I have been hearing from my friends for a long time now that I “sell well” and I can “convince” people well. I’m not sure if that is true or they say it out of their generosity and love for me. But I have heard these opinions about me for so long now that I wanted to sit, ponder and recollect how I began my journey of selling stuff and convincing people.
My first major encounter with sales was in 2012 when we started a newspaper called DDU Connect back in our engineering college. As the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the newspaper, my role was that of an entrepreneur. We did everything from scratch – forming a team, budgeting, pricing, product development, production, setting up distribution and most importantly marketing and selling it. As we were starting the newspaper on subscription basis and we had no monetary support from the university administration back then, it was vital that we garner good subscription for the newspaper for it to sustain. Cut to the morning of 14th February, 2012. This was the day when we were going to start marketing the newspaper. Until 10.00 AM in the morning I had no idea about how we were going to pitch the newspaper to the university audience. Back then, DDU comprised of at least 50% students who came from vernacular medium schools and reading and specifically reading English content was certainly not their preference. Hence, it was imperative that we created a strong value proposition and a communication that resonated with an average DDUian to receive a decent response.
We had a team meeting in the canteen for about 45 minutes before we made our first pitch to an audience of 90 students in a classroom. I crafted a pitch for the newspaper and made sure it addressed all strata of students at DDU:
- The simple ones from vernacular medium who lived a non-glamourous life: The newspaper promised them to give “exciting news” about the college and the course fresh out of HoD/Dean/Vice-Chancellor’s office
- The studious ones: We promised them technical content and a dedicated page for every branch of engineering. The content would be well curated and notches above simple googling and wikipedia-ing
- The creative ones: Back in 2011/2012 Facebook was relatively new. They had something called NOTES for longer posts. People posted memoirs, poems, blogs etc. in this. We promised them a platform to showcase their creativity
- The ambitious ones for whom their CV was the reason to live: A place in the DDU Connect team for which they’ll receive a Certificate of Appreciation from authorities which they can add to their CV and better their prospects of job or higher education
Three years later, I learnt the idea above in my B-school in the name of segmentation.
It was now time to create a Value Proposition. I wanted to it be hard, impactful but personal at the same time, the reason being we were selling it to a community (Gujaratis) who had the acumen of making a profit even after purchasing from Sindhis and selling to Marwadis. I introspected and searched for things that a typical DDU student spends his pocket money on. The two major things were mobile recharge and eating Puff (puff is the Gujarati term for a bread patty. Nadiad was famous all over Gujarat for puffs and the most famous outlet Payal Puff sold 40 varieties of Puff. It was the staple diet of people in Nadiad). While making our pitch we told people that they could spend their money (Rs. 120/year) on two things:
- Mobile recharge: which may last for 15 days without a girlfriend and 7 days with a girlfriend
- Eating puff: Assuming you have one with cheese spread and garlic sauce, 120 bucks will help you have your meal only thrice
Compare both of these important expenditures vis-a-vis paying 120 for newspaper, you have a chance to earn a name amidst 4000+ university students, have a PoR and a certificate, be updated about the realm you’re living in and of course the refreshment after consuming good technical and non-technical content. This entire idea was later taught to me in the B-School in 2015 in the name of positioning.
And lastly, because it was 14th February, I wanted to make my pitch special. I would end my pitch saying, “Today is 14th Feb. Some may receive proposals while some may not! But today, we assure you everybody is going to get proposed. WE, DDU CONNECT, propose you for your companionship in this journey of creativity and campus awareness, and we hope you say a YES. We’ll wait for your answer at the Subscription Desk on Center Foyer at 1.00 PM”.
The entire pitch above delivered with a conviction, smile and a few jokes on teenage romance and Payal Puff immediately struck a cord with the audience. In most of our initial classroom presentation we had thunderous applause from the class when we ended our pitch. Were these just leads? No! Cut to 1.00 PM on 14th Feb, our subscription desk at Center Foyer was flocked by hundreds of students. I had unknowingly learnt an important lesson in selling and communication that day which I later read in Piyush Pandey’s book (Pandeymonium) released in 2015:
Whatever you say, say it with respect for the audience, say it in a context that the audience can understand, say it spontaneously, say it without fear, say it not to intimidate or frighten, but to delight.
I was so enthralled that evening after receiving the subscription figures that like a little kid I recited my sales pitch in front of my parents that night and they being parents of a little kid, clapped!
Indeed, we had sold well! However, good sales generally goes well beyond a sales pitch. To boost our subscription and be closer to our “customers”, we allied with some popular and influential guys in the hostel, college buses and individual branches. We gave them our subscription forms and asked them to reach as many people as possible in person, outside the classroom and spread the word about Connect. I was taught the same thing in my B-School in 2015 under the title of Influencer Marketing. Indeed, we had marketed well!
Sales, as they say, is a lot about numbers. We were told by the university management that if we manage to get an initial subscription of 600 students, they would take the venture seriously and eventually might even adopt it as the university mouthpiece. A week down, on 21st February, we were sitting on 1200+ subscriptions! 100% growth over base, indeed we had sold well! And such figures at a time when people had NOT SEEN the product they were buying, not even a prototype! We had made sales just based on our pitch. Indeed, we had sold DAMN WELL!
About a month down, on 17th March, 2012 we launched the 1st issue of DDU Connect with a lot of pomp. My university was getting its first newspaper and in a way a first major extra-curricular body.
A few months down, we began our re-subscription drive. We went out all out again with our sales pitch but this time we had partnered with local salons, eateries, xerox centers and book stores of Nadiad to provide discount coupons on subscription. In our pitch, we told people, “The value of discount coupons is more than the money you pay for subscription. Hence, in a way we are paying you to subscribe to the newspaper. You’re getting DDU CONNECT now for FREE! FREE! FREE!” And people smiled and clapped at this again. I was later taught this in my B-School in 2016 under the title of Sales Promotion. My batch mates from Morbi, Keshod, Mehsana, Borsad and other parts of Kheda and Saurashtra were perhaps seeing a student sell so aggressively for the first time. And perhaps that is why, I was called “Chaapawalo” (The newspaper man) and “Salesman” by many in the college. The “Salesman” title conferred upon me by one of my batchmates Chirag Patel stayed with me until today.
Half a decade later, today, DDU Connect stands strong, minting 10000+ copies a month circulating to various colleges in the university, industry and alumni. The venture started by us in 2012 now has its 6th generation handling it. We hadn’t just sold well, we had BUILT BONDS!
Today, I sell adhesives, water, acrylic and glass colours with equal conviction, trying a build a story around every product I sell. And while doing this, I am still BUILDING BONDS!
P.S. The PlaceCom selling experience in my B-School is still a fresh in my heart. Perhaps it will make space on my blog some years down.