Free Press Journal

Sell: The Art, the Science, the Witchcraf by Subroto Bagchi: Review


Book: Sell The Art, the Science, the Witchcraft

Author: Subroto Bagchi

Publisher: Hachette India – 2017

Pages: 244 Rs.499


A true salesman, it is said, can sell ice to an Eskimo; one also hears of those who can sell their mothers-in-law, but that can be dismissed as wishful thinking. And then there is a host of writers propounding the art and craft of selling, right through the history of mercantile civilisation, proving only that as man progresses “we just tend to complicate the process” (Arian Foster) … Bagchi does it in 30 chapters – though in an easy, over-a-cup-of-coffee style.

After pushing the age-old truism that we “are all engaged in the act of selling” to its limits, Bagchi sets the ground rules: If you are in this job, you aren’t stupid, so go ahead and enjoy it; selling is not an invasive act… to be apologetic about (the insensitive target-conscious insurance salesmen notwithstanding, perhaps?) And finally, there is the sales pitch: whatever you take away from this book will make you more impactful …– and more confident in every way.

Prospecting for customers, he says, “is to look for, and open the keys (sic) to new areas or accounts; the best salespeople never lose touch with prospecting and cold-calling because the process keeps the spirit of enquiry alive; it helps them to overcome hesitation and awkwardness, and to take rejection in their stride.” Good prospecting requires you to qualify customers, that is, assess who among your likely customers is most likely to actually purchase and who will prove to be a waste of your time – for this he draws a powerful analogy from the now-extinct itinerant street-performer (recall: meherban, kadardan, saheban..) and shows how performing to the wrong audience can suck away precious time and energy. He provides some pointers to determine who may be a genuine purchaser – but the message is clear: there is a general reluctance on the part of salespersons to probe deep enough.

Bagchi tackles the question of selling in the ‘information age’ with the first premise that, basically, ‘nothing has changed’ people will always buy from people. What has changed is access to information. Earlier cold-calls, for instance, were like blind dates; today meetings happen over email, live video streaming and telephones. Knowledge of each other (which includes the culture of both the organisations) adds to the challenge of selling as well as buying. Again, if you don’t have a Google Quotient (which means: an active blog, a YouTube video showing you teaching college kids, or what shows up on Page 1) you are not special enough to deal with. The importance of data (accessing, analysing, forming perspectives) cannot be over-emphasised. But, he warns, digital information can be a crutch. After all the research, if you want to know how your client-organisation functions in relation to purchasing your product, you will have to ask the necessary questions directly to your client: who in particular will be involved in the decision-making process, how long it will take. No software or database can give you that.

A lot of practical advice is stacked up in the pages. You need to dress ‘up’ not dress ‘down’ to start with; if you cannot get yourself to be proud of your product, do not sell it; prospecting emails sent on Mondays are a waste of time; research the customer right down to the name of his dog; don’t walk away from a successful sale – keep continuously mapping the account; where there is a gate, they will be a gatekeeper, and there are always other gates in other terminals: you just have to be persistent and find them; what people find most difficult to deal with is the closing, the crucial act of asking for the order; and bad news should be delivered in person – in time, with authenticity, assurance and follow-through.

Also, connections that you make when you’re out prospecting could yield rewards of different kinds, to completely new, unanticipated possibilities – as Bagchi found in his interaction with the Railway Design and Standardization Organisation in Lucknow, and the Silicon Valley Indian Professionals Association – both of which, he admits, turned out to be pivotal for his career.

But then, in the midst of all the earthy observations and advice, Bagchi turns mystical. Selling is part art, part science and part witchcraft, he declares; further, in the book, he says, “it is Physics, Chemistry and Maths, asserting that Chemistry (the relationship you build with the customer) is the most important.” Elsewhere, he says, “that the process of selling is a three-step formula: it is about connecting, educating and engaging, and through it all, it is about trust”. Isn’t that four steps? And finally, customers love weirdness – if you have it, don’t ever lose it. In fact, use it. Witchcraft to weirdness: who could ask for a more interesting job?