How to stay relevant and thrive in the super competitive sales environment

For our first episode, we’re teaming up with Uday Sinha - VP of Business Development and Partnerships at Lendingkart. 

In this episode, we speak about - 

  • How to rise to the top in sales
  • How to stay relevant in a super competitive sales environment
  • How not to get fired
  • How to hire top notch sales talent
  • How to identify and join companies that have a great culture and growth potential
  • How to balance work, life, and relationships 

Read the transcript

Intro: What I would do when you're evaluating company culture for an early stage startup where there isn't a whole lot of information available is that I'd look for signs in my interactions with them. How does the HR treat you do they respect your time? What's the tone the HR or even your hiring manager take when speaking about the founder these are some of the things which would give a few things away about the culture. I'm Shiva and welcome to A Job Well done a podcast where we dive into the journeys of successful business leaders to find out what it takes to rise to the top. If you see clarity on choosing the carrier getting a promotion Landing a dream job or simply being the best at what you do this is the podcast for you. Our first guest is someone I have worked with in the past and a dear friend Uday has had a stellar career in sales and his experience is quite unique. He's worked in diverse verticals such as consumer SAS and now fintech across different geographies and an organization's that range from a start-up to a large enterprise. This unique experience puts Uday in a good position to speak on a number of topics from a career in sales to shifting cultures at work on how to stay relevant and how not to get fired in a super competitive sales environment. Thanks a lot for coming to the studio today.

Uday: My pleasure

Shiva: Could you please introduce yourself?

Uday: Sure Shiva, I currently head business development at Lending cart. For those who don't know, Lending cart is India's leading fintech lender. We provide short-term financing to small businesses

Shiva: Sounds like a very interesting role. So guys out there if you want loans and you want it approved immediately. You can drop Uday a message. I'm sure he'll do the rest.

Uday: Ony if you are a small business

Shiva: All right so why did you take this job Uday

Uday: I think it's very important to know what you want from a particular job. So it could be entry into an industry fast-tracking of career it could be access to a network. could even be work-life balance or learning new skills. So I think it depends on what you want. It depends on the individual but it's important to question what you want from your next job when the lending cart opportunity came by it fulfilled both A and B. I felt fintech was industry in 2016. And the lending cart was the one of the fastest growing new kids on the block.

Shiva: So when you joined a lending cart in 2016, it is still relatively early in their growth and you know from your choices. I can see that you often take leadership roles in companies like headstrong and Traction in relatively early stages is there a reason for this

Uday: I have worked at large companies too. I worked at Deloitte and I work with the TATA. Working at large companies will have perks too. You're not you're not miss that often for one. However this is also the biggest negative. Sometimes you wonder if you are actually moving much. I'm of course speaking about very early careers at large companies. I'm sure answering Market analysts after quarterly results is a very challenging job.

Shiva:Yes.

Uday: This is something I'd always recommend to people who are starting out as well always try and build something setup from scratch I think you will enjoy it and that was the biggest motivating factor for me as well today some large companies may offer you a chance too but those rules I think are still few and far in between

Shiva: That makes sense. And usually when you go after these early stage companies, it's quite dicey as well you are taking a big bet. There's a very good chance that they might work out. They might not work out

Uday: Absolutely

Shiva: And how do you evaluate these companies for long-term success?

Uday: I think evaluating an early stage company is extremely tricky. It's almost like stepping into a VC shoes, right? Yeah, except that your opportunity cost makes it much more risky for you, certainly say you give you two years to accompany VC could invest into 10 companies at that time. And one of them will give him the payoff. One difference is you will work with far lesser information than a VC would you would need to do your primary research speaking to your friends in the VC space is a great tool even if some of these VCS don't have a thesis on the company in question. They will still know someone who does or at least has some thesis on this on the sector as such. Second very important thing is speak to current employees. They generally don't lie and these days it's quite easy to come across people just try and find friends out of friends who work there. And even approached them directly on LinkedIn?

Shiva: Yeah, I do that a lot.

Uday: And we get approached so very often. Yeah. So I think speaking to these people getting your own primary research is the only way to evaluate these early stage companies.

