Boston Sales Challenge

By Nikhil Hathiramani

At noon on Friday June 28th the Sales and Business Development students were presented with a challenge: to open and close as many deals as we could resulting in a slew of freebies for all students and staff at Startup Institute. The rules were simple, open as many deals by 5pm and close them within the week. If we closed the deals by the end of the afternoon that was just a bonus, but the scope of what we could acquire was limited only by our imagination. Popular items in the past included free food, free merchandise and even a boat cruise around the Boston harbor for all 70 students and staff!

My mind began to race with ideas; thoughts of offering the entire development team for a weekend to produce the most beautiful e-commerce website resulting in a free skydiving trip for everyone resonated in my head.  The catch however was we could not offer anything of value in return. This meant my sweatshop idea went down the drain. The only proposition allowed was social media promotion through the form of twitter. Go figure.

This of course was a game changer and presented a daunting and unrealistic goal I was terrified of taking on. Here I was sitting amongst my peers, some of which had years of sales experience under their belt. I thought to myself, how the in the World am I going to accomplish this? I barely even managed to listen to the rest of the instructions as my mind began to be consumed with facing the consequences and embarrassment of being the only guy in the Sales track not completing the challenge within the given time frame. As I awoke from the confusion the last thing I heard was the one sound advice I took to heart and acted on almost instinctively: “In the past, those who were most successful with this challenge were the ones that just went out there and did it.”

After a brief 5 minutes of pre-planning, I packed up my bag and my dying iPhone, and decided I would just head out and give this a go. There was no direction, no final aim or solid plan of action, after all I had nothing to lose, in my mind I was already at a disadvantage. But I didn’t let this get to me, instead I tried terribly hard to keep a positive attitude and just go to the one restaurant I probably would have the best luck at, Moby Dick of Boston. For the past 5 years as a student in Northeastern University I had frequently visited this humble Persian food spot and gotten familiar with the owner and head chef, Moti. Moti is a living testament to the American dream - she brought her family to America from Iran to pursue the freedoms that far too many of us take for granted. Moti played by the rules and always has. She came over and became part of this country legally and quickly found that making ends meet with a young family is not so easy. 20 years later she is still around and her legacy continues. I don’t think Moti ever knew my name but it was a casual relationship, I knew her face, she knew mine. I always enjoyed her food and she recognized I was a valuable customer. It was on the only factor that gave me the confidence I could close this deal.

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Photo Credit: PoliTalk

As I approached the Symphony stop on the infamous green line, my heart was racing -  "what the heck is she going to say?" I thought to myself. Knowing her strong personality and direct nature of doing business I was sure she would laugh at my face at the thought of providing over $1000 in food and drink to an unknown group of individuals for literally nothing. "Twitter?" she asked, "What is twitter?"

I was right.

But it didn’t end that way. After explaining my story more and what startup institute was about Moti listened intently. I began to gather in my head all that we had learned about finding pain points and determining some area of interest so that Moti and I could see eye to eye on this situation. Instincts took over once again and I began to tell her more about the challenge and how much she would be helping my future if I could prove to people that someone with no sales experience could pull this off. This got her attention.

"So, how many people are in this program with you?" Are they all students?"

Yes, I said.

Insha’Allah, God is great and I love to help students. If this is what you tell me then this is what I like to hear. I have four children and I know how hard it is for students, anything I can do to help students means I am happy. If I go to bed tonight I am happy just because I know I am helping you achieve something that is important. That is all I need to say yes, not twitter, not advertising. 20 years I’ve been in this business I never advertise. Not once”

My face literally lit up, I had to pinch myself. It was a complete 180° from the last 5 minutes of our conversation which seemed to be going in all the wrong directions. Within 15 minutes I had closed my first deal!! Moti had agreed to supply everyone with her famous chicken and vegetable biryani dishes, 35 of each, and 5 gallons of her ‘Natural homemade energy drink’. I was ecstatic. So was she, needless to say.

What did I learn from all this? Many things. Aside from a huge confidence boost I realized one fundamental thing: people genuinely want to help people. It’s human nature to want to feel valuable, to help others and ride a wave of good vibes knowing that you helped someone get somewhere. More often than not though, we evaluate the risks associated with doing someone a favor more than the benefits. It’s because the benefits tend to not have some substantial immediate impacts. I realized that with will, determination, some guts and more importantly, being genuine, you can feed yourself for the rest of your life. But seriously, it was a valuable experience that made me realize negotiation is both an art and a science. I almost lost the deal, but when I continued to apply my learning and expressed a genuine interest to help her I managed to reveal pain points in her business that ultimately led to her key motivation to help me help her. It wasn’t money or more customers; it was something so much more meaningful that I wouldn’t have figured out had it not been for being relatable. I walked out that restaurant that day with a huge smile on my face and 15 minutes later closed another deal with RodDee 2 for Thai food the following week.

It was by far the best Friday I’ve had in a long time.