When I joined Eureka Forbes, in 1987, it had offices in only four cities, employed only 400 people and had annual sales of just $1.6 million. The company’s primary business was selling vacuum cleaners door-to-door. I’d previously worked at Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson, both of which had successfully used direct sales for market development in India, so I was familiar with this approach.

We had a lot of potential to grow and to do that, we took a few important steps. First, we decentralised the sales operation, giving our regional offices more autonomy and making them accountable. They were encouraged to look for growth opportunities in nearby cities, make scouting trips, rent office space and hire and train young salespeople. Second, we began investing heavily in research and development and brought our salespeople into the innovation process, drawing on their close interactions with customers.

Today we have more than 8,000 salespeople working in 550 locations. People in the West — the US in particular — may not like door-to-door sales. However, our culture is different. We routinely drop by friends’ houses without calling first. So, in the early days we advertised the friendly man from Eureka Forbes, who had something special for the customer. When our salespeople visit, they interact with the entire family. They use the vacuum cleaner to blow up balloons for the children, making the demo fun. We don’t give discounts, so making a sale comes down to identifying the family’s needs. On average, our salespeople sell one vacuum cleaner or water purifier for every four demonstrations. Our new sales recruits are usually 18 to 20 years old, and they make about eight sales a month, earning the equivalent of $225.

Until a few years ago I continued to make door-to-door sales calls myself. As a salesperson, I prided myself on sincerity, and on being observant about a customer’s needs. For instance, if I were in your home, I might notice that you had a lot of books. I’d emphasize how the tools I was selling (say, a demothing vaporizer) would allow you to protect your books from dust and moths. We’ve adapted our selling techniques to make better use of technology. For instance, 200,000 people came to our website in 2011 and requested a sales call. Our representatives made 70,000 sales on the basis of those leads. We now have 1,400 franchises around the country where employees will make house calls to service the machines we sell. Our sales force has recently begun to sell other home-related products and services, such as security systems.

No matter what you’re selling, the key is understanding your customers’ needs well enough to tailor the presentation to them.

The author is is Executive Vice-Chairman of Eureka Forbes

(This article was published on July 20, 2012)
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