists”. - Eric Hoffer


The average salesperson has plans. The super salesperson will offer you results, numbers, closures. It is execution excellence that sets the winners apart.

Customer focus and skill building to master selling in uncertain times will remain mere resolutions unless executed.

Tom Peters’ new book Excellence Dividend offers a quaint story on how even the great business leaders will benefit from lessons in execution:

“A man approached J. P. Morgan, held up an envelope, and said, “Sir, in my hand I hold a guaranteed formula for success, which I will gladly sell you for $25,000.” “Sir,” J. P. Morgan replied, “I do not know what is in the envelope; however, if you show me, and I like it, I give you my word as a gentleman that I will pay you what you ask.”

The man agreed to the terms and handed over the envelope. J. P. Morgan opened it and extracted a single sheet of paper. He gave it one look, a mere glance, then handed the piece of paper back to the gent. And paid him the agreed-upon $25,000. On the paper… 1. Every morning, write a list of the things that need to be done that day. 2. Do them.”

Do you make lists? Do you do them?


Mercuri Mail is a thoughtful compilation of meaningful articles drawn from Mercuri India archives, and from timeless management literature. Edited by Jaishankar Balasubramaniam & Sridhar Srinivasan of Mercuri Goldmann (India) Pvt. Ltd. This publication is for private circulation only.; |

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