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B-School: My stint with direct sales
Harini Kumar
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August 14, 2006

On the rainy morning of July 30, 2006, I woke up wondering if the much-awaited Mandi 2006@NITIE -- a unique socio-marketing initiative by the National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai -- would take wing. As conceptualised by Professor T Prasad, we management students were to sell three products supplied by the NGO Navnirmiti -- toys called Jodo 3-D Wonder Kit, Tangram and Pyramid -- on the streets of Mumbai.

The aim was to get hands-on-experience in the market, supplementing the theory learnt in our classrooms. For most of us, it was to be our first attempt at direct sales, so we were understandably excited. All student groups had stayed up the previous night planning and strategizing into the wee hours.

At the flag off function, Ved Prakash Arya, COO of Pantaloons, inspired us with his admission that he had sold 52 shirts in a single day as part of his brief direct sales stint. His young daughter had a go at the toys and, when asked, insisted on doing a Tangram puzzle without any assistance.

Sufficiently cheered, the team of 10 members -- I was one of them -- decided to head for the Hiranandani area in Mumbai. As we made our way, we managed to accost a couple of unsuspecting parents, with children in tow, and make them a crude yet earnest sales pitch. Initially, we pitched the products to mothers of children. Most of them agreed. Those who remained undecided seemed satisfied after they discovered that the proceeds would be used by Navnirmiti to engender the education of disadvantaged children.

Our first sale was to a housewife, who looked in bewilderment at the products we thrust into her hands. After much persuasion by the 10 of us, her family bought just the Tangram. It still gave us a tremendous sense of achievement though.

This was followed by a series of sprightly sales of Pyramids here and more Tangrams there. However, as we set up shop outside a mall, we were informed by security guards that we needed permission from the owners to sell goods on any Hiranandani premises. We were required to furnish a letter that certified we were management students of NITIE and not there for profit. One of our sensible group mates fished out an undertaking we had signed the previous evening at NITIE and presented it to security. A couple of calls later, we obtained permission to resume selling.

During the course of our 'sales hours', we found that young children aged seven and above, who were strolling past, were intrigued by the colours in the Tangram and acted as catalysts for subsequent sales. We began with an inventory of about Rs 8,000 and, within an hour, recovered one fourth of our costs. We were delighted. Most team members were from parts of the country where Hindi was not as widespread as in Mumbai. Despite the slight handicap in language though, our teamwork paid off.

The number of customers thinned between 2.15 and 3 pm. However, when it resumed, it was interesting to note that our marketing skills had come a long way. We learnt from each other, incorporated the best ideas from other sales pitches, became more customer savvy (in terms of whom to pitch to) and more vocal about the cause for which this was being done.

We remember speaking to a teacher, narrating the history of Navnirmiti and its association with NITIE for the past five years. She was touched to note that the proceeds of this exercise were to go towards educating tribal and slum children, and bought three boxes of Jodo at once. Another gentleman -- who refused to speak to us as he entered the shop -- went back with all three toys when appraised of the twin purposes behind our stint.

As Dawn Verghese, one of our group members, said in one of his sales pitches, "Mandi is as much about refining our management skills as it is about giving back to a section of our community that is less fortunate than us."

It feels good to have contributed to the total sales figure of 2.1 lakhs -- a new record. As it does every year, the entire amount will go back to the NGO Navnirmiti. More importantly, it has helped confirm that it is possible to leverage managerial expertise to showcase a worthy cause.

-- Harini Kumar, 25, is a first-year management student at National Institute of Industrial Engineering, Mumbai.

Are you a student currently pursuing your graduation, an MBA or any other professional course? Does your institute organise any exciting campus activities? Share your experiences with other students.

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Number of User Comments: 3

Sub: Posted article of ' My Stint with Direct Sales '

Whereas it is a good practice to share experiences, pls stop publishing these type of drab & boring articles & experiences of people who are ...

Posted by Subodh Raje

Sub: Good...but...

Its appreciable that it is for some noble cause & it must have brought you immense satisfaction... Just a question for thought(from a practical angle ...

Posted by Shyam

Sub: Wonderfully written

I really like your writing..

Posted by student with a conscience


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