Confessions of a Sales Intern

by Sougat Chakravartty on Tuesday 14 August 2012, 11:38 AM | Category: Summer Internship Contest| View: 2671 views


The day I heard the words Summer Internship project approved, I experienced a gamut of varying emotions – thrill, excitement, anxiety, and calmness. Three months of intensive preparation, countless hours of agony & self introspection had finally borne fruit. Soon, I would be off to start yet another chapter of my MBA life. The excitement stemmed from the fact that the internship was in Mumbai – my own city. Anxiety was in equal measure as I did not know what to expect. Having already had a taste of the corporate life before, I thought I had seen it all. Little did I know that this summer would be very different from all others!

At 9 am on April 2, 2012, I entered the offices of Belkin India Private Limited, a global leader in connectivity solutions – and was promptly ushered into a small conference room by a helpful security guard. I sat there, taking in the surroundings, leafing through newspapers & making a few calls. An hour passed – with no sign of my project guide or anyone else. A further 30 minutes passed before the first bombshell fell – my guide wouldn't be in office for the rest of the day. To ensure a productive day, they had the Director of Technical Services and two Channel Sales Managers (CSMs) come in for introductions, the product offerings and other sales jargon. Just as I was beginning to get comfortable with the project, they dropped another bomb (certainly more intense than the ones used in World War II) - I had been assigned to carry out field work in the blazing Mumbai heat. I felt like a crew member of the USS Enterprise from Star Trek – venturing into areas where no MBA intern had ever been before (whether boldly or not, time would tell). Despite having lived in Mumbai all my life, I had no knowledge of where the members of Belkin's Supply Chain system – called Channel Partners - were secreted away within the by-lanes and mazes of the great city. I was to visit these partners and find out their current requirements, hear their suggestions / complaints, and try to convince them to order additional stock. In some cases, my tasks also involved door-to-door selling to prospective partners. And to top it all off, I had to do all this for two months with limited office, laptop & internet access – and no stipend.

Inwardly, I groaned. The rosy picture that I had built up - that of working in an air-conditioned office, having intensive meetings with my guide & Belkin's clients, putting in long hours, and returning home by 7 pm in the evening – had been shattered to bits. I guess it was simply the remnant of my previous experience in corporate life fading away – accustomed to a totally different work culture (yes, I was an IT professional prior to pursuing an MBA degree), a regular 9-to-5 job and returning home with plenty of time to spare. Now, I had to adjust and adapt. I had to re-engineer my thought processes. But most of all – I had to change my attitude. I figured I had two choices – put in the time & learn the ropes of selling, or crib about it all. I chose the former after a lengthy chat with my project supervisor from college.

So I gritted my teeth and went to work. Thankfully, I was paired with one of the CSMs during those field visits. Slowly, as we traversed the length & breadth of the city, I began to pick up some very useful insights into the way Belkin did its business. While selling those products and networking with the various channel partners, I found myself discovering skills I'd never been aware of – patience (under a hot sun or while dealing with a crabby retailer), persuasion (which was extremely hard to do) & thinking like a salesperson. There were some great days when I was able to convert potentials into actual customers, or when I provided simple solutions that would benefit all channel partners.  Any sales professional worth his / her salt will tell you that such days are rare. My field sojourn was not without its share of thorns, however. Fighting Mumbai's heat, crowds & confusing mazes were only the tip of the iceberg. I did have a few unpleasant experiences – getting nearly beaten up by an over-zealous watchman at a prospective retail customer, facing an incredible amount of rudeness and having to hear the word No were some low points. However, there was still no clarity about what I was supposed to do for my project. After one particularly gruelling day, I went home & e-mailed my guide, asking for some more pointers on what the objective of the project was.

And that's when the third bomb fell.

It turned out that the company thought I was a new hire, with experience in Sales & Marketing. This occurred despite my resume clearly stating that I was an MBA intern specializing in Operations. So I explained to my guide (in colourful detail) what my exact profile was. A month had elapsed by then, and June was fast approaching. Sensing my discomfort, the head of the Mumbai office (it handles Sales & Marketing affairs) called me in one day, and gave me a whole new project – something that I took to with relish. This one was more up my alley – it was a market research project for smartphone accessories. Using all the knowledge gained from our classes on Research Methodology, a lot of aid from my college supervisor and the welcome assistance of the on-field Branding Team for Belkin, I was able to gather enough data to analyze and present my findings. Working at breakneck speed, increasing the intensity & frequency of my field visits, and bringing all my powers of persuasion to the fore, I was able to deliver a comprehensive report on my project - one that was very well-received & appreciated.

I returned to campus a lot wiser and with a different perspective on the business world. It was then that the words of a member of the senior batch came home to me: Fall in love with your internship, for the more you work, the more attractive it becomes. That's my advice to all the budding interns out there – Don't be tied down by fat stipends. An internship is an experience of a lifetime, and it stays with you forever. Learn With It. Live With It. Fall in Love With It.

-          Sougat Chakravartty

MBA(Operations, IT & Systems), SIOM (2011-13)

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