I recently witnessed one of the smoothest and greatest sales cycles I have ever seen. It had all the elements of a successful pitch. They developed authority and trust, gave the feeling of exclusivity and urgency, and intertwined a story which captured your attention, desire, and curiosity.
The pitch is a style that I witnessed more than 5 times in 4 different cities. Even as I knew I was in it and could spot its different elements, I still bought in, looking to be part of what they were selling.
Where was this nationally known cycle that was polished, honed, and extremely effective?
India… Tourist India.
I headed over to see a new country, visit some historical sites, and get away from work for a bit. Instead, I got an extremely valuable lesson and example in salesmanship and the elements of a successful pitch.
I would like to break it down into its various elements that I was able to identify that influenced the purchase decision later on.
The masterful pitch was done by the private tour guides we had booked for four different cities. Each one had the same exact approach as if it is taught in high schools across the nation.
The pitch consisted of a tour of whatever you booked them for ending at a local shop or “factory” where the final ask would be made.
During the first tour, I picked up on hints of a sales pitch and thought “ah, he is a pretty good guy and probably sells a lot by doing that”; not realizing it was a honed technique rather than an accidental personal approach.
Let’s dig into the various elements of the pitch starting with meeting the tour guide at the hotel in the morning.
As you wait outside the hotel at 5:00 a.m., the guide, and a driver show up to take you to the site of the tour. He is the tour guide. You booked him realizing you didn’t know enough and wanted some insight into the various sites. So the way the situation was framed already puts him in the authoritative position.
They instantly reinforce this by telling you a number of things you do not know.
“Welcome to Agra, It will take us an hour to get to our first site. In the meantime, I’ll share a few facts about the area to give you some context. Do you know what Agra is famous for?”
“The Taj Majal?”
“Precisely, do you know what year it was built?”
Anything you might know is succeeded by tougher questions until you don’t know. This places them in a more authoritative position as you they require you to
- Acknowledge you don’t know
- Request the answer
This framing is important to the rest of the cycle. They are now the authority for the rest of the day.
Walking around the Taj Majal, you are taken by the beauty, the size. You are envisioning the splendor of the location when first built. As you walk, the tour guide makes a seemingly small comment which is crucial in his positioning and later reason for the sale.
His back to you, walking slowly and pointing out various aspects of the grounds, he says “By the way, there are a lot of hawkers here on the grounds. Don’t buy anything from them, everything they are selling is fake. It is best not to even glance at them or they will follow you.”
“Well isn’t that nice, him looking out for me,” you think to yourself. He is now building trust. He is telling you not to buy things. He is taking care of you, showing you the ropes. With him, you are safe, able to navigate the Indian landscape without getting ripped off. You are practically a local.
You see others looking and possibly buying from hawkers as you continue through the site.
“Hmm, I guess they don’t know. I’m glad that I do” you think as you move yourself to elitist status in your own mind.
After a 5-10 second pause, he then states “If you do want anything, just let me know… I can take you to a few places where the goods are authentic.”
Beautiful! He has now wrapped up his authority and trust into a single, indivisible unit. “This is my guy!” You think to yourself. “I am getting the inside scoop!”
Not only that, but you are curious about his “secret” spots now.
During the tour, he begins talking about the Taj Mahal, and the white marble it is built from.
“This is a special marble only found in the Agra region. Most marble does not let light through like the white marble from this region. That is what gives the Taj its beauty as the sun shines on it and through it. This is the only place in the world you can get this type of marble.”
Boom. You are viewing a material you do not have access to except for the next few hours. This is made more powerful by the fact that
- He is framed as the ultimate authority
- You trust him
“Working with this marble requires a special glue and etching technique. The Shah brought in special workers in order to complete the Taj who knew these techniques and recipes. Many of those families settled here and are still here centuries later. Those techniques have been passed down for 16 generations now. They continually hand it down to their children, generation after generation. I’ll take you by real quick after the tour to see them”
“How neat! I will get to see some ancient techniques on the way home” you think.