Shiva: Now, I'm coming to the most important part. A lot of companies could be pegged for great success, but culture is something that's been plaguing a lot of startups around India now. So, how  do you evaluate that because it's not tangible. You know, when you look at a certain market in you say there are X number of companies and this is a niche product and you know, they can get this much of revenue but culture can be quantifiable. How do you put your finger on that?

Uday: I think you got this spot on Shiva. Figuring out the company culture is the toughest part you'll get it wrong more often than not. Glassdoor is one source, but it has more negatives than positives. Yeah. What I would do when you are evaluating company culture for an early stage startup where there isn't a whole lot of information available is that I'd look for signs in my interactions with them. How does the HR treat you? Do they respect your time? What's the tone the HR or even your hiring manager takes when speaking about the founder? Okay, these are some of the things which would give a few things away about the culture. Another important thing another useful thing could be you get there early for your interviews, see how employees interact with each other. At most startups you can be seated in the middle of all the action while waiting for your interview

Shiva: Certainly because they're probably working in co-working spaces or they have offices. Yeah. So, okay, that's one good way to evaluate for culture I guess and I think Uday so whenever you join with a leadership role,  I think you've also gotten responsibility to create a good culture

Uday: So absolutely and at most of these startups the cultures are also a little fluid when you join and say there are 10 or 20 people . The culture is very different from say when you leave and they are 200 people or 500 people. The first few early hires who come in they set the tone. They said the culture so to say along with the founder

Shiva: Okay. So now let's say there's a person out there who's probably worked in sales for the past 10 years. He's worked with larger companies and now he or she wants to shift into startup.  What are the few things that they need to be careful about?

Uday: I think it's important for that person firstly to ask himself the questions. The reasons for moving to this kind of a role and I say this because I see a lot of people around me moving from very high-paying well-established careers into startup jobs. And they're not doing very well because they are used to a certain style of working used to very structured environment

Shiva: Got it

Uday: So I think it's very important for the person to know what he or she is getting into before jumping into this kind of a career

Shiva: Okay makes sense. Let's just fish into a carrier and why you actually chose sales or business development. Could you please shed more light on that?

Uday: So I'll just tell you one of the earliest sales that I made and that taught me not to underestimate where or how you could make a sale. In my undergrad we were sent out in the market to get sponsorship for our College fest. So impressive. Okay. So greenhorn 17 year olds.

Shiva: Like I used to be sent out for that. I hated asking people for money for these events.

Uday: Yeah, most of us have done that right? Yeah. So now here the thing is because we were so young and we had no idea how to do this. Our seniors prepared us. They gave us a shiny sales pitch. They told us what to say when to say we all thought that yeah now we know and we were sent out to Karol bagh, Chandni Chowk or Jory Gardens. Okay. These are typical hard-nosed Delhi areas

Shiva: All right

Uday: Okay, right. So we were there and these all shoot businessmen, right? No one's falling for anything that you're saying. Okay, so we kept getting kicked out of shop after shop. Yeah. I think we got kicked out of 50 - 60 shops. It was a bad day. Finally, my friend and I went to a juice shop. And I mean we obviously rejected it. We just ordered juice. I was wearing a college sweatshirt. Got talking to the shop owner and for some reason he seemed interested in hearing about the day but there are other miserable days. I don't know if you felt bad for me or he was genuinely interested in what we were saying, okay, but he ended up sponsoring a princely sum of 10,000 rupees

Shiva: Are you serious? A juice to shop?

Uday: Yeah, and yeah, that's how the day was saved

Shiva: So how do you figure out that sales is the career for you? I ask this because a lot of people enter sales because it looks quite glamorous and also pays really well, however, it comes with a lot of stress especially with numbers and targets. So when you figure out that this was the right thing for you

Uday: so I think one thing that you said which is going to hold true for sales all the time it is going to be a stressful job. It is not going to be easy. The reason why I picked sales. So at the IIM campus everyone wants to take the shortcut and everyone wants to become the CEO real quick. But soon you realize that there are no real short cuts. Yeah. Yeah, some people may get lucky but there are no predetermined paths to the top. So to say. Now this varies from company to company but a career in sales or business is probably the fastest way to a leadership position. It is a very high visibility role and if you do well, you can rise very quickly in any organization. I think this was the realization that made me and a lot of us wanted to do well in sales or business development

Shiva: Okay. So that was your motivation to rise to the top and sales.

