Kushal: Hi there. Welcome to “On the Flip Side”, a podcast for anyone who wants to live their best sales life. We're going to be talking to buyers, sales managers, SDRs and AEs about things like, what does it take to be a great sales manager? Or how can you go home happy month after month? So let's dive right in.
Hey everyone, you're listening to “On the Flip Side” with Wingman. I'm Kushal, and today's show is dedicated to all things women power. And that's why I'm so excited to learn more from our guests for today's show, Kasturi Das Talukdar. Kasturi is a Senior Sales Leader and currently Director of Business Development at Whatfix, a digital adoption platform customer he has been a salesperson throughout her career and has helped large enterprises in that technology adoption and digital transformation journey. She is also a diversity champion and is associated with nonprofit organizations who work at the corporate diversity and inclusion space. Kasturi, so great to have you on the show.
Kasturi Das: It's a pleasure, Kushal, lucky to be on this.
Kushal: Kasturi, to get started, maybe you could tell us a little bit about your journey and how you really got into B2B sales?
Kasturi Das: Sure. I think it wasn't planned. It happened by accident. And I love what happened after that. So I started off my career being an engineer like most of us today in the tech space and the SaaS space are, right. I was a mechanical engineer. I passed out, got into an automotive company, started off as an R&D engineer. But I think that's what I did for the first three months and then moved down to sales, started off with automotive program management in automotive sales, moved on to do my Master's in Business Administration. And that's when the whole interest towards making lives of customers or end users better creped in, right.
Moving on, I think early in college, we're all confused between marketing roles, and what is the difference between a marketing and a sales role per se? But luckily, from campus, I got placed with an organization that directly moved me to Dubai. And I landed in Dubai, not knowing anything about B2B sales. Given the situation, it's a country in the Middle East, I being a lady, started off my career as a Field Sales Account Executive, absolutely with no background, no understanding of how the whole B2B sales works.
So I would say that was a boon in disguise. Because the first two three months of being in Dubai was the steepest learning curve that I ever had. And I started from learning the technology, started from learning what is B2B sales? Because most of the B2B schools today in India do not touch upon B2B sales. Everything that we are taught in sales is basically about the B2C or the retail part of it, or the consumer goods part of the business, right. So I think it was a great learning for me, getting to know technology, getting to know how B2B sales works, and then learning and fine tuning the nuances of negotiation, of prospecting, of cold calling, of writing emails, and follow ups and demos and all that.
So I think, very, very interesting start to my career. And I'm very thankful to everybody who's been a part of that journey, because I did receive a lot of mentorship from within the company and within the ecosystem there. But of course, like I said, it was a Middle Eastern country, not too many women in Field Sales. And I was 24, I think when I landed there, with absolutely no experience, and my prospects would just look up at me and say, Hey, are you sure you're here to pitch something? Do you understand technology? Do you understand what SAP as an ERP even does for us? So there was always the first 15 minutes with a prospect who maybe had 20, 25 years of experience, I would be in a listening mode and they would tell me a lot about how they've had interactions with other salespeople, what they've done, how their careers have been. So I think that was also a good thing. I learned a lot and I knew exactly what to say in my next meeting.
So that's how my sales career started. From there, I think it was never looking back. I was in Dubai for about two years, successfully managing UAE as a country and did some additional roles like strategic alliances, channel managers, I did a few marketing roles within the company as well where I was leading campaigns and events for the company in the region. And it gave me a holistic knowledge and approach about everything that goes to build a successful sales pipeline. Post that I moved on and came back to India and then the whole SaaS product market opened up and I was without my and then moved on to be with Whatfix. So I think so far, to cut short, it has been a very, very interesting journey from a novice, not knowing anything about sales to learning sales, doing it successfully and managing a team, growing a team and scaling a team today. I think I am very happy with whatever support I've received, it has its own challenges. But yeah, incredibly happy with whatever it has happened.
Kushal: Kasturi, it's great to kind of, you know, understand where you started off. It sounds like there was a lot of learning really upfront during your career, right. And I can only imagine how strong that must have made you over time. So if I was to maybe ask you about what are some of the things that you know, you wish you knew, when you first started out? What would those be?
Kasturi Das: I think I didn't know anything. So I wish I knew something about the basics of B2B sales. And that's something I keep giving as a feedback to a lot of colleges, to a lot of B schools, to a lot of institutions as well, that our curriculum does not cover any aspect of B2B sales at all. And that's something that I've felt once I started off my career. So learning from peers, learning from mentors, very, very tough. So that's my top thing. Maybe I wish I knew more about how B2B sales works. I wish I knew how the technology sales piece of things also works, right. How do you cold call? How do you prospect? What is a cold call in the first place? So those basics, if I would have known, would have made my journey very, very easy. I spent about 18 hours a day just to ensure that I was doing justice to what I was entrusted with. So yeah, it was a tough phase of, I think, like you said, made me stronger over time.
