Monday, April 03, 2006

Sell me something!

There are two kinds of salesmen in the world - sorry salesmen and sari salesmen. The sorry variety diffidently walk upto a customer and enquire - just for the sake of enquiring - "Madam, can I help you?" Madam glares at the salesperson and he/ she beats a hasty retreat.

The second kind of salesman sizes up his prey and then moves in for the kill. "Aaiye na sister, baithiye na... " He then proceeds to pull out some 'latest stuffs' and even as 'sister' protests "mat kholiye" he grins and declares,"Dekhne ka koi daam nahi lagta." Or so you think.

The fact is once this sales fellow has dug his claws into sister's skin she will never leave the shop without buying something. "Kya mangaoon, chai, thanda..." And he proceeds to open a few hundred saris more without a care in the world about who will fold them.

But 'sari salesman' is just a metaphor. He could be selling you nighties or salwar kameezes, jeans or jewellery.

The difference between a good salesman and a great one is that the latter exhibits an infecious enthusiasm and knows exactly which buttons to push on which customers. Like in the first 3 minutes he has figured out what the buyer's 'taste' is - Gujarati-Marwari or sober-simple.

The second hallmark of the sari salesman is his adjective-rich vocabulary. Coupled with cleverly spaced positive strokes. "Yeh dekhiye, ekdum fine concept hai... aap ke upar royal lagega." Customer is finicky, or unsure. "Aapko fitting chahiye? Sister, ek minute... clip lagakar dekhiye. Alteration ho jaayega".

Now of course even the best salesman in the world can't sell a car without wheels. So the shop should have a vast and varied stock to begin with. But a great salesman can help that stock fly off the shelves. Because he can anticipate the customer's needs, wants and also her apprehensions.

So it was that last evening when I joined a friend who is shopping for her sister-in-law in the US (and in the process going berserk herself), we ended up spending:
- 1 hour at Centerone, the local mall.
- 2 1/2 hours at 'Princess', a mere shop in the Vashi, sector 17 market.

After much deliberation, she bought one outfit from the Pantaloon store in the mall. Phatka: Rs 2000.

At Princess, the same shopper picked up 8 items and spent 6 times as much. All because of a Super Salesman. Hell, even I, who had just gone to provide company picked up 2 really nice skirts. Although what I need is a new pair of jeans!

So what am I trying to say? That the small guy is not going to get wiped out all that easily - if he operates from the 'sari salesman' platform. While the big guy could learn a thing or two from these chaps.

Yes, many shoppers at department stores would rather not be 'bothered' by salesmen. But the reason the staff is seen as a bother at these stores is they are so perfunctory in their 'May I help yous'. It's like, we have to ask you so we do. Ritual over, we can recede into the background. They don't genuinely wish to interact with you.

Perhaps they are paid a fixed sum while the sari guy gets a commission. Perhaps they're told their main role is to ensure no one is shoplifting. You can't play policeman and persuader simultaneously.

Oddly enough, the same attitude applies to designer stores. When you walk in, the salesgirl will usually be on the phone. She will look up, size whether you are a buyer or a gawker and then decide whether to get up and serve you.

The irony is that a lot of the people who enter designer stores might not be as well turned out as you'd expect. Maybe that's why they are at a designer store - in need of urgent wardrobe advice. Deciding who are the freeloaders and who the potential big bucks but you-would-not-know-it-if-you-looked-at-me is where a true salesman's instincts kick in.

Remember the scene in Pretty Woman where Julia Roberts is turned away from one such store? . Only to return the next day and snub the same saleslady after having bought out half the neighbouring shop. Here's a similar, real life story!

In fact, I think every marketing student must spend some time selling women clothes and men, cars. One month of such an experience will provide more insight into consumers and their psychology than any lecture, seminar or project.

And yeah, that goes for our ooh-I'm-so-creative-designers as well. The government want to 'investigate' the recent wardrobe malfunction at Lakme Fashion Week.

What I'd like to investigate is who would consider buying the hideous outfit Carol was modelling in the first place... Not even Rakhi Sawant I think!

On an unrelated note I very much doubt the malfunction could be a publicity stunt. Imagine telling someone the outfit you're wearing is by that designer jiske kapde pheshun week mein model ke badan se gir gaye the. Shudder...!


