Sir, your price is on the higher side… er… Think about it… and come back to us… we shall then give it a thought’! So goes the oft-spoken line when you meet a potential buyer or even a regular buyer who suddenly decides you are being pricey. This is the classic nightmare line every salesperson will encounter at some point of time. The salesperson is under double the pressure if he is to report back to his often disgruntled or irate sales head while drawing a blank. It’s worse if the client-buyer is in the government sector where the dreaded ‘L1’ is the norm.
As a newly appointed Head of Sales and Marketing at a climate control systems company, I was quite keen to show the youngsters what being a hotshot professional was. So off I trotted to the National Capital Region, to show off my sales and marketing skills to the rather sceptical and cynical sales team at Delhi that sales was actually a cakewalk. They had been complaining about dwindling sales due to price wars, tough customers and tougher competition that most often played the price card to snatch business from under our nose.
Little did I realize when I took off from my HQ at Ahmedabad that I was going to face serious stonewalling and opposition from a quasi-Government buyer, who obviously was following the dictates, which include the rule that you buy from the guy who quotes the lowest.
I was accompanied by a very enthusiastic rookie salesperson, who was known to be quite alert and agile and who would be extremely observant during sales calls. Let’s call him Varghese.
Varghese had briefed me about this middle-aged Purchase Manager at this client organization, who had made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t going to buy except from the lowest priced player. Varghese had also chipped in with some useful information about the buyer. Enough for me to think I would just make it look like a butter soft landing at the customer’s place.
On the contrary, the going was rough, the buyer was unmoved, and stuck to his guns. I took the usual route of comparisons, feature vs feature, the benefits of buying from a younger organization, a more attentive and ready-to-please sales team, a well-equipped service station located very close to the buyer’s corporate office, and almost every bit of information that I thought would bowl the customer over. I thought I had enough RDX in my ammunition to blow the customer’s resolve.
But nothing happened. I felt completely at sea, and was almost at the point of throwing in the towel, and walking away. Only one thing kept me from doing so. It was that I was accompanied by one of the sharpest sales guys, who was watching the scenario with a careful eye. He would surely go back to the Delhi office and his colleagues and narrate the whole sequence of events, word by word, and probably share his own evaluation of the pathetic way in which the Boss had surrendered.
Exactly at that moment — and as providence would have it — something began rolling on the buyer’s table it slipped off the surface to fall at his feet. I couldn’t see quickly enough what it was. But it must have been important enough, because Mr. Kumar (the buyer) bent down to pick it up from near his chair, even as he pushed his chair back a bit. Since I couldn’t see that action, I looked away, but something caught my eye, something that had so far been blocked from my vision because of Mr. Kumar’s head.
One look at it, and I knew what I wanted to say! I asked Mr. Kumar for a gift. He look at me incredulously. He even quipped sardonically that in organizations like his people received gifts and rarely handed over gifts.
I clarified, “Sir, I am only asking you for something which is in your office, you have kept it safely, but you don’t need it. You can easily share it with me. Because it is of no use for you now”.
“Is that so? What’s that?”, he interjected.
I pointed to a poster behind his head. He turned his head to look at it. He kept staring at it for what appeared to be an eternity. Then he laughed out aloud, and kept laughing for a full two minutes.
“Varghese, your Boss is a sharp man… well, I don’t know… let me see what I can do… I will try. Call me after two days, I’ll try to work out something…” he suggested.
As we drove towards the airport, Varghese asked, “Sir, how did you notice that poster?”
“I wouldn’t have, Varghese. God sent me that signal when that something rolled over his table and he bent down… I guess we were lucky”, I said.
The poster was a simple one. It had the image of the Taj Mahal in the middle. A caption on top read: THE TAJ WOULDN’T HAVE REMAINED BEAUTIFUL FOR SO LONG…
Another one below read:
HAD SHAHJEHAN CALLED FOR TENDERS AND GIVEN THE CONTRACT TO THE LOWEST BIDDER.
I still look for things to fall off from people’s tables. And I still look for telltale posters, pictures, or slogans. They help.
Varghese called three days later to say we had got the lion’s share of the deal, not the entire deal of course.
The customer had to please the L1 man as well.
(Achal Rangaswamy, a former President, Marketing, Bell Ceramics Ltd, and Strategic Business Unit Head, EIPL, is an alumnus of St. Stephen’s College and a TedX speaker. Rangaswamy, who is a much sought-after CxO Corporate Coach, specialises in training business executives in leadership and transformation, empowerment, sales and marketing, and time management. He says sales is life itself.)