Kushal: So Kasturi, besides of course, you know the things around cold calling, etc, any of those technical skills that you really wish you knew more of, what challenges do you think did you face as a woman in sales, both in the Middle East, and also once you came back? Do you think that the journey was steep?
Kasturi Das: It's a yes, and a no, both. I'll tell you the yes part. Why yes? Of course, the geography that I started off was difficult. But even in India today, sales is not seen or anticipated, like a career. And I think I started off eight years back, even today, that stands. I talk to a lot of fresh graduates from college, and they're like, we want to do marketing, not sales. So there's this whole bias or image that sales is difficult. Sales is for men. Sales is a profession where you need to be very aggressive. You need to push your prospects and follow up, you need to work odd hours, it's not safe, because you would go to offices of different clients and meet people who you never know, and things like that, right. So there's a whole societal taboo around the profession of sales, which I feel is very, very wrong. And in 2020, 2021, we're way past the 21st Century mark as well. I think we should be understanding that this is a profession where we have equal opportunities for men and women, and it is not as bad as it has been portrayed to be. So yeah, I think those were the challenges. And of course, when I came back to India, I was doing US sales. So I was doing night shifts. That was again, a big, big, I don't know how to, for lack of a better word, I think it was a big taboo in the family as well, like, not my parents, of course, but in the extended family. People were like, why are you working night shifts? Is it a call center? Do you do tech support? And things that people don't really understand, but anticipate out of movies and things that we hear from people. Yeah, that was a difficult thing to deal with all the time that I spoke to someone who didn't have knowledge about what I was doing.
Kushal: What do you think is a way really for us to get past some of these taboos, right? And I think it's a really interesting point that you brought up. It's not just for the resistance that we maybe face as women within the sales community, but also kind of in our general community and our extended families aren't really the image of sales on the whole especially. What do you think is the really, you know, the way out of a lot of this so that, you know, the next generation of women can really embrace it?
Kasturi Das: I think we need to speak more about it. We as women, sales leaders also don't talk a lot about it. And I think this is the first time I've heard a podcast that really wants to talk about this, or, I mean, we need to be vocal around this, that this is what it is, this is how it is. And it is not all the things that people anticipate it to be. It's just not. And like I said, right, it is not as bad as it was when I started off today within the sales community, but outside the sales community, it is still as bad. I can give you instances from women in my team. I can give you instances from freshers in college that I interact with. They are just so reluctant to tell their extended families and friends and cousins what exactly they do. They want to call themselves consultants rather than business development executives. They want to call themselves marketing enterprise consultants or some fancy title than saying I do sales. So yeah, I think it's about how our extended society envisions the sales role as that needs to change. And I think that will only change if more and more sales leaders talk about it, men and women both, and that will bring about the awareness of that.
Kushal: Kasturi, you've obviously talked about how it's difficult for women, especially when they're just starting out in sales, right. And I think they're still, at some point, even more women seem to opt out when they're moving towards leadership roles, right. Why do you think this happens? And what is really your advice for women who are kind of at the cusp of getting into leadership roles?
Kasturi Das: I think the sales community is to be blamed for that to an extent, though not always. I have seen women opt out because they do not want to handle the numbers pressure, or post marriage or post their… post having a kid, they want to spend more time with family, and they do not want to have the stress or the pressure that a sales role brings in, which is obviously true. But I think it's possible to balance it out, right? And I've seen a lot of women leaders do it as well. So a lot to learn from them. That's one reason. Another reason is, I'm not sure if it's true in the Western world, because I haven't really faced in there, but I have definitely faced it in India and Middle East and the eastern part of the world where your peers who are men usually feel that women have undue advantage if they are climbing the ladder sooner, okay. And basically,... exactly, exactly. So it's very tough. It's not spoken about and people will not openly tell you on your face, but you can sense it right. And then eventually women who are actually routing that route, would feel why should I go through all of this stress? Why should I go through all of this politics? Why should I take all of this anxiety? It's better I move on to a different role. So a lot of women you see have moved in from a sales role to sales enablement. That's a field that's coming up big time. And the majority of the people in sales enablement would be women who moved from sales to sales enablement. And that's a trend that I see very often in a lot of companies. And I did speak to a few as well and just not in India, even in the West. And they've said that, yeah, there's just too much politics in moving up the ladder. So why do you even want to take that stress for yourself? So it's okay, just let's just move on to sales enablement, be a leader of sales enablement, that's better. That's the harsh truth.
Kushal: That’s an interesting sort of take. And obviously, this is based on your own insights and experiences and observations of how the sales industry is shaping up. I think also, on that note, it seems like there must be a large role for the company, you know, the corporates, the leadership itself to play sort of in evening out some of these factors. So what would your advice really be for companies who are trying to even out the playing field for women, especially a leadership position?
