by Vanitha Narayanan, Managing Director, IBM, India South Asia
Was it really 22 years ago that you were introduced at the Branch Office meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, a city you knew no one in! Do you remember envying the other two sales trainees who started on the same day as you and who were introduced as “second generation IBMers,” and thinking that you were only a “first generation immigrant.” You decided that day that you needed to work harder than anyone else to establish your place in the IBM family.
There were not many Indians in IBM St. Louis, let alone sales reps. It never occurred to you that you may have challenges in sales since you did not have the same cultural experience as your customers. You had to juggle raising your daughter and the job (since your husband traveled a lot). Do you remember those days of rushing to the day care by 6PM every night since you could not afford to pay the fine? Of course most people assumed you were technical since you’re an Indian (good job covering up that Liberal Arts degree). You were surprised when your manager gave you your one year appraisal and told you, you did “great.” He said, “Vanitha, to do well in IBM you cannot wait for someone to tell you what needs to be done. You need to be a self starter and you did just that. You approached people, got engaged, learnt a lot and did not rely on me to give you things to do!” You never forgot that lesson and have since given that advice to many a new IBMer.
The first major deal you closed (over $50M) taught you about persistence. We lost the deal to competition but stayed in touch with the customer who saw our commitment. When the competitor faltered, the customer canceled the contract and gave it to IBM. Signing and delivering that contract taught you contracting, delivery, client management and the collaboration needed to see a job through. It took IBM eighteen tries to get the solution right. Nevertheless, the client stayed with you because they valued the commitment and tireless effort; believed in the promise of the outcome. This experience reinforced for you that customers do business with people they like, respect and trust. They will give you more than a fair chance if they are convinced that you are committed to them
With My Best Wishes!