Uday: That was the motivation to probably pick this and then and realize that yeah, this is probably the right career the second turning point and this happens for almost every salesperson is when you have your first few early wins. Yeah, so when you've done. Let's say the first one or two years and you've had some early successes to talk about I think that's when you really feel that you are in the place and you want to do even better

Shiva: Sounds good. So Uday, I notice that started off in retail we tighten then shifted into software and now payments you also grown through the ranks with each company. Now, this is sort of counter intuitive to how most people actually grew up in their career. Usually people choose an industry or and just stick with it throughout the carrier going through the ranks. What's your take on this?

Uday: I think it used to be counter intuitive, but that's changing very fast. There are enough and more very very successful people today who have moved across industries. I think what was seen as a weakness earlier is now seen as a strength. It's probably an asset knowledge about other industries that can help you navigate certain tricky scenarios in your own industry. So I think that's a change that's taking place across industries today

Shiva: So Uday from what you're saying having a diverse background is an asset that helps you look at problems from a different light and obvious value add for any organization. Now, how can someone show case that this is their strength, when they're out there looking to shift industries

Uday:  I think it's very important to highlight the skills that you've picked up from all these different experiences. So obviously if the skills are very different from what is required in the next job, you're going to have a tough time justifying it. However, if it's closely linked for example in my own case if you're talking about moving from let's say consumer sales to B2B sales to SAAS. These are very transferable skills. So in a consumer sales kind of a environment you could be leading very very large teams. Say 200 people plus so you pick up your team leading experience from their ability to be selling experience. You're selling something very directly, which you do not get in a consumer sales environment. So you try and play up the skills the strengths that you have on the back of all these different experiences and that's how you can justify you can use all these different experiences as an asset. There are a lot of Industries which mean they are called sunrise industries. Okay, they don't really  have a lot of experienced people in India to hire anyway, right? So when I mean say five years back if you were if you want to do higher the head of sales for a SAAS company. That's a very limited pool to hire from the same thing could be said of fintech couple of years after that. Same thing could be said of e-commerce maybe 10 years earlier, right? So I think it's also important to no matter no matter which industry or in it's important to keep learning. It's important to keep picking up. Skills which can be transferable and useful across Industries later on

Shiva: That makes lot of sensse. So Uday one of the questions that keep coming up is how should one deal with failure say when you're fired or you're asked to move down the ladder

Uday: These are tough times Shiva, but I always think that very often your loss in life is actually a blessing in disguise. It kind of wakes you up from your slumber. It takes you out of your comfort zone and you actually ask yourself the hard questions, right? So a role like this would actually let you look at your career more holistically and I mean then you can sit down maybe even with a pen and paper and actually figure out where it is that you want to go next

Shiva: So ask the question because there's been a dramatic shift in ways that companies treat senior experienced employees once respected and revered for their experience the sort of being cast away for younger more aggressive folk. What's your take on this?

Uday: The senior people are still revered. I think what has changed is the reverence by default that was there earlier. So that isn't there anymore. Everyone has to prove their worth and keep themselves relevant. Again, like I was mentioning this there's so many people. I see Tech salespeople, Banking VP's in the 40s who lose their jobs all around and don't know how to get back in the scene. If someone spends their entire life in the same company say a 45 year old is getting paid more than a thirty five-year-old, but there is no reason just because of their age or duration in the company that they should be paid more. So I think people are asking these questions today. Now, this is where the person who's maybe spent a lot of time in the organization or in that career he needs to ask this question. What's the value that he or she is bringing. Okay, right. It could be many folds. So there are a lot of things that they can really bring to the table. It could be mentoring younger teams, it could be just the strength of their network's. Yeah, right. I mean networks never go out of fashion. At the same time it's also important to understand that the pay will start to plateau out. I think it's a hard reality. So you cannot expect X% increment year on year for your 65 - 70 year old career. I met a little at the age of 65 70. I think another important thing for older employees is to keep re-scaling. I know this has been said so many times that people need to keep rescaling. They need to keep the need to stay on top of Industry trends, but I think it's also the smaller points that they need to be aware of it. Simple things like if I am a 45 year old joining a tech company I should be comfortable with slack or even if I'm not I should make all the effort to do that . I cannot come to a company and say hey, you know what? I'm not comfortable with Google Sheets, and I want my Microsoft Excel or I'm not comfortable with the Gmail based email system that you have. I want my Outlook. I think a lot of these things also go a long way in typecasting the older employees, you know in a certain way. So that's something that they constantly need to fight.

