Everyone wants to buy, but …

Selling something is very hard, I see this very often at my workplace. A successful sale has stories of so many disappointments, setbacks and strong will to persist through tough times. Even after seeing through all this, I get annoyed when I encounter salespeople who run their runbook on me. I want to buy something for my needs, but I don’t want something to be sold to me through ill will and tactics.

Here are some tactics that I find extremely annoying

Bait and switch

This is so common and effective when you are on the move. We do not prefer cold water so we asked the waiter at a restaurant to get bottled water at room temperature for us. He let us know that he can’t get the water unless we bill it and pay for it. Once we got it billed he gave us cold water saying they have run out of stock of room temperature ones. He pointed to the bill saying goods once sold cannot be taken back when I wanted to return it, we got our money back after creating a scene at the restaurant.

Useless add ons or replacements

This starts with small places like coffee shops to big places like car dealers. This tactic is used to trick the customer into buying add ons that bring great margins with little use to the customer. This is taught as cross selling and up selling to sales people to target ignorance. Have you ever wondered why service bills for cars usually go 2-3 times higher than a regular listed price service, I have been advised to replace my clutch plate which I declined and was able to run it for 30,000 kms more; same with batteries, vipers, brake pads etc. On top of it the cleaning services which adds up to a huge amount if you opt for, which by default the service advisor (salesperson’s fancy title) will add and wait for you to strike that out. I waited once for them to write down all of that and make them do it and refused to pay citing legal reasons that they had written it down in the complaints section instead of opt-in requests section, they immediately cut down the charges fearing legal issues.

Terrorize

This is the favourite one for hospitals and insurance agents who play using the fear in people’s mind. It is very evident if you have rented a car, the salesperson will never let you drive the car out without a hefty insurance package. We were told stories by the salesperson how someone had rented a car last week which was broken into by thieves and how the renter suffered loss of property and on top of it was liable to pay huge fines for car damages. We sternly refused additional insurance as we had got it covered through our company, the salesperson brought a manager outside and who explained that we cannot rent it out as it is at their discretion to prevent damages. We asked for a written statement for the refusal so that we can sue, we were given a car in 10 minutes.

Fake demand

This is common where there is no way to verify demand-supply. You will be presented with a nice product with an offer price that is slightly lower than the advertised price and will be asked to decide then and there to agree or there is someone else to buy. The salesperson will also revise to a higher price to introduce a fake demand.

Ego play

This is a double edged tactic used to make people upgrade. The common way it is executed is you will be asked for a budget and given very sub standard options in that budget. When someone asks for an eye catching option, the salesperson will dismiss it saying that it is not in their budget and hurt their ego. This will make people go for the higher priced product instead of sticking to their budget. Another ego play tactic used on couples is placing one of the spouses as the deciding authority by saying statements like ‘it seems someone else has the control on the budget’, ‘it seems you have no purchasing power’. It instigates a fight within the couple but one of them ends up buying.

Acting insanely good

This is very tough to negotiate out if you can’t say no. The salesperson will spend a great amount of time explaining things to you, help you go through lots and lots of information (often to confuse) and then pounce on you to make a purchase on one of the options. If you step in to look only for options, you may end up buying something because of the pressure exerted on you. I have encountered a person who refused me to go out through the door mentioning ‘I have spent so much time explaining to you, you have to buy something, I deserve it’.

There are many more tactics, with the web it is rapidly replaced by computers upselling and cross selling. As a buyer it is getting increasingly difficult to buy only what we need, instead we buy what is being sold.

 

 

 

Fine print

It is increasingly annoying to visit any place and be assured that you will get good service at the right price or as advertised.

Scenario 1 (Major MNC Bank) – A bank approached me saying that if I hold a salary account with them then I get preferential treatment which means lower interest rates, locker facilities, no pre-closure charges on loans etc. It was on their website, I ended up converting it to the salary account. Surprise 1 – I wanted to pre-close my loan and they said I need to pay a fine of 5% of outstanding (it is flat rate, much more than I will pay interest for remaining instalments). I called up the relationship manager assigned to me and he cooly said, in the fine print it is written that you have to pay a fine, we can waive you for any new loans you take from now. Surprise 2 – I wanted to get a locker, I was slapped with a requirement of taking a useless insurance product with them with a lock in of 5 years. When I pointed them the ad, they said “it is for RBI compliance; we can add you to the waiting list if you wanted as per RBI guidelines”. I got the waiting list number after threatening them about an ombudsman complaint.

