Thursday, February 25, 2010

Marketing Strategy : For God's Sake, Sell Ethically

Business to consumer selling in India is at cross roads. If the sales professionals and leaders ,who engage in the business to consumer sales, does not change their approach to selling they would be killing one of the most powerful promotional tool.

Last week, my colleague went to take a fixed deposit from India's second largest private sector bank. He talked with the customer service personnel about the deposit, gave the cheque and signed the forms that the personnel asked him to sign. After one week, he received the premium receipt of an Insurance Policy ( from the Bank's Insurance Arm) instead of the FD receipt. Enraged, my friend went to the bank manager and complained about this mis-selling.The event had a happy ending with the bank apologizing for the "error" and assuring that the money will be recovered and put in the FD.

Caveat Emptor or Buyer Beware .

But this is 21st century... it should be Sellers Beware.

It is true that my colleague should have filled up the form himself, made proper checks and ensured that he is sold the right product. But he trusted his bank of 10 years. He trusted that the bankers would do what he had instructed them to do. Every one of us do that.

This scenario is repeated again and again in many banks these days. This over zeal on selling to everyone without understanding customer needs is going to have a very negative effect on the sales profession as such.

10 years back, there was a similar wave of high pressure selling which ranged from vacuum cleaners to books. These poor sales guys roamed around cold calling on customers which prompted very defensive reaction from the customers. Many housing colonies, flats and townships began to impose restrictions on these visiting salesmen and customers began treating these sales guys rudely. The day of foot- in- the- door approach is over.

The same wave is now seen driven by the financial institutions trying to sell anything from mutual funds to insurance products. There is no doubt that these products demand a direct selling approach. But not in the way sales is being done now.

Why direct selling ?

The major purpose of direct selling is that the company is able to convince the customers directly through identification of needs and matching the right kind of products to the identified needs. During the interaction, the sales person needs to identify the needs of the customer, present his product, handle the customer queries and close the sale. How many sales guys we meet ever ask any relevant questions ?

The brunt of the lack of professionalism and empathy displayed by some sections of sales force is faced by the entire sales community. Getting customer appointments has become difficult than ever before. Consumers' trust on sales persons has come down drastically. Objections and rude behavior has increased considerably.

Another trend is to take students as project trainees to sell insurance. These students are absorbed as summer project trainees for three or four months and given the target of selling insurance policies. Neither these poor lads are given product training nor any sales training. These lads end up selling insurance policies to their uncles and aunts and ultimately hating a sales career.

Take the case of banks selling financial products other than banking products. The purpose is to gain the commission from the sales and taking advantage of the captive prospective clients. But the main objective of the bank is to provide banking solutions . Now most private banks has become selling shops. Targets are given to every staff for both insurance and banking products. These staffs are neither trained in those products nor in selling techniques. Recently I had an argument with a banker who proclaimed that ULIPs are always better than Mutual Funds and FDs and called me a fool for choosing a FD ( I answered back with a four letter expletive). If banks try to convert FD to ULIP, it is actually harming the bank rather than helping it.

It is time that these B2C businesses restructure their selling strategies. This may require a culture change also. Focus on high speed growth and short term results will not aid in quality selling. Firms should focus more on quality of sales rather than quantity of sales . The trend to maximize sales numbers rather than on the quality or customer satisfaction should stop. Sales Professionals should focus on long-term customer relationship or atleast match the products with the customer needs.

Selling is a specialized function. It is an important moment of truth for customers. The way a sales person behaves have a great impact on the company image. Not every one in the organization should do sales. These people has to be trained in selling skills and given adequate product knowledge before asking to meet the prospect. But what is happening right now ? In pursuit of blind growth, targets are given to every employee. Then there is this sales jamboree. Running after prospects and suspects, madly trying to force down products .

The outcome is that consumers will become more defensive to sales people. Calls will not be entertained and appointments will not be given to sales force. Sales Professionals may have to work harder even to get an entry. Why mess up a good profession for myopic growth ????

I may sound utopian, but I think it is time that Sales leaders should think hard about their current sales practices. Targets have to be there, pressure needs to be there but selling right product to the right customer should be the priority.

Sell but please sell ethically..

an Ex-Sales Guy.