Shiva: So if this your answer so now as we grow into the career and become more experienced seeing that pick up new skills network more

Uday: absolutely and anything else multi scaling I mean, I don't know if in the older time salespeople are required to write SQL queries do to you might be required to write your own query pull out some data from the database which will help you in doing your own analysis

Shiva: So a lot of that is required so never stop learning then absolutely. So Uday moving on to education. What do you think is the importance of formal education in today's age and how much influence has it had in your success today?

Uday: So personally for me I was blessed to study at two of the best places for my undergrad and postgrad and there what I learned outside the classroom I think is priceless and the network's I made their help me every day. When it comes to hiring I think recruiters prefer this lazy cut off because it is some indication of drive that the person may have there are enough false positives and false negatives to prove this wrong, but we are all lazy at some level and we need some filters. I look for a drive while hiring. So even I fall for this lazy filter very often. However, if the person is not from a so-called premier college, I look for something else that he or she has excelled in so it could be the track record in the previous organizations. It could be a stellar recommendation they have from someone very well-known or it could even be a distinction at a sport that the playwright so any of these things which demonstrate some sort of drive. I will more than compensate for not so good college degree

Shiva: So Uday. Let's say someone has started off in a sales carrier. Now, how do they get to where you are or how do they get to the top?

Uday: I think it's a common mistake people make they think if they continue to be as good as they were if they continue to be good individual contributors that will take them to the top. However, you always need to develop skills required to be successful at the next level. So early on in your career, you might rise by being an excellent salesperson, excellent individual salesperson. But as you move up, you need to develop the skills, which are required which are very different. So I need to develop leadership. You need to develop problem-solving. I think a lot of these skills are the same across a lot of other job functions as well. But you need to have them in order to rise to the top.

Shiva: So you see, keeps skilling keep learning new things. Yeah, and you're going to have bigger challenges that you need to sort of face as you grow to the top

Uday: Absolutely

Shiva: And what do you look for people when you hire them,

Uday: Of course, it depends on the job they are been hired for. Earlier I used to hire only salespeople today in my profile I hire people across different functions. The most important thing I look for is drive. So you ask them their motivations you ask them why they left the previous jobs and it becomes quite clear. So one of the things that I ask them is when I'm asking them about their work history for every job that they've done. I asked them why they picked a particular job and why they left that job. And what did they gain from that job? So I think by asking them these three questions about their entire work history that gives you a very good idea about what their motivations are. So that's something that I based my hiring on

Shiva: and what happens when you see people who've moved too often, I think that's a trend now

Uday: No, I don't think too often is a problem. At least I don't see it people might have different opinions. It also depends on what your definition of too often is. So today in the startup world. I think two years is seen as a very very long time. Yes, so I think it depends on what your reasons for moving out okay, and it really doesn't matter the number of years that you've spent. It's more about the doing it for the reason

Shiva: And amount of the information or how much you've learned right. It's more than the amount of time you spend right. So how do you stay updated on the latest developments infield. Can you please share the book's authors or the blogs that you read or someone should read to actually excel at their sales carrier

Uday: Sure. I mean, there are like I was saying there's enough and more information available out there and everyone should make full use of that. Some of the things that I use so I like this predictable revenue blog Aaron Ross. I like Jill Konarth's sales blog, they both are very good. Some of them are industry-specific when I was first starting out in SAAS. Then Jason Lincoln's sastr blog was very helpful. In terms of books, how to win friends and influence people I think that's an all-time classic. Yes, it is. So that's something I could recommend if you haven't read it. I think that book changed my life. Oh, yeah. Yes and the other podcast master of scale, Reid Hoffman's blog, Tim Ferriss podcast and eyes were just talking about it. Yes. Apart from this. It's important to subscribe to certain newsletters about your own industry because industry trends are again, very important. Unfortunately a lot of them are not free. At our company we receive daily briefings from Business Insider, which I think is super helpful. I don't think that's free. Okay, but yeah, you could look for your own sources on your own industry

Shiva: That's interesting. I didn't know about the Business Insider briefings, so they are in industry specific. That's nice moving on to the next question. This is something that's on a lot of people's minds work life balance. What's your take on this?