Scenario 2 (Multi national car brand) – I took my car to a reputed brand’s service center. The service engineer asked me about the complaints which I did not have any. He proceeded to fill a lot of details in the complaints section like A/C, Air filter etc. I pulled out the user manual to cross verify and it was recommended to be done only after a year not the current service cycle. When I pointed out, he sheepishly smiled and removed the line items saying all customers want their cars in pristine condition so they go for it. I thought he removed all additional items but when I went to collect the car I was billed an additional 1500 rupees. To my shock, he had written A/C cleaning twice and struck off only once; he mentioned that I had signed after reading through all of them. I then threatened them that A/C cleaning is not a complaint in legal terms and it is a customer request which has not been put up in appropriate column so I can take this up with consumer court. Immediately these guys relented and reduced the bill.

The list goes on I was denied insurance claim saying it is a fraudulent claim and then I approached the ombudsman who awarded the case in favour of me. The restaurants waiting for you to open the bottle on the table and then slapping 200 rupees for mineral water which was not told you anywhere. The medical shop switching generics for branded ones which are sometimes 3-4 times expensive.

My advise is to know your surroundings and your rights. It is not possible to read all the fine print but do not allow people to take you for a ride.

Spending, Savings & Investments

When you open the newspaper in the morning, mostly the front page ad will be by some builder luring buyers with a remarkable investment offer that is bound to appreciate in value with unheard levels of return on investments. One question I always wondered about was ‘why don’t these people hold on to their assets instead of selling if the prices are always upwards and skyrocketing’.

Many of the investment opportunities are nothing but spending disguised as investment. Buying a new flat involves taxes, registration, premium, loan fees, interest etc. It is good to buy one to live, but buying solely for investing that too on loans is nothing but a huge spend. We have grown up to see property yielding good returns, but that was largely due to the developments and migrations that happened to some of the cities. Stories of selling inherited houses and making a fortune were told to us which primed us into thinking that buying a property is an investment.

Investment is something that always carries a risk, for example cost of property during 1980s in North Chennai suburbs (like Minjur) and South Chennai suburbs (like Urapakkam) were same, but people who invested in the south reaped the benefits. The risk here was non development, the risk surfaced for some buyers and they ended up just getting inflationary returns. Investment needs knowledge of the market, environment, a bit of knowledge about the economy, a good amount of time and some dose of luck. There is a lesson for investing, do not put all your eggs in one basket but property is such an investment that it is a large egg which sucks up all your savings and locks it up.

Savings does not carry a big risk, but in the long term it definitely erodes away with inflation. Savings can be treated as a low risk investment with a very less return on investment, does not require much market knowledge, it is to cater to short term finance cushion. One should have around 3-6 months of expenses in readily drawable savings, anything more will be eaten by inflation.

What is safe then? Nothing is safe, we need to spend prudently and at the same time invest and save in different baskets to offset the risk of exposure in one area like real estate to the other like stock markets. Don’t succumb to greedy marketing and planned obsolescence, many things last really long.

Baskets for savings (immediate liquidity)

Bank deposits (fixed or savings bank), inflation will eat it over time.

Hard cash and foreign currency, if you travel often. Forex might move with inflation but hard cash will be eaten by inflation from day 1.

Gold, it can be held long as it does not lose too much value but gives less RoI.

Baskets for investments (Risk involved, but always pays over long periods like 15-20 years)

Stocks & mutual funds, equity should be held very long to reap the benefits of compounding and shield from short term market fluctuations.

Plots & farm lands in the fringes of the cities, will take a long time to sell and depends on the development around. If you are lucky could land in a major windfall.

Rental real estate, only if the rental yield is around 7+ % of the cost of the purchase and that too purchased outright without loans.

Spendings

A comfortable house in a locality that brings peace,  when bought on loan; should not burden more than 40-50% of family income as it has a long repayment period. Keep in mind the high costs associated with registration, taxes and fees. Long term returns in the current market conditions pegs flats bought on loan to perform the worst in terms of RoI, treat it as if you are buying a car for yourself not an asset.

A good vehicle, as many people commute a lot. Better to avoid a loan and go for outright purchase which will make people negotiate hard and keep the existing vehicle for long. If you go for a loan then buy only if your outflow is around 20% of your family income and you can finish it off in 2 years.

There are plenty of marketing going on to make us spend a lot more than necessary like changing home appliances every few years, expensive and lifestyle brands etc. Create a budget for spending and try to stay within it as much as possible. Your spending budget per month is best limited as 3 times the rental rate in your area. The rest should be saved and invested.

