Why is India’s greatest salesman failing?

Mr Modi is undoubtedly India’ greatest salesman

Shaadi wo ladoo hai jisne khaya wo pachhtaya, aur jisne nahin khaya, wo bhi pachhtaya.

I heard this simile for the first time from my Hindi teacher in my high school. His name was Raj. And his style of teaching quite colorful, as he generously mixed text book reading with stories, anecdotes, proverbs and similes (Fellow FAPSians, I’m sure will recall). The simile explains the rise, rise, rise and now, the beginning of the fall of Mr. Modi.

Sometime in 2013, Mr. Modi catapulted our imagination, rising like a star, and shinning brighter by day. He seemed a perfect groom to all the brides-to-be and their gullible parents: charming, handsome, single, successful and charismatic. He was so refreshing that all the girls were willing to ditch the other ‘genuinely handsome, younger and successful suiter’, endearingly called ‘Pappu’. Majority of the Meeras (voters) in town wanted to marry Modi. And they did, giving him absolute majority in Lok Sabha. Not only that, so powerful was his magnetism, most states that went to poll since 2013 have embraced Mr. Modi wholeheartedly, succumbing to his charm, completely dismissing the local groom. In fact, the magic continued till last month when BJP romped home in Tripura, displacing India’s longest serving chief minister!

Modi ladoo! The celebration continues, as Modi has gone on to conquer 19 Indian states, the highest ever by any single party since India turned a republic. Delicious!

One of the stellar qualities that’s made Mr. Modi so attractive is his ability to sell. If there was an award for ‘Greatest Salesman in India’, Mr. Modi would have won it hands down, four years in a row – for 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 (he’s certainly been pipped in 2017 by none other than his own rhetoric). His ability to mount a horse, trot over and drum up support in no time, is awe-inspiring. So is his valor to out-fight any competitor, leading by old adage, ‘everything is fair in love and elections’. His mastery to outwit his competitors has brought him many a victory, even very close ones  – Gujarat is a good example. And last, but not the least, his killer instinct has helped him run away with the crown even without a clear victory, like in the states of Goa, Manipur, and most recently, Meghalaya.

However, Mr. Modi’s wand seems to be losing its power. As post-marriage pachhtava (regret) has set-in, pricked by thorns in the rose garden he laid. Across the country. It’s evident in states that embraced Modi in early days: Punjab, Goa, Gujarat, Rajasthan, MP, and now UP and Bihar. His associates also seem disenchanted – TDP, PDP and Shiv Sena.

Shaadi ke laddoo

The shaadi ke ladoo are now causing stomach cramps.

Why has the pachhtava set in so quickly? Just a few months ago, he looked invincible, with popularity that didn’t look like fading anytime in near future. Bear in mind, it took four terms or 17 years for this lovable groom of Gujarat to experience disillusionment in his home state.

Sunil Sethi in his Opinion (Business Standard, Mar 24, 2018) calls it ‘hubris’, which means ‘excessive pride’; referred in hindi  language as Ahankar and Aham.

While I agree, I’ll go further, and draw a parallel to the world of sales, salesmen and customers, the world I know well. It’s a world where everyone loves the salesperson who brings in the business. Great salespeople have the rare skill of conviction, making everything sound believable, mesmerizing their prospects, persuading them to suspend their ability to think rationally. These very salespeople inside the company are sung paeans, like, ‘he can sell a refrigerator to an

Salesmen rarely let go their smug and swagger, long after the sale is won

Eskimo,’ or, ‘he can sell vision glasses to a blind’. Deservedly so, because salespeople impact business, bring in new customers, and open new revenue streams. They help organisations grow exponentially, bringing greater income and benefits for everyone.

There are two reasons why best of salespeople fail: their tendency to over-promise, and their lack of interest in developing capabilities, often ignoring the effort required to build and nurture a team that can fulfill the promises they make. As customers, we experience this every day when we are ‘sold’ something by some a clever salesperson.

It may not be Mr. Modi’s fault. Salespeople often forget that the most profitable companies build their business by retaining their customers. By building competent teams and implementing fail-proof processes. By under-promising and over-delivering. Which is why a good CEO is far better than a great sales person. A great CEO, in fact, works at creating a balance between business (read: sales) and delivery (read: team, technology and processes). Thus creating sustainable business growth.

Like all great sales people, Mr. Modi too seems to have forgotten that a sale is just tantamount to ‘well begun’, or half done. The real task begins after a sale is closed.

I believe Congress is getting a whiff that unassailable Mr. Modi has chinks in his armor. If they spend their time studying everything Modi did, (and didn’t), in the past five years, and learn from it, they should be able to give him a lot to worry about!

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