Uday: So honestly, if you ask me, I think with increased connectivity work-life balance is becoming somewhat of a myth. People can people still call you on your downtime will say I'm sorry calling you on a Sunday. But so yeah, this this might be more common in a start-up. I don't know. Personally I don't do any regular work on weekends and even discourage my team from doing this. I don't call them for routine things so weekends or after work. Yeah, but I still do almost all my hiring on Saturdays It's easy to get people's time. Sometimes I set up some external meetings on Saturdays that are difficult to coordinate during the week. So it depends on what your nature of work really is. Another thing that people talk about these days it's really work-life flexibility instead of work-life balance. What it means is that if you can get off early even in the middle of the week someday, maybe you get some down time then and can compensate for some of the work that you have to do outside out of office hours or over the weekends,  So say I'm traveling I'm very often this travel is hectic. But if I finish my meeting early I take that early evening flight back and maybe sometimes even reach home earlier than my regular weekdays. Okay, and that kind of compensates for some of this work that I have to weekends

Shiva: That makes a lot of sense. So I've seen you work with you in the past and I've seen you work really hard. So how do you really prevent yourself from burning out?

Uday: Apart from work. I think it's very important to have things outside of work that define you or that you really enjoy and I think that is what will keep you fresh will keep you coming back for more. So, I mean, it could be anything. It could be a hobby, could be music could be travel. Okay, so I think it's very important to keep doing that not let work overburden you.

Shiva: Okay. What would you tell yourself if you are starting off in sales right now?

Uday: It's quite simple actually I tell myself to chill out a lot more do not fuss over many things that don't really matter in the long run.

Shiva: So, what are those things that don't matter in the long run?

Uday: The same things, In my first job I used to actually fuss over that additional 2,000 rupee pay hike that I could get. Okay, or certain relationships at work, which you take more seriously than you should or so, I think you should mean I would at least tell myself my younger self to chill out a lot more. I would also tell myself to focus on learning and working extra extra hard. And this is what I would tell anyone at the start of their careers today. So don't crib about work timings how hard you work in the first five years of your career and this is both your job as well as working on yourself how hard you work in the first five years of your career will have a disproportionate impact on the rest of your career

Shiva: That makes a lot of sense and I think I've seen a lot of people starting off quite late. I think it's never too late to really be interested in something or give your best.

Uday: Right, I mean these are the everyone talks about the power of compounding as the other compounding on your own career. think there's no other way to

Shiva: Certainly, so I've gone for the meet up the other day and you know, it was a mixed crowd and I saw people who were in their early 20s doing exactly what I was doing. And so people five to ten years older than I am doing exactly. What I am doing is well, so think it just showed that anybody at any age at any stage of the carrier can put in their effort and be better at what they do

Uday: Absolutely.

Shiva: So I think I'm going on to the last question. What's the best piece of advice you received?

Uday: So I think it was the former head of Coca-Cola who said this and he said imagine you're juggling four balls and you're struggling really hard to keep them in the air and he called these four balls work, family, health, and friends. I don't remember if it was four balls or five balls, but make this very simple. So it was work, family health and friends. He said the work ball is made of rubber. So if you drop it, it will bounce back. Okay, but the other three balls are actually made of glass we have to be extra careful when you're juggling them because if you drop them, maybe they'll break maybe they'll chip you never know. Now obviously depends on the situation for a lot of people this rubber ball also might not bounce back, but at least it helps you put things in perspective. Yeah. So this is a story that I keep reminding myself of all the time. Yeah, so think it's important to have this perspective no matter what you're doing

Shiva: Thank you Uday

Uday: All right. Thank you.

Shiva: If you want to reach Uday, you can write to him on udaysinha@iiml.org, or you can find him on Twitter911. I hope you found today's episode helpful. I like to thank vtiger for partnering with us today to make the show possible. If you like what we're doing, please subscribe to our podcast so that you are notified when we launch a new episode. This Shiva signing off from A Job Well done