Sales lesson from the Streets

Weekday evening. Busy road. Chennai.

I was just walking back after seeing off a friend into a cab, lost in thoughts about the last time we met there.

“Hey! Where are you coming from?” a confident voice suddenly shouted behind me. I turned to look and took a moment to come back to reality. The source was a confident but ragged old man “I’m just going home” I mumbled. “Come here. I’m bloody disabled and I can’t turn to talk to you” he said, not rudely.

I was annoyed but I still took a few steps back to talk to him. He repeated himself. “Where are you coming from?”. I was now really annoyed but I couldn’t bring my self to walk away. “Just that side!” I said, making sure that my tone indicates my annoyance. He didn’t register the annoyance or he simply chose to ignore it because he went on to ask “Are you coming from Loyola?(a reputed college in Chennai).” I was cursing myself for not having the strength to walk away but responded with a “No.” “I graduated from Loyola you know. Where do you work?” I recited my organisation’s name and he did his best to act as if he was interested. “Oh, is it a software company? What’s with the beard and all, man? You look like you are from an village.” He didn’t give me time to recover and shot me with another question. “What’s your name?” “Sanjeev”, I said. “Listen, Sanjeev. My name is Micheal. I have to get all the way to Royapuram, not Royapettah, Royapuram. Do you know how bloody far that is? These auto guys are going to charge me 300 bucks. I haven’t eaten anything from morning, man, I’d like to eat something. Do you think you can help me?”

Even though I saw this coming, I couldn’t bring myself to say no. I found my hands automatically going into my wallet and extracting 50 bucks and extending it out saying “I can’t sponsor your auto ride but here’s a 50, get something to eat.” “You must be a rich guy, thanks”. I thought to myself “I just gave you the last 50 I had, if the bike stops on the way I have to push it back home!” but he wasn’t done yet. “Can you ask that shop if they serve Pav Bhajis?” Now, he’s gone too far! I said I’m running late and I just walked away from him to my bike.

I still haven’t recovered from what he’s done(or what I’ve done) when I saw the beggar to whom I refused to give money to earlier that day. He doesn’t look much older than the gentleman I just met, he has ragged clothes and he probably can’t talk like Micheal did(he has a name now!).

Both of them wanted money for nothing in return but the way Micheal went about it was completely different. He understood the value of putting himself on top of his audience rather than just walking up and pleading for money. He realized that he had a better chance of getting money from me if I understood his cause rather than putting up a sorry face. He built credibility, built a rapport and then asked. All within 5 minutes. He probably does this everyday to a lot of people and he’s close to mastering it.

I still don’t understand what made Micheal convince me to give him the last 50 I had while I can’t convince CEOs, CTOs or IT Managers to spend their budget on my product.