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“Sales Culture!”

Recently I spent a week in Maldives – let me clarify that it was a business trip. Yes! To the Maldives.  I am a strange guy, right?

When there was spare time I visited the shops in the capital, Male’. It gave me the opportunity to understand the market and its practice; and I compared prices of goods with those in India. I found that it was better to shop in India for more than one reason.

For one, the prices of most things were much higher, except maybe if you wanted fish or coconut.

And then you did not get a great buying experience.  In one of the electronics shops I practically dragged the Salesperson from his comfortable perch to the display case to talk about features and prices. He was lolling disinterestedly in the corner even as the shop was filled with prospective buyer. I looked around to check if it was just me and found that most shoppers were either talking to the friend who had come along or having to call many times before someone turned up to help.

I mentioned this to my friend when I visited him later that night – he is from Kerala too. He responded – “That’s nothing, Jayadev. It’s the norm here in most shops. Last week I was passing a shop and found the iPad 4 displayed at the window. I could have waited till I got back home but on a whim I popped in to check it out. The model I have now is over a year old and I wanted a replacement. My mind was set on the 32 GB model.”

“You won’t believe this. I said to the salesguy that I am interested in the 32GB model and he said – ‘Sir! We only have 16GB and 64GB in stock. Why don’t you check after a week?’ I was shocked. In India, even before I complete the word “interested” the Salesperson would have been all over me, trying to push a piece that is available in stock. They are trying to make a sale. Here they are fine if you walked out without buying a thing.”

It got me thinking. I have seen a bit of the same happening in Oman, while I lived there. If there was an Omani salesperson behind the counter there wasn’t much of an effort to sell me the product. It set me thinking. Does Sales have a cultural-bias?

In India we keep hearing that Chennai folks are good at Math, Gujarathis and Marwadis excel in business, Haryanvis are good at Athletics and Malayalees are smart at finding their way to just about place in the Universe. (That last one was a joke about my own people … don’t take it seriously even if you find us everywhere. We were always there!!)

What is it about communities or societies that made them excel in a domain – was it a gradual process or something to do with a predilection for certain activity or did someone start the trend and other just followed?

Does the art of persuasion and communication have anything to do with the way people are brought up – or the exposure they receive in the formative years? I would answer with a resounding “Yes!”

It does have a lot to do with the environment we are brought up in? A businessman’s child becomes a businessman (or at least is inclined to be one), a doctor’s daughter wants to be a doctor and an actor’s child will be an actor (far-fetched, that last one!).

I am leaving this open-ended. What do you think?

Categories: Sales Tags: ,
  1. January 10, 2013 at 1:16 pm

    Thought provoking indeed. The environment (of upbringing), as pointed out by the article is a great factor indeed. However in this case, in Male, it looks to me that motivation may be a factor as well. As in $$ motivation brought about by a sales commission. Or if indeed these sales staff had that in place, may be they already have their basic needs taken care of, and are of the opinion that life will be cushy in the upcoming future, so why go that extra mile. Whereas, in India, cut throat competition and uncertain future may motivate them..make hay while the sun shines (and store it,)..cos the sun may not be there tomo. Having said that, there are people, who despite having enough, just want to go higher and higher.. that I guess is a function of the environment, as your article rightly points us to…..a businessman father or friends/peers trying to outdo each other to be the first to own a condo, car , cash target..

    • JayadevM
      January 10, 2013 at 2:32 pm

      Hi Siva

      Thank you for posting the comment here too. Like I said on FB this helps to write a follow-up post.

      You have made a lot of useful points.

  2. Vijay
    January 10, 2013 at 1:50 pm

    lol…i actually could visualise you dragging the sales guy, since i do it very often here in Abuja too.

    • JayadevM
      January 10, 2013 at 2:31 pm

      Hi Vijay

      I can imagine your plight! Teach them a few things while you are there.

      Thanks and regards!

  3. January 10, 2013 at 2:05 pm

    I have experienced that a lot in SE Asia Jayadev….Literally they would make no effort to ‘sell’. They would just show the piece if available and do the billing in some stores….That way I have observed a marked difference when compared to our Indian salesmen….As for Mallus all over the globe I totally believed it when I found out that the nurses in the remote village of Pilani were also Mallus…. haha…. Usually children following their parents footsteps could be attributed to two reasons

    1) They would have the resources ready like the doctor would have already built a hospital
    2) The parents would be able to provide guidance to the best extent possible

    Of course having seen them since childhood, the interest would have got triggered in the wards!

    • JayadevM
      January 10, 2013 at 2:34 pm

      Hi Jayashree

      SE Asia too? Wow! That means I can find a lot of opportunities there for my Sales Training. But I thought Singapore had a lot of smart businessmen!!