  1. you changed the mode of RSS feeds? I'm not getting the full posts :(

    By the way, good post to counter the "FDI/Big corporate houses will kill the small shop" litany that some people are peddling.

    Reminds me of the jewellery shop post you had done some time back, Tanishq vs Zaveri bazaar.

    Unless sales commissions get built into the salaries of the big malls' employees, they'll continue to give the attitude to the customer

  2. "Oddly enough, the same attitude applies to designer stores. When you walk in, the salesgirl will usually be on the phone. She will look up, size whether you are a buyer or a gawker and then decide whether to get up and serve you."

    Malcom Gladwell in 'Blink' talks about a similar situation. I don't have the book at hand currently to directly quote from it, but it is about some particular car salesman who is much more successful than his colleagues. The secret to his success is that he doesn't judge a prospective buyer from his/her appearance, sex, first impression or ethinicity (others quote higher price to blondes and African Americans, don't bother with customers looking not that well oiled etc.). I guess the key to be a better salesman is to keep one's mind open, look for hints of what the customer likes and ofcourse make the profits by selling more for lesser unit price.

  3. Talking of sales men , I Cant help but think the sales people in book shops these days.

    I used to study in Chandigarh at one time and I still remember a samll bookshop I used to go to. It was before the crosswords of the world set their foot across India. It was a shop run by Father and Son. And you know the best part of that place? Both the owners loved reading....
    So buying as a different experiance. I would shuffle through books and then discuss about them with either one of them. Sometimes, they would recommend a particular book that was doing well or recommend the latest book they'v eread.
    As a customer it was a better experiance than sitting in cosy chairs of crossword.
    I miss that kind of intellectual break while shopping. Today, no matter which book shop I go, what I miss is a "small talk" with the sales man. Understanding the salesman cant read about all books but what about new arrivals/ best sellers/ recommended books?

    Sometimes I just want to ask, is this selling well? how are the reviews? and all I get is a blank look!!!

    Like a sari Seller cant sell if he doesnt know the names and something about origin of half a dozen kind of sarees.... How can the staff in Big fat bookshops 'help' customers if he doesnt like reading?

  4. And yeah, that goes for our ooh-I'm-so-creative-designers as well. The government want to 'investigate' the recent wardrobe malfunction at Lakme Fashion Week.
    tangentially comment to your article but i wonder why ppl use the word wardrobe "malfunction". Malfunction????? it feels like the wardrobe is full of mechanical parts , gears and what not and its "malfunctioning" bcoz you forgot to oil it? yikeS! its just a stupid dress!

    i dont know what they teach at NIFT but SOM would help! :)

    and heres a really funny blogpost on the whole thing :)


  5. I think you've missed one important category of salesmen ... the aajkal-to-yahee-pheson-mein-hai type.
    They'll dump anything they have in their store in front of you and when you ask for a different kind of fitting or style, they'll utter the holy words .. aajkal log yahee khareed rahe hai, abhi to yahee phason hai, .....

  6. Nicely analyzed and written.

    Happy Blogging,


  7. That the small guy is not going to get wiped out all that easily - if he operates from the 'sari salesman' platform. While the big guy could learn a thing or two from these chaps.

    Insightful statement that and great observation, superb piece.

  8. Hi! It was nice u also think that mrktg guys sould spend more time on doing selling than CUTCOPYGOOGLEPASTING for the classroom projects. But all this is not happening man!.

    I don't know how much salaries malls/fashion stores gives to these sales people, but it's not their fault. If you are shopping in mall, it is granted that you don't need help(Guess what! thats mall culture for you). Even if anytime salesman try to sell you a product in mall, we are the same people who Give I-KNOW-IT-ALL-LOOK or TRY TO BE in THAT LOOK.

    As far as "cloths malfunctioning" goes,Yes! there are ppl who may want to there cloths to be malfunction on certain occasions. :)

  9. Good one!!

    Nice comment on Rakhi Sawant.

  10. What did you do with the RSS feed ?
    I am receiving a snippet instead of the article.
    About the article :
    Nice broad generalization. We (indian junta) can associate with both categories. Of course, crap exists on both sides too.
    I know the movie 'You've got mail' is no business case study. But as a pessimistic view, is that scenario applicable in India ? Where big-brother Reliance Retail (instead of Fox Book stores) eats up sales of smaller players in the neighbourhood ?


