Recently, I went through the process of finding an apartment for rent.
You would expect that living in an “advanced” country would facilitate a complete online experience almost till the very end. Things are all transparent, details are all available, people are straightforward, and negotiations are completely open.
Nothing can be farther from the truth. While I have gone through several cycles in the past, the most recent experience told me that housing agents actually control the market, notwithstanding all the transparency one gets on the property websites. Almost everything is just orchestrated, and prices are kept artificially high. Free market in theory, but controlled access, stratification, and manipulation might be better choice of phrases to describe the property market.
Since agents apparently control the housing market, and I live in a developed country, the tactics to entice the would-be buyer or renter are expectedly more advanced. Agents are obviously well-informed, but not well-trained to handle a variety of clients with a variety of expectations. For agents, the first question on their lips is “what is your budget”. If you do not give them a specific number, they either get confused or make some unwarranted assumptions. They never ask “what is your need”, which is the first step in marketing that we all learnt in our marketing classes. Second thing, the agents do not expect a broad knowledge of the property market from the buyers or renters. They are, in fact, very surprised if we show them that we are fully aware of the market dynamics and economic status of the country. This is simply because they do not want to drop the prices, for them all is hunky dory, irrespective of the status of the market. Third thing, they will market one specific unit in one specific property most of the time. If you ask them “are you covering the other properties around this one”, they will tend to give vague answers like the other properties are not doing well, they are very small, etc., etc., They just want to get rid of the one that they are currently aggressively pushing to you.
Some agents are super smart, they even position units with less square feet as something more valuable than the bigger units, and even ask for almost the same price. They provide some pretty good explanations for doing so, and average folks are more than susceptible to accept their points. Some other agents are rather pushy, and follow through with you after your first viewing very aggressively, sending text messages and giving “missed” calls. They don’t understand their annoyance factor, and more often than not, they put off their potential prospect. This happened to me just recently. Followups are very important in sales life, but sometimes giving a call at 10 PM on a Saturday evening is to be considered as crossing the line.
And, of course, there are agents who ask the right questions, who are patient enough to work through the client’s decision-making process (sometimes can be rather complicated), and provides some free consultation. Such agents also help to close the deal by representing some of the right feedback from the client to the landlord. Most times, the agents are on the right side of the landlord, as he or she is going to pay their commissions. Rarely would such agents go and push the landlord to accept a buyer or renter’s position. However, I witnessed such a situation playing out while I was making the decision over this current weekend.
In a nutshell, the psychological sales pressure applied by agents could sometimes turn counterproductive. Agents believe that such tactics are the right ones as they might have gotten good sales results in the past. But then, agents have to assess their prospect correctly. I think this is where there is an issue – wrong assessment on the intelligence of the buyer would undermine the deal. Plus, mishandling of questions to facilitate the decison-making process could backfire.
My experience ultimately ended positively with a closure by an agent who I believed did the right things to represent my reasonable positions with the landlord. I continue to analyze the psychology of sales agents, as I am a sales professional myself. I think the learning today was that it is critical to change the sales philosophy from high-pressure selling to an enlightened, consultative and softly communicative selling, at least with educated, experienced and intelligent buyers.
Have a good weekend,
31st January 2016
It is difficult to imagine how we lived even a decade ago.
I mean, without social media like WhatsApp, FaceBook, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Instagram and a variety of other networking platforms.
Today, one’s day starts with WhatsApp and probably ends with WhatsApp as well. There is a plethora of messages, pictures, videos of all sorts floating across WhatsApp groups. And, I do take pleasure in forwarding such “good” messages to different groups, thereby proliferating the circulation of messages across an exponentially expanding universe.
I am not so much a fan of FaceBook, though I occasionally see what’s going on in that world. But my children, like any other kids are big users of every conceivable, popular social media platform, and it is no wonder that most consumer companies are developing social media strategies to reach these young customers.
