90-second sales pitch

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When the traffic intersection turns into a marketplace the minute the signal turns red...

ON THE GO: The first five seconds are crucial to the sales pitch.
ON THE GO: The first five seconds are crucial to the sales pitch.

Kunal Sinha

Theirs is not a random hit-or-miss effort at snagging a buyer. Their 90 seconds are planned and executed to perfection.

Rushed for time, consumers in India's metros attempt to maximise every moment of their life. But catching up on the day's headlines, while ensconced in the backseat of a car or taxi, is a universal urban phenomenon. Shopping-on-the-go is an entirely different story.

Here's an example of how sellers and buyers come together at traffic signals in a rapid transaction that we, the creators of the 30-second sales pitch (or the 20-page shop assistant training manual), can learn from.

The average waiting time at a traffic signal in an Indian metropolis is 90 seconds. From the moment the lights turn red, a posse of salespersons descends on the occupant of the automobile, bearing the most incredible variety of merchandise.

The latest issue of

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, a box of ripe Alphonso mangoes, a pack of luscious strawberries from Mahabaleshwar, a bunch of red roses, a garland of fragrant jasmine flowers, dusters to wipe the car clean, bright balloons, pirated copies of the latest books, a pack of ear buds... the list goes on.

Theirs is not a random hit-or-miss effort at snagging a buyer. Observing their sales pitch closely, I find that their 90 seconds are planned and executed to perfection. In the first five seconds, they scan the occupants of the bumper-to-bumper cars.

For instance, a 25-year-old woman or man is a prime

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prospect; the 40-year-old woman returning from a shopping trip the bags in the backseat are a dead giveaway will buy those fruits, surely, to feel healthy after a bout of spending. Infants, such as my daughter, attract the balloon-seller. A couple holding hands is a magnet for flowersellers. The duster-seller never almost never approaches the passenger in the backseat, because he is aware that the chauffeur is the one who knows if the old duster has worn out.

The street-seller knows precisely how much time to spend on each prospect. Should the person in the car hold his or her gaze for more than a second, the object in hand is thrust into the open window, or held against a closed one, as if encouraging the occupant of the car to roll down the window.

Some targets, such as the couple holding hands, are soft, and the sales spiel begins immediately. So are little children, who are immediately drawn to toys and their parents consider it worth the price to keep them quiet for the rest of the journey. Others are not, like the smart college girl who wants a copy of


for Rs 50, one-fifth the price at a bookstore.

Thirty seconds go by. It is time worth spent on chasing the hottest prospect. The hit rate is one out of hundred, better on a lucky day.

And then someone rolls down a window and beckons. She asks the price of the strawberries. A price is quoted, obviously too high. The bargaining begins. The woman forgets she is at a traffic signal, and insists on checking each piece of fruit, knowing fully well that those at the bottom are likely to be rotten. Another 45 seconds are consumed.

The light changes from red to green. The fruits are thrust inside the open window. The woman rummages inside her purse for change. The cars behind begin to honk. Her driver gets the car moving. The seller runs along. Money and fruits change hands.

Meanwhile, in a taxi nearby, the young man braids jasmine in his beloved's long hair, and she snuggles closer to him. Ninety seconds are up.

Picture by S.R. Raghunathan

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 7, 2006)
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