There is a subtle change in wording as they close this phrase. It is no longer an ask, but a statement. You are stopping by after.
All of these fragments are interwoven into a multi-hour tour, making them seem inconsequential and not part of a larger sales strategy.
It really is beautiful to witness.
As the tour ends you head back to the car. He states he would like to show you where the local workers still live today. He states rather than asks and poses it like it would be a personal favor to him. As if he personally finds it interesting and would like to share it with you.
You drive to a nearby “factory” as they call them. When you walk in there are a few people using ancient techniques to make the local, exclusive good; white marble products in this case.
You get a pitch from the “shop owner”. Meanwhile, your guide has vanished. After a 5 minute explanation, you are disked to a large showroom with hundreds of goods made of marble. Some are mammoth, going for $50,000 USD. Others are small trinkets etched and painted for a keyring.
The shop owner asks if he can show you some of the things he has made. There is no sale, no ask, and you are sitting in his factory without your guide… what choice do you have. “Sure?”
He begins with a medium piece to anchor you, gauges your interest, and iterates until he finds something you find interesting. Then he moves up or down from there asking “would you like this? What about for your home?”
By the time the question has come, you have been being set up for hours for this moment. The most authoritative person you know shared the fact that this marble is only available here. Not only that, it is made using the same techniques as the Taj Mahal by the same families. You are sitting in front of the owner of the business and you are holding some item that you just expressed interest of some degree in (even if just sympathy questions were asked). Your desire to remain consistent with yourself compels your answer.
“Sure, I’ll take it.”
You think that might be the end. You will escape with a $20 - $50 dollar white marble reproduction. However, these master salesmen aren’t done until you force the issue shut.
They continue to show you products, ask questions, and push you to take more. They push you in the most friendly manner that feels like friends giving you items out of their house that they value rather than buying items you only just found out existed one hour ago from a store.
The nagging thought in your head at this stage is “Yeah, I know I’m getting sold… but I’m never going to be here again. I want something from here anyway given the history and authenticity of it…”
There is a subtle sense of urgency since this is the last stop before going back to the hotel and leaving for a new city.
“When will I have this chance again?”
What adds to the power of these techniques is the narrative it is packaged in. You don’t just here that this is the only place you can buy white marble. It is one small paragraph that lodges in your brain amidst walking the grounds of the Taj Mahal. It is a small piece of information packaged in a story of love, of sons, of treachery, and of beauty in the history of the Taj Mahal.
The marble is a relic, a reminder of the story that captivates you on your visit. It is a small price to pay to remember that visit. You are buying a piece you can show your friends as you retell the story yourself.
The first time I heard the pitch at Varanasi concerning various beaded bracelets and oils from the holiest city of the Hindu religion, I caught a small glimpse of the salesmanship I late came to know. I brushed it off as not knowing the people or the culture and chalked it up to my extremely concerned guide who was looking out for my own well being.
But as each tour drew to a close, and we were ushered into more factories which could not possibly have produced the goods in the showroom, it became more and more clear this was a well-honed sales cycle. It was well executed, had all the elements of a successful pitch, and caught up the receiver in its smooth storyline.
After 5 of these, my father and I were making jokes know it was coming up and prepping our biggest “no” rebuttals to the factory owner before we even left the tour site.
After 10 we started emphatically telling the tour guide we did not want to see ANYTHING local or any factories. We figured he got a commission for bringing people, so we even toyed with the idea of paying them NOT to bring us.
Regardless, I believe there is a lot you can learn from their process. While I didn’t enjoy it as I become more aware of, I did respect it, and how they had honed their craft.
These elements can be wound into any sales call. They can be placed and framed based on emails, pre-emptive reaches, mass branding, and other message distribution channels. You can set up mass campaigns to set yourself as the authority on a matter or issue. This will not sell, but instead, pave the way for your sales people to add in additional elements building on the trust and authority created by a larger campaign.
In all, the experience was fun, frustrating at times, and very educational.