Jumping into a career such as insurance advisory can be a scary thought for someone with no sales experience. Likewise in a startup where founders serve as the primary face of the sales team. Abhishek Bondia, Managing Director of SecureNow Insurance Broker, shares his journey in the early days of SecureNow with no "real sales" experience and how even if you lose a battle, perseverance can help you to win the war.
Before starting out SecureNow six years ago, I worked in a highly regarded consulting firm. A senior partner at the firm was apprehensive. He felt that SecureNow would be a non-starter. That I had no “real sales” experience was his concern. And in a start-up, the founders serve as the primary face of the sales team. More so in a B2B insurance broker.
An erstwhile manager at the same firm who had recently turned entrepreneur, was more reassuring. Sales was a rather easy skill to figure out, he felt. His elegant prescription was: First, understand the client’s pain points. Next, steer your solutions around client’s needs. And, then be at it.
As a consultant, the first two steps were intuitive. I did not, however, fully appreciate the importance of the third element, persistence, until I experienced its criticality in sales first hand. While I matched clients’ needs with our solutions, many things kept falling apart. One such thing was managing clients' emotions – this was hard to anticipate and plan for.
Keep showing up
During the early days, one client made us wait for three hours in a hotel lobby. They then signed-up with a competitor, without even meeting us.
We were left frustrated for the lack of basic courtesy. One had to control the urge to vent. Instead we smiled and moved on without making enemies. Often, in a renewal situation the client would refute our more attractive proposal and retain the incumbent at a higher cost for the sake of relationship.
We could have blamed the lack of meritocracy but instead we aspired to build similar premium service relationships. At times, a few clients took our diagnoses of their past purchases as an assessment of their abilities. Negotiations then turned into one-upmanship games.
Defeat is tough to handle. Add to it, many such situations that we felt were unfair. These could not only cause business loss but also dent confidence. However, we quickly internalised the need to not take such setbacks personally. Irrespective of the extent of the previous day’s failure, we showed-up the next day. Like Chris Gardner from Pursuit of Happyness, we did not hang up the phone. We won intermittently and survived.
Live to fight another day
All this while, the senior partner at the consulting firm and his work had continued to inspire me. One client pitch is particularly registered in my memory.
It was to a hostile CEO of an insurance firm. The Board was keen to award us a million dollar contract, but the CEO was insecure thus blocking the deal. The senior partner was comfortable losing the deal but did not want to lose the individual. He knew he could come back to fight another day. He invested fully in the CEO, dropping the emphasis from the proposal.
Too often, people do the opposite and end up becoming defensive. I witnessed the CEO's guards going down, and a willingness to listen emerge. The relationship transitioned from transactional to trust based. We got the mandate, more importantly with the support of the CEO. Our work would have had significantly lesser impact had he been on the opposing side.
This mindset is what I marvel. To be ready to lose a battle, but not give up on the war. Like the Bruce's 'spidery spider' one cannot relent until the web is woven.
It has been a long time since SecureNow started out. We did have hiccups at the start, but we are going steady. Seventy strong sales individuals work alongside me to serve over 6,000 clients. We acquire 15 new clients every day. Yet, I know I am still short of being a “real sales” person by the senior partner’s yardstick. I will continue to be at it.
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