Kasturi Das: I think a lot of companies today are talking about diversity, a lot of companies are talking about inclusion, but that is all happening at the hiring front, like hire more women. But is that the end of diversity? Is that the end of inclusion? No, not really. Some companies have gone a step ahead and started building out a culture that is more inclusive, that is more diverse, and want more women to take up more responsibilities and give them additional opportunities to pick up leadership roles. Those are very, very, very few, right.
In most companies, what happen is if the top management feels or recognizes that, yes, we will only go by merit, and we will not go by the gender biases that we usually have and these are unconscious biases, right. You would not consciously agree that I have this bias. That's I think the only way and that will only come when the top management talks about this issue. They have more open conversations, they talk to other women leaders who are at CXO level, who've been successful in doing so well. I think the first leader that I spoke to who was a woman was the MD of SAP Mina Hooda Misool. And I think I had a chance to interact with her very early in my career when I was in Dubai. And she told me one thing. I know you might be facing a lot of challenges being a woman in sales, I started off 30 years back when there was even noticing, yeah, there wasn't a single woman on the field as a sales representative. And the only way to go through all of this is to believe in yourself. You do not pay heed to whatever everyone else is talking, wherever everyone else is perceiving you do your best, you ensure that your intent is good, and you do your best. And that's what will get you to where you want to be, right.
So I think I've carried that message with me every time something went wrong, every time I felt a little low. And yeah, I think that works. But I think it's a collective responsibility that all of us today have that we need to make things easier. We need to make it more fair. We need to make it more diverse and inclusive in the true ethos of it not just hiring more women, right. We need to hire more women and in leadership positions and I think that's the way it’s gonna change.
Kushal: I think that's a really great message and a great philosophy pursued to kind of, you know, keep with us as we hopefully move up the ladder. You also talked about how it's important for each one of us to really help each other and for this change to really become permanent, right. What would really your advice be for, you know, folks to really become better allies? Because a lot of us want to do better for our colleagues, but we just don't know how. So how can people really become better allies?
Kasturi Das: I think you just need to be authentically truthful when you're asked for feedback. You should actually say what you feel rather than thinking of what your feedback would be perceived as, right. I see a lot of feedback coming in for my team. And then when I speak off the feedback in my one on ones, I get a different sense. So, okay, I ask people, why did you write this when you didn't really feel it? Because everybody else was writing it. So I think these are things that we shouldn't be blaming ourselves for. And I think the best way to make it easier for women in sales is for women to support more women, hire more women, train more women, enable them, give them the opportunity to pick up more, build new leaders in the leadership sales roles who are women. I think I am happy that I today have so many women in my team who are happily doing sales, and I also have women leaders in the team. And I want to do more, because I feel that women carry a lot more empathy. And empathy is a very, very important skill set that is required in a profession, like sales, because you're solving problems for somebody else. If you don't really understand the problem at a personal level, or if you're not invested in a problem, your sale basically becomes very transactional. And I don't say that men don't carry empathy. But if you go by a survey, women carry more empathy. And I think they would do much, much, much better if given the level playing field in sales as well, right.
Kushal: Kasturi, this has been a super interesting and engaging conversation. And I'm sure whoever's listening it will really get a ton of insights and a ton of inspiration really to go about their sales career path, which kind of takes me to one of my last questions, which is really what's the number one impact that you would like to drive on the world?
Kasturi Das: I think, I would like to enable more women to become confident and take up roles that they really want to do, and not go by pressure from family or society of yours, and anything, right, just not sales, even if they want to take up marketing or any other role that they would want to. I think they need to be confident of their skill sets. And if anyone wants my help in doing that, I'm always happy to do that. Because I did not really have the mentorship I needed when I started off.
Kushal: Which actually brings me to really what is my second, which is my actual last question, now that you talked about it, how can really people make the most of mentorships, right, like a lot of us talk also about trying to find. Today, thankfully, I think people are much more open to mentoring folks as well. But if you're someone who's seeking mentorship, how can you make that relationship work for the mentor as well?
Kasturi Das: I think you just need to ask for it. Because people who want to mentor folks would not know who really needs the help. So if you need the help, and if you really think that this person can help me, please don't hesitate, just go out there and ask for help. Just raise your hand and say, I need help. And it can be anyone within your organization. It can be someone outside the organization as well. And sometimes people might not respond, sometimes you would not get a positive. But I'm sure if you keep trying, you will find a lot of people who are open to helping you. And because we are on this platform, I would just like to keep this up for that I am open to mentoring and I would like to help people who need it. So if anyone wants to reach out, please reach out on LinkedIn and I will definitely respond and reply. I today mentor about 16 people are not from the organization and it's something that I really enjoy and want to keep doing
Kushal: Kasturi, thank you so much. I think this has been an incredible conversation and really so inspiring for so many of us. Thank you so much for joining me “On the Flip Side”.
Kasturi Das: Thank you so much, Kushal.