Where do they learn to sell??

Posted: November 6, 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

A couple of days back, I got a call on our building intercom system. It was the security guard, informing me that a “maharaj” (cook) was there, and he wanted to come up. He put the maharaj on the line. A friendly voice asked to speak to “bhabhi” (my better half). I gave her the line.

Now she was busy with some work and as I observed her, I could see that she was trying to put him off and was not keen to have him come up. But there must have been something in his conversation that she finally agreed to let him come over. And as she put the intercom down, she made a face. That told me that she was wondering why she let him come up!

I saw him for the first time. A short, bespectacled, freckled man, carrying two large cloth bags, containing several packets of food. Very simple, very ordinary looking. And then I saw his exchange with my wife.

Very friendly, almost homely, like he had known her for ages. Offering whole bunch of new stuff that he had. Name dropping some interesting cooking assignments that he had executed recently. My wife was in no mood to purchase anything, and he did not even push for sales. Just kept showing things that he was carrying. Ultimately, my wife made a small purchase. Total of Rs. 100/- worth. He had no issues at all. Took the money, proposed that he be called for other work if any, and left with a smile.

Later as I talked to my wife, I discovered that he had come to this level from very humble beginnings. He would work at people’s homes, take small money to run the family. He would pick up these contractual cooking work, which would be seasonal, and would leave him with free time and no earnings, in between. But he had a good hand, a good attitude, and he got good houses to visit as a result. With that access, he experimented and created some snack items, and started offering to his loyal customers. And some tried. And these were good. Well priced as well. And word of mouth happened. And he has a decent customer base set up. Also with the successful experiment of migration to product creation, from being only a service provider, he got into full-fledged catering offers too. At a fixed rate per person, he can cater for full fledged parties at home. Decent food, good rates, all inclusive with tissue, paper plates and all.

I am sure he has done well for himself, from where he started. Amazing enterprise. Hard work. And of course, the sweet talking sales skills.

Yes, India has amazing enterprise. Perhaps a legacy. Perhaps the fact that India could never offer its millions of people the jobs they needed. Whatever be the reason. Survival via enterprise became a rule. And we see an amazing number of such hard working entrepreneurs who have done well to improve their lots.

And the one thing that sets apart those who become really successful here, is their innate ability to sell.

Like this maharaj described above, I have distinct memories of few other such cases.

As a child, I happened to visit Nainital a couple of times. And while I have hazy memories of the lake and the yachts, I have a distinct memory of this suit store on Mall road there. An absolutely stunning salesman, it was said that you could not step into his store and come out without making a purchase. Since we went there twice and my father had an experience of this the first time around, he studiously avoided getting into the store on our second visit. But on the last day, out of curiosity, intrigue and admiration, he figured that we will go to the store, just to share good tidings, but we will not purchase for sure.

Yeah, right! Like we had a hope. Sure enough, we came out with a bag of goods!

Then, there was this amazing experience I had on 5th Ave, Manhattan. In the heart of fashion district, in one of the high rises there, on a higher floor. A Gujarati speaking, Bohri Muslim, born and brought up in Ahmedabad, but now in the US for many years, runs one of the most successful custom suit business. I spent two hours sitting with him once, few years back, and was an observer to his selling skills with an American customer who had come in to shop with him, all the way from Texas.

Picture this first. Two offices joined together. No walls in between. Huge open space, beautifully carpeted and four large walls painted white. And having frames right through. Frames with photos of celebrities dressed in suits made by this Ahmedabadi! Politicians, Hollywood, sports. Especially basketball players. Since they need to be fitted! Mind boggling reference list.

Had a back office in Hongkong. Had samples of all kinds of fabrics whose large quantities were inventoried in HK. Connected over fax. To send out those measurement details, especially the intricate sketches of fine requirements. Suits get shipped in 3-4 working days. If it is a new customer, he walks in for a trial, and if there are tweaks to be done, this gentleman does those himself. Well, now he also had a couple of assitants (but that was it – including him, a total of 3 persons on the team, doing HUGE business!).

But back to the man. And how I saw a phenomenal salesman in action, as I sat there as an admiring observer.

He knew this Texan by name. Must be a reasonably regular customer. Talked to him about many things other than business. All topics that the customer was interested in, it appeared. Getting down to business, it seemed like the guy had walked in to purchase a suit or two, at most. Sharing the various products, and then offering package deals (shirts, ties etc.), he ended up generating business worth more than $8,500, all in a matter of about 45 minutes. And swiped the card right there, to close the deal. Awesome stuff.

For a man who began life on the streets of Ahmedabad… would you not doff your hat off to him?

The moot point of these stray examples is the skills in selling that run common. None of them have stepped into B-schools. They don’t have any aids except for their tongue and their passion and their emotions.

As against that, a B-schooler sales guy is lost without his laptop and his powerpoint and his graphs and charts and data. And then he wants support in terms of lowest prices and freebies bundled in, and extended credit terms offered. And after all that, he may meet his targets.

Now if you needed a sales person to save your life, who’d you pick? The maharaj, the suit seller in Nainital, the custom tailor from Ahmedabad, now on 5th Ave, NY, or the hip MBA with his laptop?? 🙂

  1. Athahar says:

    Absolutely thrilled to read this article!!
    I would even vouch the negotiation skills of nearby fruit or vegtable vendor!!!

    • Bhanik says:

      Yeah apart from the negotiation skills, they also have very good timing. Once a customer has already ordered and made up their mind to take something, then they will say… Bhabhiji “yeh fruit / sabzi ekdum fresh hai, which will prompt the customer to buy the new item along with the things he/she is buying”

  2. Bhanik says:

    Very good article. There are plenty of such small scale workers who without formal marketing training excel in sales. My guess is these ppl know the trick of the trade well enough.

  3. Sanjay Mehta says:

    Thanks, Bhanik and Atahar.
    Indeed, enterprise and salesmanship are found everywhere, on the streets of India.. ! Good examples..

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