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BW Businessworld

When The Customer Is King

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As a child, the only toy Pankaj Sharma wanted was cars. The bigger the better. And Sharma's passion for cars continues even today. The MBA from Symbiosis Institute, Pune, is currently sales manager at Rolls-Royce India. Over the past decade, he has sold a series of luxury cars including Lamborghinis, Bentleys and Porsches, apart from Rolls-Royce.

Though there are no sales targets, you do have to get cars out of the showroom, he points out. A decade down the line, Sharma hopes to be selling helicopters, aircraft or even luxury islands. Over the years, Sharma has got offers from many other luxury brands, but all that he wants to do is be with the best cars.

Meenu Malhotra, who did a combined course for aircraft cabin crew and hotel management from Paradise Academy, Delhi, is a store manager for Tag Heuer Meridiist mobile phones in Delhi. "It is challenging to convince women. They survey all options, compare the prices, and then walk into a store to get the best deal — even in the luxury segment," says Malhotra.

Luxury retail has four key elements — quality, value for money, customer satisfaction and creativity. What a luxury sales person brings to the table is customer satisfaction that is on par with the best in the world. To woo India's high net worth individuals, luxury brands invest heavily to train and groom their sales and marketing personnel.

People like Sharma and Malhotra have come from diverse educational backgrounds, but they have chosen to be a part of the luxury business simply because they are passionate about it. And, of course, selling luxury retail comes with a commensurate pay packet. A sales person in a luxury mall gets Rs 12-18 lakh per annum. The slick sales executive who has all the details of a luxury car on his fingertips, could rake in Rs 12-45 lakh a year depending on his experience and knowledge of cars.

Knowing The Brand
While a high salary is a given, it is imperative that stores select the right people and train them well. Most of the hiring is based on references. "We check with the candidates' previous employers. We also check their track record, achievements and what they aspire to be," says Manishi Sanyal, general manager for India at LVMH Watch & Jewellery. Some brands even check for criminal records.

"We have closed all the positions based on referrals. We have not tied up with any consultants," says Priya Panjikar, director of HR at the JW Marriott hotel, Chandigarh.     

Once selected, a sales person goes through a training process that could last 1-2 weeks, often at the company's global headquarters. All Rolls-Royce India employees are sent to London twice a year to get sales training and updates on the brand. Back home, they are given Sony Vaio laptops for use during client meetings and presentations. Tom Ford sends its employees to Milan for a week's training. Chanel and Gucci send employees abroad to help them get better exposure and develop branding and marketing skills.

The biggest learning for a sales person is about the intricacies of a brand. "Each brand is unique. So product knowledge is essential," says Ashish Chordia, chairman of Shreyans Motors. The company is the official importer of Ferrari, Maserati, Ducati and Porsche vehicles. Chordia is very particular about the employees' attire. "When one feels more comfortable and relaxed, clients pick up on that energy and are more likely to relax with them. That leads to higher sales," says Chordia.

One of the first things to be taught is not to be pushy. "Our buyers do not bother about money; all they need is the right product that would suit them. We have to be really careful as we cannot be pushy in this business," says Rishi Kapoor, manager of sales at Aston Martin India. Agrees Malhotra: "You have to give them space because these customers have travelled the world, and know exactly what they are buying."

Finally, what really matters is a satisfied customer. The socio-economic background of a sales executive is important. "He should not get intimidated by the environment and should make the customer comfortable," says Abhay Gupta, executive director of Blues Clothing Company, which got Versace to India.

That luxury salespersons have started to make an impact is quite clear. "Sometimes clients do not deal with me directly. They speak to the store manager, because of the rapport that our employees have with customers," says Jyotika Jhalani, owner of Janavi, the flagship store in DLF-Emporio mall, Delhi, which sells cashmere, jewelled pashminas, luxurious knitwear and evening handbags.

Like in most other sectors in India, the luxury industry, too, faces a paucity of high-quality salespersons. Therefore, luxury retailers are forced to hire from other sectors, train them and, at times, even poach from hospitality and telecom companies. Says Ganesh Shermon, partner and country head at Human Capital Advisory, KPMG: "It is challenging to identify people from the right talent pool. The expectations of luxury brands are higher and there is lesser margin for error."

So, the next time you go shopping for that elusive Chanel dress or the Jimmy Choo pair, do take a good look at the sales person. He possibly has an MBA, has travelled the world, and can explain to you the intricacies of various brands.

malabika(dot)sarkar(at)abp(dot)in

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 26-09-2011)