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.