Life does not get easier, we just grow stronger

I was thinking life was getting easier in some areas until I stumbled on a quote that said ‘Life does not get easier, we just grow stronger’. Simple, but a deep thought. If something is getting easy for us, it means there was an external factor that made it easy for us. For example, scientists are working round the clock to find new medicines that makes it easy for us to recover from illness but building an athletic fitness and becoming physically strong requires a lot of work.

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Getting stronger always means we have to work towards it, we never get strong without exposure to something that makes us look weak or vulnerable. So when we observe things become easy to us, we just need a pat in the back to ourselves that we have gotten stronger to handle this easily. Being strong is a choice, getting easy things is a matter of someone else making it for us.

In a world where the answer is ‘it depends’

‘Surely your are joking My Feynman’ is a biography of Richard Feynman, one of the Nobel prize winning scientists, this book was put together from taped conversations he had with his friend. The book paints a picture that though Feynman is a scientist; he had interests in arts, music, safe cracking and even playing pranks.

He shares his observations about how his art teacher changed the way he thought about teaching. Feynman had always seen the idea of the teacher – giving you the right way to approach a problem, introduce you to standards and tried & tested methods. You will be forced by the teacher to follow a way of doing things until you get it right. Art teachers on the other hand never criticised.

The art teachers always gave feedback like ‘if you use dark lines here, I feel that you want to convey darkness’, ‘if you draw the neck long and the head short, it gives me a feeling that you wanted to show that you are looking through a lens or it is a caricature’. They never prescribed this is how you do, because in art it is possible to use any method to convey what you mean. The teacher was only able to teach through osmosis, there were no instructions or prescriptions. Feynman says that the spirit of how to go about solving problems are taught than the techniques used to solve the problem which is very important.

Recently I got involved with Agile India conference as a volunteer. They have a great guideline of giving feedback to submissions such a way that it is constructive, never in a negative tone and never ever prescriptive. One of the items in the guideline is to see if we can play the perfection game. In this way you are actually trying to improve even when staying away from the implementation itself. There are so many ways to get the same desired result, the solution approach depends on what the individual or team knew at the time of task at hand, the tools at their disposal, their environment and also the mindset .

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ It depends

Want the fruit, but don’t want to climb the tree

I observe a lot of things which seems analogous to – ‘feel entitled to pick the low hanging fruits but get frustrated a lot when there is hard work involved in picking the remaining fruits’. Growing distractions & instant gratifications have begun to tune us into thinking that if we are destined to land far and high and need to just get the right thing happening. Social media is also only a window of the highlights, nobody puts their tough paths to success thus creating frustration and envy.

Our best successes often come after our greatest disappointments.

If we look at some of the ads in the newspaper and tv, especially the weight loss related ones; they play according to the weakness of the people who want to get fit and look great but don’t want to eat right, exercise right and sleep well. A lot of people fall for it, for the promise of getting a lot for doing nothing.

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Of course there are few entitled individuals who have a lot due to inheritance, but that is a small number. For a majority of us who have a success story to tell, the path would have always been tough. There is no overnight success, it takes time; we should put in our due efforts.

Sharing Knowledge vs Learning Together

Knowledge of group learners grows multifold than lone learners. This is understood by many college students where group study is common. I as a student, part of a group, divided subjects among ourselves, study the reading materials, understand it, condense it and present it back to the group. In this way every one understood the crux of what is to be learnt in a short amount of time. Somewhere I read ‘the moment we get a job, we stop learning’. That is because, learning is a conscious activity and when we don’t learn together, it becomes too tough to continue learning and many just don’t learn anymore.

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Majority of the books have some fluff, it is to comply with the publisher’s mandate for the thickness of the book to justify a price. It is difficult to sift through the pages and mine the wisdom we want from it. It takes time  and speed reading is not easy for a lot of people. In a group setting it is ideal to read a book, summarise the learnings and present it back to the group either as a summary or the application of the learnings. If it evokes enough curiosity, then people will make some time to read it in detail.

The above applies to videos, courses and any other learning form or material. What about the blogs, they are short, can we just forward the links? There are lots of ways in which we receive links; twitter, hacker news, reddit so on. If we merely forward the links that interests us to our groups, it has no bigger impact than people who have already subscribed to the feeds. What will be beneficial to people who receive our link would be, a short description of what it is, how did I apply (or can apply), why this would be beneficial, next steps if possible.

By making it easy for people to understand many topics in a condensed form, we improve the breadth of the knowledge of the whole group. If anyone is curious then they can deep dive for the depth in a particular subject. It is impossible to get out of date in a group that is continuously learning.

Birds that flock, seem to learn faster. They increase their chances to survive and evolve more quickly

Learning together requires effort, it won’t happen if we don’t do it consciously.