Build a career based on experiences, not qualifications

It all began with an innocuous query from a young professional on a social networking site. The gentleman was employed with one of the finest companies in the world. “Sir, I need your help”, he wrote. “I am an MBA and need your advice on whether to continue with my career in sales or switch over to marketing. What must I do to be able to get a break into the marketing team?” he enquired. I was intrigued. I knew nothing about this person and he was seeking career advice from me. What would my advice be based upon? Were there general traits that determine whether someone ‘had it in him’ to be successful in sales or marketing or in any other discipline? Or did a certain years of experience or an MBA guarantee success in marketing? Neither, I’d say, although undoubtedly, both experience and qualifications are indeed important. Yet, neither determines a person’s success or failure as a marketer.

Sales and marketing are two sides of the same coin. So while both functions have the same goal of ensuring success for the brands they handle, there are subtle differences in actual day-to-day functioning. That subtle difference was best summarized by a management guru who said, “Sales sees it like it is and marketing sees it like it ought to be”.

So here are my two cents on how I think a person can best transition from a sales role into a marketing role. Before I begin though, I’d like to add that selling doesn’t stop when one moves into marketing. In fact, selling is the biggest thing on a marketer’s mind. It’s only that the customer canvas increases many-fold to include ones other than those who consume the company’s products and services. With that said, let’s begin.

There is nothing wrong with either (or any other) stream. Both sales and marketing lay the foundation for young professionals to understand the importance and the difficulty of serving customers. Both streams help young professionals interact with, observe and understand the nuances of customer behavior and the economics that powers the consumer-seller dynamic. From this experience arise the predominant characteristics that determine how well the professional will perform in selling or graduate into marketing. Some of those characteristics that I have observed and encourage young readers to adopt are listed below.

Product based information – It is important to always know everything you can possibly know about your products and services. There is no faster way to lose credibility than to give your customers the feeling that you’re ill-informed. More importantly, over time, that knowledge must morph into analysis. One must begin to think of new things and ways to create more value. When one begins to analyze facts, questions begin to pop in one’s mind. If customers are hard-pressed for time and don’t have more than a minute to discuss products and services, is there value in pursuing the same strategy of talking about single brands or will a more coordinated portfolio positioning strategy be effective? If so, what are potential positioning relationships between the different brands of the portfolio? What is the strategy (and timing) for new communication themes?

Creating demand at every opportunity – When time and effort is spent in the market place meeting customers, channel partners and other stakeholders, we must be sure that every minute is utilized productively. Think about what will emerge as new sources of business? Where can more demand be created? How would brands be used by our key customers? To which patient segments will physicians Rx? Do we really know the answers to these questions? Even if we do, do we keep a track of it regularly to be able to identify new areas to sell in?

Financial paranoia – Consider the money you invest as your own. If you really do, would you invest in all the areas where you recently did? Ask yourself that honestly. When there is little accountability, every opportunity seems lucrative. Do you understand that resources are scarce? There is no unlimited source of money. How comfortable are you prioritizing investments? Conversely, if every opportunity is lucrative, do you ensure that lucrative opportunities are encashed fully? Are you aware and constantly thinking of what is the financial impact of 1) losing Rx to competitors 2) patients dropping out and 3) varying market events? Do you have contingency strategies to mitigate risk of losing business?

Obsession to execute – Peter Drucker, the famous management guru said, “Strategy is only noble intentions unless it degenerates into hard work”. How many times have we missed that late night call out of laziness? How many times have we decided not to go back to the chemist for the all-important audit because he was rude to us? How many times did we simply “parrot detail” and walk away without thinking about the impact of the call on the customer? How often do we think of the product promotion plan for the quarter? What are the timing/key decision points for the plan? Can we identify key strategic initiatives and milestones to allow for strategic adjustments as needed? What feedback needs to be sent back to HO? How quickly must this be done? This is what Drucker meant by “hard work”.

Some may find this list broad and superficial while others may wonder why there is such detailed explanation. It is that very paradox that defines success in business. The ability to zoom back to look at the “big picture” and zoom in to the “nitty gritty” is as important to decision making as are other things. The “big picture” provides us with context and perspective and helps us be rational in our decisions, considering a host of factors rather than focusing on issue-based decision making. Marketers must zoom out all the time to ensure that communication strategy is in perspective with market challenges making it relevant. Dealing with the “nitty gritty” is the day-to-day do’s and don’ts. This provides actionable items that are invaluable in executing a plan.

At the end of the day, the things that people want to accomplish in their lives don’t change quickly, and expecting change is futile. You may or may not be successful in sales, marketing or both. It doesn’t mean you’re abnormal. My advice is to flow along and build on your strengths without worrying about things you can’t do. It doesn’t mean you’re bad. It just means that you’re strong elsewhere. You may not even be aware of career opportunities that haven’t come to your notice yet. Frame a potential career opportunity from the perspective of the experience that you most enjoyed. It may have been interacting with doctors and patients. Or, you may have enjoyed making friends with channel partners and people from the purchase departments in hospitals. Sometimes, you may well enjoy creating and assisting patient groups for some of your key customers. And, you may enjoy giving new ideas to the marketing teams in your organizations. Each of these experiences trigger a sequence of events that may help you build a fruitful career path. That is much closer to where you will ultimately discover true value.

Whatever that path may be, always remember that for successfully creating and dominating a career, focused execution of a simple concept with fanatical consistency is required. A starting point is developing an action plan with milestones for implementing each of the key elements. So don’t worry whether sales is better or marketing. Focus on whether you’re enjoying your work. As a friend once said, “marketing is like making a movie. You’re the director and you have a vision. Its how you get scores of other people to see that vision that determines how good the film turns out.”  Here’s to finding that vision. Good luck!

4 thoughts on “Build a career based on experiences, not qualifications

  1. And frankly speaking – what I have noticed is it does not really require a stereotypical pathway for one to grow up the corporate ladder. Some one without any experience of selling medicines can go on to become the MD of the company… some one who never got his hands dirty in marketing could go on to become the BU head…

    I feel it all depends on the person and how much agility he shows while dealing with certain situation that ultimately makes what one is…


  2. Sir,
    A very nice article for the professionals who are willing to start career in sales & marketing. But the scenario is different for the freshers who are willing to make career in R&D. For a fresher, his qualification is the only way to enter the pharmaceutical R&D. But the real situation is every pharmaceutical R&D want experienced persons. Else they should have a strong reference from a known person or should have passed from the elite institutes like NIPER etc.
    Not even a single pharmaceutical company has a setup to train such people who want to enter R&D. To gain experience, a start is necessary. Then why all the doors are kept closed for those students who only rely on their qualifications and knowledge.
    I, myself an MPharm fresher with specialization in Pharmaceutical Analysis & Quality Assurance, looking for a job in Regulatory Affairs for the last 4-5months and every time I attend an interview or apply for a job, the first question which is being asked is with whose reference I am here or how much experience I have.
    When will this scenario will change?


  3. Finding relevance at each line n thanks for helping in envisaging the path forward……. u as always rasied d bar hence expectation is getting higher. My take is passion or obsession is must to be happy n …


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