  11. Hi Rashmi, yeah it is really corny. A publicity stunt..but then with the rift in the fashion industry you never know what levels Lakme could fall to, to grab headlines. Oka that is corny too..accidents happen and I think the model was pretty darned brave. Do send me my letter and hey I am doing that ma finally

  12. Many Brands do publicity stunts, but wont you call the new age news media also a different kind of salesman? Most of the news channels I see these days are out there to sell news and get maximum eye balls. Another kind of news salesmen are the one who are shamelessly selling/promoting products through news. The example of first is when Chetan Sharma from headlines today called wardrobe malfunction a "wow" moment. Another is the growing trend of 'product placement'in news media. One recent example is of Times Now which kept zooming in on a brand logo which had no relevance to the on going interview.

    Atleast a salesman in Mall is selling you because its his job to do so. But selling you anything by any means in form of news is definately the sales of lowest order.

  13. The moment i finished it you know what came to my mind ...Advertising yes, There is a lot to learn from indian Street seller's found on the Bus, Train, Street's everywehre ..usually selling you some really strange brand of 'CHURAN' 'MANJAN' and sometimes books. they start with one thing at some price and then keep on increasing the articles in the package with price alteration and finally present a really lucrative offer in front of ...i myself has bought mant articles like " A pack of 7 combs" "A pack differenet screwdrivers" " 3 books , 2 pen , 1 pencil ......" and so on ...
    I am not preety sure about the quality they present but the fun/entertainment they provide is 'priceless'

  14. Hey, good observation and a well written post.

  15. Rashmi, Contrary to what you say here,I personally like the 'anonymity' of large deoartental stores like a Shoppers Stop, as it gives one the freedom to spend hours browsing around, checking out, trying out various clothes/items, and invariably you land up buying more than you intended due to the easy accessibility of the items on display. So I guess it just might be a case of different needs for different people. I still think the smaller stores will continue to exist more because of they offer low-cost goods, whereas the larger department stores still are priced towards the higher side. We are still a nation of poor people. And unlike Walmart in the US, which caters to the lowest income groups too, we have a huge population which cannot afford to shop in the swanky stores.

  16. I think ur observation that people working on commission basis as opposed to salaried employees, is the main difference between these two kinds of salesman.
    Also the bigger shops have big brand names to draw in the crowd, but the smaller salesmen have to reply on their personal touch to stay alive in the market

  17. Its more of a personal choice of what kind of salesman are better. I would certainly prefer the silent type, they are there when you need them, not trying to sell me all the crap they have. It also gives me time to look around and check for yourself instead of them trying to push what they have or what they feel will look good on me.

    I would definately not be a fond of place where the salesperson talks on continously trying to dump what they have (in excess).

  18. I think the enthusiasm that comes with these small time salesmen, has more to do with the fact that they actually own their business. These are usually small time businessmen who set up small shops. When its your own business and the absolute source of yours and your family's sure your gonna sell like that!...."Sister Le Lo Na"

  19. hi rashmi,

    was introduced to ur blog today by a friend. quite interesting. i would like to contribute to JAM...but am in UK right it possible to mail articles etc.
    my email id is

    and yes about salesmen...if u ever have a chance go to lucknow...ull be bowled over by the tehzeeb(though nowadays a rare commodity) and may end up buying half the shop....or atleast wanting to do that!!!

  20. Hi Rashmi,
    I started reading ur blog after ur article "yeh IIM ki salary" was posted on rediff.
    I just want to say that u can provide a platform for freelancing writers by spreading it properly. many of my friends are good at writing but they are so busy wid their academic comitments that they cant afford a full time work but an article in a fortnight is possible. Please see if u can do this.
    Actually i am intersted in seeing indians taking this freelancing thing seriously and get out of the typical approach for living.
    If this is of any use to it please drop me a mail at

  21. I have not read any of your post except the one calling for creative people. I think of myself as one and may you be the judge of it. I am not looking for a job as much as an evaluator and approbation.

  22. Anonymous9:27 AM

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