I sometimes think that the world was so much simpler a decade ago, with more physical social interactions. Now such interactions are on the decline and virtual interactions are increasing rapidly. The result is that we have a whole new generation of youngsters born after year 2000 who think and behave differently due to the impact of social media on their lives. They give less importance to physical interactions and consider deeper involvement with computers and mobile phones as a daily and in fact, an hourly necessity. Their attachment to electronic devices of all hues is not compatible with development of social skills. In fact, I wonder why social media is called by that name when the skills needed are anything but social. Virtual networking and social media connect are not the same as physical meetings and understanding achieved between human beings.
But then the world is surely moving in that direction – the way the youngsters want it.
This is going to be a significant challenge for parents, teachers, government, and other societal influencers. All future design of social systems have to take into account such behavioural patterns going forward.
Given the paucity of time in the corporate world, the social attack by social media presents both a huge challenge and a big market opportunity. Challenge in the sense that corporates have to devise strategies to deal with the social attack – it could be on customer service for example. Poor or inadequate response will lead to a public relations disaster, adversely affecting the company’s market position. Opportunity in the sense that, by properly tapping the social media, appropriate marketing strategies can be formulated for enhancing customer service and market share amongst the community which leverages social media extensively.
Time to think ! Many multinational corporations have already modified their marketing approach to the marketplace given the critical importance now attached to social media. What about you ?
10th May 2015
I wanted to say that I became “a proud owner of iPhone 5”, but I am not going to state my ownership in that fashion.
Dissonance kicked in from day #2 of possession of a brand new iPhone 5. Which was surprising indeed, as I am familiar with Apple iOS, having used the iPAD and the iMAC earlier. And, my wife uses the iPhone 4S, so I have tried that as well a few times.
As I analyzed the reasons for my dissonance, two key factors emerged:
1. My intense use of the Android-based HTC Desire HD phone for nearly 2.5 years (till now), which made me a satisfied user having given me the flexibility to play around with what is essentially a customizable phone operating system and a world of free apps (though the HTC Desire HD is not upgradeable to Android 4.X.X) ;
2. The performance of the battery in the Apple iPhone 5 was simply pathetic – it does not even last a full 8 hours of use. Even worse than the Desire HD which has a larger screen than the iPhone 5. Even though the battery size of 1,400 mAH in the iPhone 5 is larger than the 1,100 mAH on the Desire HD.
Don’t get me completely wrong. The iPhone 5 is an excellent product otherwise. It is engineered well and manufactured well. There is no cheap “plasticky” quality in the iPhone 4, though it is thinner than the more solid-feeling iPhone 4S.
I am, of course, going to continue using the iPhone 5, and I have installed a number of new apps over the last few days. I will write about the apps I have selected in the near future. However, I have to state here that Apple has missed out on a great marketing opportunity presented by the market itself which was in love with Apple products and iPhone in particular, and grossly underestimated the power of the Android O.S. which the Apple executives pooh-poohed on several occasions. And, Apple also underestimated the juggernaut of Samsung.
Given all the above, it would have been better to wait for the Samsung Galaxy 4, which has just been launched. But then, there is always the next time around.
16th Mar 2013
Nowadays, phones mean only one thing – “cell phones”, right ?
My son wanted a new phone – his research and referrals from his classmates and playmates led him to conclude that a Blackberry Curve would be his preferred choice for a smartphone.
I was not for investing in a Blackberry, knowing the troubles that RIM (Research in Motion), the maker of BB (Blackberry) had been through in the past couple of years, and their recent launch of a new device with a new Operating System. I felt that their new products will take time to stabilize in the marketplace, and their earlier generation of rather good devices like the Curve and the Bolt will have to eventually have to have a significant drop in their pricing.
I found it difficult to convince my son on Android and the many choices available in the market today. For me, it was a natural choice, I am a user of a HTC Android Smartphone for the past 2.5 years and am committed to its ease of use and openness.
Apple iPhone was out of the question for my son as it is very highly priced in India, with iPhone 5 at USD 800 which I thought was an overkill for youngsters.
