'Selling a toy on the streets is not that easy'
Being a mechanical engineer with three years of work experience in a leading surgical equipments firm doesn't really help you sell a toy on the streets of Mumbai. I realised that after participating in the Mandi, which is a popular B-school event, where students from across various colleges in the city are on a mission to sell toys and earn money for a noble cause.
The annual marketing event Mandi, which was once unique to NITIE (National Institute of Industrial Engineering), Mumbai, requires every student to go out on the streets of the city and sell some toys or similar educational products.
While we, as students are being trained to be salespersons, please note that we don't get any monetary benefits out of it. All the money earned via the activity goes to an NGO to support their efforts to help the underprivileged.
In other words, it's an act of realising the importance of corporate social responsibility, but for us the motivation was: to get hands-on experience at understanding different people (read prospective customers or market study).
The day began with inspirational speeches and the flagging off ceremony, with roughly over thousand students from NITIE and a few other B-schools walking out of the campus ready to experiment and experience.
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Image: Aditi Gowitrikar flagging off the Mandi 2011
'I wasn't comfortable walking up to a stranger again'
How I met my first customer
My team member and I set out towards a shopping complex not too far from our college campus. With our bag-pack full of educational products, we had set our own targets to achieve for the day.
Once we landed at this shopping complex, some of us spread out to find prospective customers.
For the first few minutes, I was trying to gauge the atmosphere around us. What are these people up to today? Are they busy? Are they leisurely shopping? Is this person looking grumpy? Is this one too arrogant?
These were the questions running through my head at speeds unimaginable to even my mind, and I thought I was the one with wild ideas.
So when I attempted to approach someone, who didn't bother to slow down one bit as I opened my mouth just to say "Good Morning" or a simple "Hi", I realised, "Hey, this is way tougher than I thought."
When I actually went to talk to someone about the toys and games in my hand and bag, there were a few people who politely declined saying they had already bought some toys from someone from the Mandi.
Did I mention that we were all wearing a uniformed t-shirt of the Mandi? Well, I had just faced a rejection and this was my first proper reject.
I moved on thanking the old lady and approached someone else but wasn't too comfortable just walking up to a stranger again.
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Image: Two students demonstrating the educational toys to a customer
We were referred as the 'disturbing elements'
Making my first sale
Once again, I reluctantly searched the crowd for a face that I can try to read, a person who might just seem patient enough to listen.
I reluctantly tried again and approached a group of 4 to 5 girls who were probably leaving a store after making some purchase.
I started a conversation with them talking about the NGO and the products I carry in my bag. They seemed reluctant at buying something from a salesperson at first but somehow I was able to get the conversation going based on some common associations with one of them who happened to be not only from my city, but my school too.
I had finally met my first set of customers who were interested in some of the products I carried in my bag. I thanked the four ladies who bought a product despite their hesitations, and felt proud to have crossed the first hurdle. It felt GOOD!!!
Meanwhile, my teammate, Anshul, had come up with an alternate idea. I saw that after selling the toys, Anshul, who was carrying a camera would request the consumer to get a picture clicked along with the newly bought toys. I realised that his gesture was an interesting one and made a lot of difference to how the consumer felt after buying the product.
When things went out of hand
Further, I went on to find our next customer around the same shopping complex, and while attempting to talk to someone outside a supermarket, a group of security guards started objecting to our presence.
Despite our attempts to pacify them, it was clear that their aggression was not really going away until we were gone. We tried to tell them that we were students on a project and not really salespersons. We showed them our ID cards and the letters of permit we were carrying, but by now the matter was quite escalated.
Step by step we got pushed farther away from the supermarket and by late afternoon, we had reached the street, but that was not enough for the guards.
They wanted us gone from the street as well. We did not lose hope and decided to hold our ground in defence. Not to mention the torrential arguments that criss-crossed between us; we, the students and the guards.
Shouting at each other would be an understatement. Just then two people walked up to us to confirm if we were from NITIE. We got to know that they were our alumni. They took notice of the NITIE logo in the middle of a commotion and thought they should step in to see what the whole matter was all about.
Suddenly, my teammate and I found a new source of energy. Soon, the guards also got their reinforcements. A bunch of goons (I doubt if there would be any other word for these reinforcements) came with the objective to rid the property of the "disturbing elements".
Yeah, that's right, my friends and I were constantly referred to as the "disturbing elements".
Seriously, who gave them that idea?? Within seconds our voices were restored to normal decibel levels. They informed us that the roughly one kilometre street on which we were holding ground, was actually a private property.
My teammate and I along with our alumni dispersed from the spot but since we were continuously being followed by the reinforcements, it would be apt to say, that we were being escorted off the property.
After that was a lot of running around in the hopes of finding a possible 'Safe' market. At the end of the day, we had covered roughly 160km without selling much.
Did I succeed in selling the products in my bag?
Well, more than selling the products, we had just realised what it takes to sell a product on the streets of the city and I must conclude that selling a toy on the streets is not that easy as I initially thought it to be.
Have you participated in a B-school event recently? Do you have an interesting experience to narrate?
If you have an interesting college story to share, write in to us at firstname.lastname@example.org (subject line: 'My B-school Experience') along with a photograph from your college memories, if possible and we'll publish the best entries right here.
Image: Aayush Thakral poses with his first set of customers