Essays on the Indian mind – Why the sales person gains no respect in India

Disclaimer: This is an essay for me and my kids (who I am hoping read this). If you have been in India for long, you probaby know everything about the Indian buyer, and why they behave a certain way, you wont get much from this post.

For the longest time, even after India’s independence, the focus was on “self sustained growth”. To a large extent there was mistrust and fear of having to depend on other countries for anything. So importing was largely relegated to “must haves”. Consumption was limited to the bare minimum. India for large parts is a “supply driven economy“, which means supply was of limited constraint. The  “customer” had to do whatever it takes to buy, instead of the “vendor” to do whatever it takes to sell. So selling is a largely undervalued skill.

Side note: It still bothers me to no end that most retailers turn customers away if they dont have exact change or if they want to pay by credit card. 

Even after the liberalization efforts in the 90’s large parts of the economy still remain supply-constrained. There are exceptions – mobile telecom, spas (yes there’s an over supply here), etc.

Then in the late 90’s the IT boom hit. Demand from abroad (largely US) was terrific for outsourced resources, so Infosys, TCS, Wipro, etc. had to focus on securing constant supply of good-enough engineers. Their efforts went on training them, transporting them, feeding them etc. not building sales talent to sell. That’s changed dramatically over the last few years, which is uncomfortable for all the IT outsourcers, except Cognizant.

So the Indian business owner (sweeping generalization alert) looks at most places where demand exists in plentiful so there’s very little effort or energy required to market or sell. (Side joke: The average Indian businessman thinks marketing means going to the market and buying stuff). So they never really gained the knowledge or expertise in marketing, wooing and selling to the customer. There were exceptions – largely in the CPG – consumer product goods (FMCG – fast moving consumer goods) segment.

So, the sales person is largely undervalued. Its very typical to have sales people paid less than 1/2 of delivery heads, or technically savvy operations people. They are literally treated as lower class citizens.

The smartest of the people hence tend to focus on being engineers, doctors, etc. leaving people that “like to talk a lot” focus on selling. The smart ones also picked up MBA’s from top Indian management schools and either end up in financial services or FMCG, but that’s changing too.

That’s the primary reason India does not have a sales culture. Its rare and there are a few exceptions. Those companies tend to be viewed not very positively by most Indians, which explains why they dont attract top talent.

Will that change it the future? I think it has to. The global market for products and technology is forcing most Indian entrepreneurs to start to sell in US, UK, etc. They are now trying to attract top talent for sales and *gasp* pay them top money.


3 thoughts on “Essays on the Indian mind – Why the sales person gains no respect in India”

  1. Good post, and an interesting topic. Typically, an evolved sales and marketing culture are by-products of a mature and sophisticated (domestic) services sector. Most of our domestic services industries are still ‘protected’, and, even in instances where they are open, the service quality is sub-par in comparison to what you get in a developed country (for the same PPP-adjusted price). On a slightly different note, most of our IT services majors (and minors) hire IIT+IIM’s for Sales and BDs (right through entry level); so the ‘positive perception, talent attraction and retention-problem’ hypothesis is not entirely true. On a pragmatic and positive note though, with time, our burgeoning middle class will (or already?) becom(ing)e sophisticated consumers, demanding global-standard service quality. Couple this with (hopefully) opening of our services sector, you have a great consumer market waiting to be unleashed. The sales and marketing culture problem will get fixed on it’s own!

  2. Yes, the trend is definitely changing & the shift IS towards offering great services. What with even start ups like ours focusing more on getting the ‘right sales guy’ and offering salaries higher than techies. But the average Indian graduate is still inclined towards the ‘non-speaking’ jobs so to say 🙂 and it is totally hard to convince even MBAs into sales jobs. Since you said this is changing; I am hoping and keeping my fingers crossed!

  3. … A SHORT VIEW ON BUYING FROM INDIA… I am an engineer in the US and have been involved in global sourcing for about 15 years, dealing in France, Italy, Turkey, Russia, Poland, S,Korea, PRC, Japan, and finally India. Several trips to Indian factories and a few large purchases did not go well.. The underlying issue that I identify commerce in India is lack of integrity and the truth in my dealings. In the end , we returned a couple containers of product where test results were falsified, When i discuss business with an Indian marketeer, I now listen with a close ear, trying to pick some truth from the pitch of lies.

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