All Talk and No Action Thursday, March 10, 2011

I sold shoes and tennis rackets. I didn't play tennis, but I learned how to be a very good tennis-shoe and tennis-racket salesman. That's because I made the discovery that people's reasons for buying things often don't match up with the company's reason for selling them.

Manufacturers used to dispatch reps to the pro shop to educate us on their latest and greatest technologies. They'd tell us about the new ethylene vinyl acetate midsoles that made shoes more comfortable; the Goodyear-brand rubber outsoles that made the shoes more durable; the new variation of Nike Air that was miles ahead of the competition.

They thought they were arming us with facts that would impress the customers. But, it turned out, none of that stuff mattered. In fact, it had a negative effect. When you describe things in terms people don't understand, they tend not to trust you as much. Trust is important. You can bluff your way into money, but for only so long.

Once I stopped slinging the technical terms, I realized that when customers shop for shoes, they do three things. They consider the look and style. They try them on to see if they're comfortable. And they consider the price. Endorsements by famous athletes help a lot, too. But the technology, the features, the special-testing labs—I can't remember a single customer who cared. I sold a boatload of shoes and tennis rackets that summer.

Understanding what people really want to know—and how that differs from what you want to tell them—is a fundamental tenet of sales. And you can't get good at making money unless you get good at selling.
I couldn't agree more with the last paragraph.

A week back I accompanied my mom to buy dress materials to be given as gifts. 

The sales guy showing us the cloth pieces happened to point out one dress as a "digital".

Now, when it comes to understanding fashion, I am the last person you should come to. Most of my purchases are based on comfort. The brand, the cuts and the design of the dress do not matter.

However, being told that a particular design was "digital" intrigued me.  This is how my conversation with him  went:

"Digital, matlab?"

"Digital design hoti hai".

"Okay, lekin digital ka kya matlab hai? Do you mean designed on a computer?"

"Err.. dekhiye, yeh digital hai... kyunki baaki sab digital nahi hai... rukiye.. mai aapko dusre non digital dress pieces dikhata hoon..."

Lack of knowledge of your product coupled with providing an irrelevant piece of data to the customer : Need I say more here?


There was a time when I mulled over starting a food outlet. There were specific things I wanted to experiment with. Having read so many expert pieces on the art of business plans, I made sure I had the basics in place, atleast on paper.

When I bounced off my elaborate plan with a friend who had dabbled in entrepreneurship, this is what he had to say:
Mukta, wait! (after I had rattled on for ages, according to him) Your  business plan, expense sheet, sourcing plans from Vashi, advertising for corporates in your area, special schemes you want to offer, imported sauces you wish to use - is all jazz.
Start with a potato.

Make a vada. Buy a pav (bun) and sell that vada pav outside your colony. Make sure all your expenses (gas, water, electricity, ingredients, labour, time) have been accounted for.

If you are able to sell that vada pav to a stranger because it is tastier, healthier and/or cheaper than Rs.7/- (what competitors were offering) - we will talk.
This home truth is crucial for survival.

You want to do business not only because you maybe serving a niche, but also because it brings about independence, financial and otherwise.

If, after months of struggle, you are unable to make moolah, what is the point?

As Jason says : 
This is not about getting rich (though there's certainly nothing wrong with that). Instead, for me, making money is about freedom. When you owe people money, they own you—or, at least, they own your schedule. As long as you remain profitable, the timeline is yours to create.
Friends who know my interest in the subject often share their business ideas. More often than not, they commit the same mistake I did - glamorous business models on paper but no accounting for actual sales!

Getting out of your home and selling atleast one unit of your product will bring in a much needed perspective.

There are other good things Jason shares in the piece. Do read.

No comments: