Saturday, August 9, 2008


When I started my first company, I was convinced I hated sales. I disliked the idea of selling something a person does not really need, but ends up buying because I was glib. I questioned the ethics of it, and told myself that I would never be a good salesperson because of this. Boy was I wrong! Well before I acquired my first customer, I realized that practically EVERY aspect of running a business involved sales. I was constantly selling something or the other - an idea, a product, a vision - to someone or another, be it the software engineer, a partner or an investor.

Why I remembered this today - I stumbled upon this really interesting blog post titled "What I learned buying a rug in Turkey". I found myself relating to a lot of the author's experiences and educated myself about the psychology and science behind it. I am looking forward to reading Robert Cialdini's book. I will post a review when I am finished.

Mr. Weisburgh's post reminded me of my own experience recently when we were visiting the Taj Mahal in Agra, India. In order to minimize pollution and for security reasons, vehicles are not allowed close to the Taj and the nearest parking was a fair distance away. When we reached this parking lot, we were besieged with people offering to take us to the entrance using various means of transport - a golf cart, an EV, a horse carriage, and a cycle rickshaw were our options. The horse carriage and the rickshaw drivers got our attention appealing to our emotions - they pointed out this was their livelihood and will likely forgo a meal if we end up picking the golf cart. Having effectively whittled away our choices, the rickshaw puller played the emotional card further asking us to choose between feeding a horse versus a human being. We were effectively trapped though I had misgivings about a man doing the work of a horse - the road had a slight slope and it was no easy task for one man to haul 300+ pounds of our combined weight.

We had negotiated for one way transportation only since we were trying to get to the Taj as quickly as possible before it closed for the evening, and had planned to take a leisurely stroll back enjoying the cool evening breeze. When we reached the entrance, several things happened. Looking back at it after reading Mr. Weisburgh's post, it was classic salesmanship that I experienced, without recognizing it.

1. Reciprocation: During the ride, the rickshaw driver informed us that electronics such as cell phones and iPods are not allowed inside the Taj for security reasons and to make sure we leave them at the lockers provided if we didn't want to be harassed by security people. He also made it a point to mention that potable water wasn't readily available inside the Taj, and to make sure we take our own when we go in since it was a particularly warm day. We were very grateful for this advice, particularly since it was spot on.

2. Commitment and Consistency: The driver told us that all of the entrances would look alike once we were inside, and to make sure we retrace our path and come out of the same entrance if we didn't want to be stranded a long hike away from the parking lot where our car was parked. We couldn't deny the logic of this advice and committed to coming out the same entrance, and out of consistency, agreed to meet him when we returned since he said he would wait for us.

3. Social Proof: The driver was so grateful for the business that when he clasped his hands together to profusely thank us, who were we to say we won't give him our business on the return trip?

4. Liking: The driver provided helpful tips on how to get the most out of our Taj visit and built a rapport with us before he successfully talked us into riding his rickshaw for the return trip.

5. Authority: He told us he was born and raised in the area and had been in this business for a number of years and therefore had inside knowledge of the Taj, thus establishing his authority.

6. Scarcity: Knowing that time was scarce and if we had walked we would have made it barely 10 minutes before closing time (as the rickshaw driver pointed out) made the rickshaw ride more compelling.

I bet the rickshaw driver hasn't read Cialdini's book. Successful salespeople just seem to know the tricks.


Nautilus said...

Amazing. The rickshaw driver really knows core of his business.

Shuba Swaminathan said...

He sure did! And we didn't even realize we were being sold to - such was his mastery, and our naivete :)