By Sarah Khan
“It’s a jungle”, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world”, “Not a place for women”, “It’s not a field where women can thrive”, “You will be forced to violate SOPs. That’s the only way one can progress in Sales”.
I received these and many more similar reactions from friends and family every time I broached the idea of entering the field of Sales. Although, I can’t recall why I had the urge to join the field in the first place, I’m pretty sure the desire to challenge aforementioned reactions was one of the main reasons for taking the plunge.
Having previously worked in the Marketing Department of a bank, I knew FMCG sales would be nothing like the cozy environment I was so used to working in. I knew Sales would be a very tough nut to crack, considering my gender and personality traits (I see myself as an introvert, others might disagree) but I was up for a challenge. Having joined Abudawood Pakistan as a Management Trainee, I was overwhelmed by the open and inclusive culture, strong systems and procedures that were in place, the crème-da-la crème of the industry – and I knew at once that this is the place where I will nourish my hunger to grow professionally.
I got my first glimpse in the field of sales while on a rotation. That taught me the fundamentals; a sales pitch, order-taking, negotiating strategies, conflict resolution, stock planning, relationship building with internal and external customers and much more. That’s when I truly started understanding how business was done. I spent a major part of my day with Sales Representatives (SRs) and that experience formed the foundation of my learning till date. Route-riding was exhausting especially in May when temperatures hovered at 40°C, but it was the most satisfying as well. I developed a new-found respect for SRs during these days; mainly because I realized the laborious efforts they put in and also because of their unmatchable knowledge of the market.
I was assigned my current role – Assistant Key Accounts Manager- in the tenth month of my traineeship, i.e even before my training period officially ended. That’s the best part of this company; it gives you a chance at a very early stage, preparing you for leadership right from the start. The role requires me to look after Global Customers (Metro and Hyper) in South, a portfolio of approx. PKR 85 million. The responsibility that comes with this portfolio is indescribably huge, especially for someone who’s been in the field for less than a year. But then again, it also shows the company’s and the top management’s trust in my capabilities, which is encouraging.
I transitioned from being a trainee to a coach, trainer, mentor and manager of three Key Account Officers. The challenges of being a female leading a team of males are unique. An invisible wall existed in the form of communication barriers, which I had to put in conscious effort to pull down and was successful in due time.
A typical day in my life includes: checking the sales achievement first thing in the morning as I enter the office and discussing brand-wise, line-up wise performance with my officers. We delve into which plans are working well and which ones need improvement. We discuss in detail all that is wrong in stores and must be corrected immediately. These include; prices, shelf-shares and unavailability of articles in stores, if at all, merchandising issues and then individual customer queries. After reiterating the day’s minimum sales objectives and reviewing current plans with the team again, officers are sent off to the market.
My experience so far has been a mix of highs and lows; and both have taught me immensely. I’ve had days that have been grueling, rigorous and extremely frustrating. I’ve had to deal with all sorts of people; mostly nice but also some not-so-nice ones as well. I’ve had times when I felt like I would crumble under pressure; I’ve had disagreements that have erupted into fights with colleagues. All that said, I’ve also had managers who have been kind enough to teach me the basics of everything – the most fundamental things like negotiating and the best way of dealing with people. I’ve had colleagues who’ve been my support system through rough days; who’ve guided me into better decision-making. I’ve also had customers who have treated me like royalty. I’ve also had days when I’ve felt like I could achieve anything; days when I’m brimming with positivity.
In a nutshell, it was never supposed to be an easy ride but every effort during the journey is well worth it. Abudawood is an institution in itself. It teaches and makes you grow, personally and professionally, like no other. With one year and eight months behind me, I can say with confidence that Abudawood is hands-down the best Sales and Distribution company in Pakistan; especially with regards to its culture and its people. I don’t mean to wax lyrical about the wonders culture can do and how it’s integral to a company’s progress but I DO want to say that I’m experiencing the effects of a good work culture first-hand. When you know you can walk into your Country Manager or General Manager’s room without hesitation, to discuss anything you want, you know you are truly blessed to be in an environment that values you as a person, your ideas and your aspirations.