I’ve worked for years in pharmaceutical sales and most of my sales knowledge was gathered as I sat making notes in plush boardrooms under the guidance of many a corporate sales guru. Equally, though, I have picked up sales wisdom from other completely unexpected sources.
On a bustling street of Mumbai, there’s a tiny stall where a middle-aged gentleman sells “sabudana khichadi” (a savoury dish made from soaked sago) each morning. The stall is so tiny and unobtrusive that you could walk past without noticing it. I had heard from friends about the clean and wholesome food prepared there….And so, one morning (during a recent visit to the city) while taking a morning stroll, I slowed down as I approached this stall. I watched from a distance for a few moments. The man smiled at everyone who walked past, greeting them good morning in a quiet but pleasant voice. Most office-goers nodded at him but kept walking ahead. Some others slowed down to find out what he was selling. Irrespective of who stopped and who didn’t, his greeting was consistent. Just as well he was wishing everyone, because if he hadn’t, it was impossible to notice the stall.
LESSON NUMBER 1: You could have the greatest product in the world but if no one knows you exist, what’s the point?
As I walked closer, he looked at me and said ‘Good morning, madame’. I smiled and waited. Glancing at the Bisleri bottle of water in my hand it was obvious that he’d guessed I probably came from foreign shores. There was a moment of hesitation and I knew what was going on through his mind. ‘Why would this lady buy anything from my poor little flimsy shop?’
The eternal saleswoman inside me waited to see what he’d do. If he truly believed in his product and was passionate about what he sold, he shouldn’t have any problem asking for the sale, I said to myself.
Sure enough, he smiled at me and said in Marathi :’ Madame, will you try our sabudana khichadi?’
LESSON NUMBER 2: If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
I could have said no, but that’s a risk every salesperson must take.
“Yes, please” I replied.
He opened the tightly-sealed steel “dabba” (container) and dished out some khichadi into a katori (small bowl) made from teakwood leaves.
As I devoured it, he said with quiet pride: ‘My wife makes it.”
Once I had eaten the last crumb, he asked “How was it? Can I improve it in any way?’
LESSON NUMBER 3: Ask for constructive feedback. It’s the best way to move from ‘good’ to ‘great’.
I couldn’t find a single fault in the dish and told him so. Pure happiness sparkled in his eyes.
I’ve never forgotten that little interaction and what it taught me. So many of us go through life afraid to ask for what we want because we’re too awkward or too hesitant or too worried about consequences. We “assume” so many things…we assume no one will like us, no one will want to buy from us, no one will believe in us.
And the truth is sometimes completely different.
In many a corporate boardroom over many years, sales teams have been taught to always ‘ask for a sale’ and ‘get feedback in order to improve’. Nowhere was it taught with more integrity and beauty than at this tiny, ordinary street-side stall in Mumbai.