I wanted to purchase a nice and simple Android phone with the latest version of the operating system and some amazing features. I narrowed down to just two brands – SAMSUNG and MICROMAX. The reaction of my son was “what…….Why Micromax………if you want to buy an Android device, go for a Samsung”. That is the power of marketing !
However, when I decided on the specs for the Android Smartphone, and the approximate budget, it became clear that the current models of Samsung could not meet the same ! An unexpected conclusion, but nevertheless a justified one, as at the lower end of their smartphone range, Samsung has slower processors, smaller screen sizes and lower capacity of battery. I found that the newly successful Micromax (which is an Indian company) had better range of lower-end smartphones with much better features.
Using their website, I narrowed down my choice to just two models and then finally selected Micromax Ninja A89, which has an impressive feature set at a price of some USD 110 ! I did not inform my son that I am going to buy this phone, but went ahead, took a look and bought the same from the Mobile Store outlet in Hyper City.
It is a very good phone for the price, running Android 4.1 (Ice Cream Sandwich) at a fast response – my son was surprised at its performance ! Once he saw and experienced its features, he was immediately attached to it !!
It will take some more time to experience the full functionality of this Ninja A89 phone, but from an early exposure, it appears to be an excellent choice. A good smartphone at a very good price-value-features point for anyone wishing to start off with a smartphone, or people who wish to migrate from the usual cell phones to an advanced Android phone.
17th February 2013
Recently I had the opportunity to read (and browse thro’ in some of them) some good sales-related books. Many of these are already famous, but the key thing is that all these books came from the same source and so had a purpose behind ensuring that I go through these books !
I thought I should share the names of these books to interested readers of my blog, as these might be helpful to understand the complexity of B2B Sales and have fruitful sales negotiations. The first two books are long time classics in the area of selling and may not be new to most readers. The others are relatively new.
Here’s the list:
1. THE NEW STRATEGIC SELLING – Robert B Miller and Stephen E Heiman with Tad Tuleja
2. THE NEW CONCEPTUAL SELLING – Robert B Miller and Stephen E Heiman with Tad Tuleja
3. THE NEW SUCCESSFUL LARGE ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT – Robert B Miller and Stephen E Heiman with Tad Tuleja
4. THE NEGOTIATION FIELDBOOK – Grande Lum
5. THE 5 PATHS TO PERSUASION – THE ART OF SELLING YOUR MESSAGE – Robert B Miller and Gary A Williams with Alden M Hayashi
6. SELLING MACHINE – HOW TO FOCUS EVERY MEMBER OF YOUR COMPANY ON THE VITAL BUSINESS OF SELLING – Diane Sanchez and Stephen E Heiman and Tad Tuleja
7. SUCCESSFUL GLOBAL ACCOUNT MANAGEMENT – KEY STRATEGIES AND TOOLS FOR MANAGING GLOBAL CUSTOMERS – Kevin Wilson and Nick Speare with Samuel J Reese
8. THE SEVEN KEYS TO MANAGING STRATEGIC ACCOUNTS – Sallie Sherman, Joseph Sperry and Samuel Reese
All of the above are great books by the way and worth investing to gain a deep understand and expertise on higher level sales management in the enterprise space.
I would recommend all of them, but in case of time paucity, at least try the first two books – they are incidentally classics in their own right.
27th January 2013
I read recently that there is a lot of private equity action in the Indian e-Commerce space, where significant investments are happening in mature start-ups which have achieved some scale already. There are not many such companies, but a few which have spent resources on creating a good brand image and prompt service delivery.
While the potential for e-Commerce is huge in India, and that is the exact reason for the private equity investments, the challenge of creating an all-India brand which can be trusted has been underestimated. Startups generally assumed that they would build their new companies offering some unique product or service, and the customers will come. This has always been the traditional mistake that most companies anyway make. Customers in India are rather finicky and want to be absolutely sure that they get value in whatever commercial endeavour they embark on. They are not impulsive buyers.
