Sales & Marketing — Getting the perspective right

Yesterday, a few of us here got together for a quick meet of marketing club for ISB Mohali. The agenda was for the club’s presidential candidates to give a quick introduction, and aninformal discussion to follow that.

One of the points that came up during the ensuing chat was the ever pertinent question “Can I work in marketing without having to do a sales stint?” or variations of the same.

The meet ended, but it didn’t lead to any satisfactory conclusion to answering that question. Even the candidates had different POVs, and it was interesting to see a flow of views across the room. Having said that, I think a lot of marketing aspirants lack clarity in terms of approaching sales as a career component. I have my opinion on the topic, but I think what would really benefit students are outside views. I got in touch with two people in my network — both marketers who didn’t have a “sales stint” on their CV.

Which direction to go?

Kya mujhe sales karna hi padega?

Later at night I called a dear friend and mentor who is in the global marketing leadership of a ride-hailing app (he didn’t want to be named) and asked him without much ado, “Is sales inherently tied to marketing? Kya mujhe sales karna hi padega?” (Will I need to do sales?)

He replied in his usual articulate self, “The core debate is not “sales” vs “marketing” but rather “what can help you best understand the customer”. Sales being closer to the ground will as process collect more “anecdotal” feedback. These anecdotes at times lead to the insights that have the potential to become large marketing campaigns.

I poked him back, “But does my career trajectory necessarily need a sales stint to grow as a marketing professional?

This time I got the answer many of you would love, “ Does sales make you a better rounder professional? Yes for sure — the same way a stint in finance will get you working with numbers which is indispensable skill for any CEO. Is it the only way to become a good marketer? Not necessarily.

So to answer many of your questions —Kya mujhe sales karna hi padega? — NO.

That’s music to many of my fellow ISB-mates’ ears I’m sure. But then, how do you go about circumventing sales, and find yourself in a more core-marketing role?

The new age marketer’s toolkit — Data

We are lucky to be in a time when the only way to understand the pulse of customers is no longer visiting kirana stores. Social media and digital offer us so many tools to capture data.

The mentor further mentioned, “With the emergence of “growth marketing” and “growth hacking” as key components of marketing strategy, the new age mantra is not “sales” but tech. Tech products have the capability to capture so many data points, which is humanly not impossible. More data = More insights.

[To put the discussion in context, he is an engineer+MBA from one of India’s top B-schools and has extensive marketing+startup experience]

So the question that we should be asking is not “How do I avoid a sales stint?” but “what are the relevant skills I should be building that can be an alternative to a sales stint?”. Deep diving into analytics and pivoting yourself into a data driven professional is a good start. Techies, are you hearing me? :)

How to go about building a pure-play marketing career

Today morning I reached out to another friend, Edwin Daniel, ISB Co’15 and the Head of Marketing of a Bangalore based healthcare startup. He had earlier joined Groupon (now Nearbuy) out of campus, and I wanted to understand how he had thought through his career goals and his advice for people who do not want the traditional sales+marketing graph.

Edwin said, “An understanding of sales — the potential, pain-points and processes is important. But in the evolving landscape, it is highly dependent on the industry which one is in. For eg: In e-commerce, marketing is more aligned with the product than any other vertical. In a nutshell, the easiest solution is to scout for industries which are not sales oriented. Look into tech, ecommerce etc.

What Edwin is saying here ties back to what my other friend earlier said. Times are changing, and it’s okay to look beyond traditional frameworks of marketing. Looking into tech-marketing roles such as product marketing, growth marketing, digital marketing is the alternative to go for.

The other side of the coin— Why an ASM role in an FMCG can be the best thing that happens to your career

But there should be a reason why top B-school graduates continue to join bluechip FMCG companies as Area Sales Managers and Key Accounts Managers — despite knowing all the gruel it comes with?

Edwin had a great answer to that, “One should understand that in traditional FMCG industries those in ASM roles are effectively controlling a lot more aspects than sales alone. They handle operations, manpower management, demand generation, legal and a lot more. The reason why these roles are coveted is because they add a lot of value in terms of learning in a matter of a few years. Plus there is safety in working with companies which have real physical assets instead of valuation.

There you go! A few years in sales will go beyond teaching you sales (or for the matter, marketing). It will be a fast-track immersion in every other facet of business. Not to mention, the perks of working in employee-friendly FMCG giants. Been there once. Can attest for that aspect!

Prepping oneself to enter marketing without pre-MBA marketing workex

I know of many account managers from ad agencies who moved to the client side as marketing managers. But they had a relevant background. What about an ISB student who has been a process engineer in Oil and Gas for 5 years, doesn’t want to do sales, and wants to be a core marketer?

Which way to go?

Edwin did admit that it is not easy to get into marketing. To convince a potential recruiter that you have the capability to acquire, engage, retain and reactivate customers, requires sound reasoning. His suggestion — Show your breadth of experience through value adding internships or projects. Pick projects which solve a critical pain point associated with the top line/bottom line of the company. Show them the money!

Edwin is right; it is extremely important that candidates add the right experiences in terms of projects to their CVs. We at ISB do not have the luxury of summer internships to reorient our careers. ELPs will thus be critical in that aspect. I also strongly recommend students to build relevant skills in digital marketing and analytics through electives as well as workshops that the marketing club will be organising. Of course, we will be reaching out to Business Technology Club for collaborative help.

Comprehensive takeaways for the TL;DR audience

  1. Sales is a good to have. However, in today’s time sales is not a must have for many marketing career trajectories.
  2. Become a data-driven professional. Learn how to extract and interpret data to make decisions and deliver results. Differentiate yourself by learning analytics and digital marketing. Be a hustler.
  3. Traditional FMCGs and B2C companies will put you through sales stints. These are great stints to have in your career in terms of learning curves. However, don’t want sales? Look beyond FMCGs.
  4. Look for industries that are not driven by ground sales. Ecommerce and tech have opened up a new paradigm of allied marketing roles in product marketing, growth marketing category management etc.
  5. Beef up your CV by adding relevant internships, projects, contests, pro-bono collaborations with startups. Show that you know marketing, even if you haven’t done it. Be creative!

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Having said so, these are just perspectives, and you must charter your own journey. Reach out to other students, alumni, and the whole of your extended network to find that role and company that is in the perfect intersection of your interests and competencies.

Also, please go through my manifesto. I personally hold the opinion that one should be open-minded about sales or account management stints, and at the same time keep on adding relevant capabilities. Reinventing yourself is the key.

I hope the “Rocket Singhs Ready” and “Dive into Digital” plans of my manifesto deliver on preparing you for a sales role, and make you digitally-capable. “Startup Saturdays” is an innovative way you can do short-time collaborations with startups to bring more relevance to your CV as a marketer. (And if you like my manifesto and how I intend to be a conduit to for your dreams and goals, please consider me as your candidate for the marketing club)

At the end of the day, do put in your hard work, and let everything else fall into place. Good things happen to good people. Good luck! :)