      Parting Shot: Don’t under-estimate us mallus. We are everywhere!

  4. January 10, 2013 at 2:51 pm

    I beg to differ. We might have information only about professions and temperaments of those around us. But, once we have exposure we choose differently. Parental “guidance” (read pressure) might be a big factor in following in parents’ footsteps. If awareness was higher and freedom at home real, we may not all fall close to the parental tree.

  5. SSJ
    January 10, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    I agree and disagree…cos…if ur theory was right…first time Entrepreneurs wudnt have happened….yes i guess its more to do with the upbringing and most importantly the need of the individual….a child brought up in a biz family sees day in and day out biz….however possibly another child thrown into open world with no predegree or pedigree (!!) fights to survive and takes/finds the path himself…..fruits come frm trees in a plantation and in forest as well …tho the background and support systems are different for both !!!

    • JayadevM
      January 11, 2013 at 11:36 am

      Hi Jay

      I replied to your comment on FB – let me say it again here to invite inputs from others too on the subject.

      Although you make a valid point on the subject my article was not about Entrepreneurship- but you know I wanted someone to turn around and say that those reference to cultures or geographical regions are generalizations. It doesn’t mean that all Gujarathis are businessmen, nor does it imply that people from other states can’t become businessmen. Maybe people from Gujarat were just following what their predecessors were doing.

      My submission is that this is based on observations during visits to various countries and market talk – its not a research finding, not yet.

      We can, and must, discuss entrepreneurship and predispositions to other profession at another time – do you think there is a geographical or cultural bias on skills such as Sales – do some people do it better?

  6. Sunil Menon
    January 11, 2013 at 3:09 am

    Hi Jay,

    I will rather limit my observation to experience.

    1. Any day I would prefer to be left alone in a store than a glib talking salesman in tow.
    2.I will prefer to have a display of features of the product next to it thus helping
    me to compare and decide than a diatribe from a salesman pushing to somehow get wallet share from all walkin customers particularly in places thriving on tourist economy.
    3. Leaving customers to browse through a product experience the form factor , some personal
    interaction, left alone to admire and make an informed decision sans inducement gives a much better experience than being induced to buy by a pushy salesman leaving a latent thought of having bought a product that was not intended or a feeling of being taken for a ride.

    4. I think this is the reason why more and more people are turning to online purchase , so I think customer comfort in a brick and mortar store is more important than a stereotypical sales pitch.

  7. Kathy
    January 11, 2013 at 9:44 am

    Jay…it was an interesting article…i guess the salesman in Male was not bothered because his salary would not include any commission from selling any of the products in the shop.So he is just not bothered about whether his product sells or not…He is more like a machine and his time at the shop is used for doing his own personal things..and all that interests him would be the salalry he gets at the end of the month.This is the same attitude one sees in a lot of places in Asia…Singapore has its exceptions too…some r good…some are not.I had recently been to one of the gadget shops in London to buy some computer software.The salesman showed me all the products they had which was a wee bit expensive but finally told me….”Mam why do you have to buy such expensive stuff?i would suggest a site from which you could download it free….”.What do you call this attitiude?It all finally boils down to ones attitude Jay…i dont think it has anything to do with culture…it is more about upbringing and the values instilled into us.

  8. January 12, 2013 at 1:41 pm

    Ha ha! I love when you play the mad cop to lolling sops! And yes, I do think in it is in the nurture. How come you forgot the infamous northern provinces? That too is in their genes, whatever it is! (I am taking advantage of the fact that the trait remains unspecified and hence not nefarious!)

  9. January 16, 2013 at 8:47 am

    Jay, the right work culture is what helps to develop a good salesperson just like any other profession..The owner or manager of the store obviously hired a misfit or a lazy-bum to start with and on top of that did not bother monitoring the person’s progress, blindly believing that he would deliver. That is why you as the customer had to endure that negative experience. Any person who has the right attitude, aptitude and genuine interest in sales shall excel whether they are born into any culture as long as they have the right guidance and encouragement from their guardians, teachers, well-wishers etc. Thought-provoking article Jay!!!

  10. sales resistant
    July 20, 2013 at 10:57 pm

    “In India, even before I complete the word “interested” the Salesperson would have been all over me, trying to push a piece that is available in stock. They are trying to make a sale.”

    The above describes a salesperson I avoid. In that situation I usually leave without buying anything and never return. The other extreme, not offering any insight or information is equally unacceptable. I’ve experienced very few salespeople capable of hitting that sweet spot of providing information without pressure.

    • JayadevM
      July 21, 2013 at 10:31 am


      Love that term … sweet spot. You are right, very few Sales Pros are able to keep the customer interested and happy till the end of the Sales Process. Being consistently empathetic & proactive isn’t easy. It takes some doing.

      Thank you for stopping by.

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