I know of many friends who do comparison shopping (essentially price comparison) before they zero in on the other features such as delivery, etc., If a well-established player offers free shipping, that becomes a very good draw, as most new online customers spend only a little to start with and test the online waters. Most customers would spend somewhere between USD 10 to USD 30 per transaction whey they start off, just to ensure that the purchase goes off well, and they are indeed deriving the benefit of a better price, a better choice of products for their need, a quick delivery, a refund mechanism, a defective product return policy, et al. Indian consumers are choosy, and will only gradually evolve into repeat or big ticket buyers.
The categories of products that the Indian consumer will try to buy at first would be low risk, low involvement products – may be a DVD, a pair of shoes, a book, etc., The big issue in big cities in India is the travel time for anything, and especially shopping during a discount season (as is the case now) with the milling crowds and rains and what not. So, it may not be a bad idea to sit at home and do online shopping, correct ?
Wrong. Most Indian women would rather go out there and enjoy the pleasure of shopping in nice malls with discount offers luring them to every shop or deal. Indian men may be an online customer most of the time, as they may not like driving out into the maddening traffic. All these may be conjectures and an e-tailer can only figure out the dynamics via suitable market research.
I believe e-Commerce in India will be big, and could be atleast 10% of all consumer commerce by the year 2020. Here we may be talking very big numbers – may be of the order of USD 30B. Don’t know really, but gut feel only tells that with enhanced broadband access and adoption of a variety of devices (including mobile devices), and better service quality from e-tailers, the e-Commerce segment is destined to grow rapidly in India, more than any other market in the world.
Once Indians get used to the idea, they will shift in a dynamic and big manner to e-Commerce. However, that would require building some solid branding, service quality, and offering wide variety at prices better than the usual shop prices.
Let us see how it goes, but I am shopping on selected websites like Flipkart, Infibeam, Fommy, etc., which have all given outstanding service.
21st July 2012
I switched my car servicing company a couple of weeks ago, simply because (a) I was tired of going to the same company / same location for the past 5 years ; and, (b) the customer database is apparently shared amongst all Toyota service partners so that they can entice new customers with some special offers, and I got two invitations from two new companies.
So, I thought why not try. After some dilly dallying, I finally found my way one Saturday to the new Toyota partner in a really mushy area of a Western Suburb of Mumbai. There were hardly any cars waiting to be serviced, may be two or three cars, so I rightfully assumed my car will be serviced in a short span of time.
Such assumptions usually go wrong, and in this case it did very badly. I gave the car at 11 AM, but got it really in my hands only by 7 PM. It was very surprising to me. It further taught me that marketing is way ahead of actual delivery in most consumer-related products in India. I have time and again seen such gaps in other product areas – such as telephone/broadband services, handyman services to fix things at home, car washing service in my apartment block, et al. I thought any car servicing partner would take care in handling first time customers, so that the guy stays on for future servicing at least say for the next couple of years.
But it was not to be. First the company took way too long to give back my car. Secondly, the car was not washed properly at the end of the service. Thirdly I could not find the service advisor who handled me when I gave my car in the morning. Fourthly, there was no detailed explanation of what was wrong with the car and what needs to be done further.
All this experience gives me the sense that India is way behind other countries in handling the consumers and providing satisfaction for the work performed / money paid. Eventually, the company which provides a combination of better servicing and quality advice is going to win. The other important thing is the billing for servicing – this is only better than telephone billing ! A lot of line items, sometimes not explained, is listed out and rates appear to be adhoc. At the end, a total figure looms over you and there is nothing you can do of course, except to pay and collect the car !
Not only all this, the very next day you get a telemarketing/service call from the same car service company, asking you how was the service, do you have any feedback, etc., When the call came, I used the opportunity to provide a detailed dissatisfaction index to the person on the other end, who was a bit taken aback. At the end of the call, she did not offer anything. I thought the idea was a feedback session which should be actioned off by the management. Nothing happened, is it surprising ? Somebody trying to fill up a form and that is her task, nobody cares really.
Well, that is the continuing saga of poor quality customer service in India.
28th August 2011