Once upon a time, when I was in Mumbai, I learned some marketing lessons on the weekends.  My friends and I used to go to Bandra Bandstand, park ourselves close to Mannat, the residence of the famous Indian actor Shah Rukh Khan, fondly gaze at the sea and secretly hope the actor pops out his head for a moment or two. He never did, but we used to eat chaat (a popular Indian street food) and return home.

As a consolation, we did once get a glimpse of Salman Khan, another super-famous Indian actor waving out of the balcony (without his shirt, of course) from his home a little away from Mannat.

The chat was very tasty, that goes without saying. But what caught my attention was a simple marketing trick that the humble, uneducated and illiterate chaat vendor used to get repeat customers.

This is all he did:

He humbly offered some extra chaat to every first-time customer.

It paid. People went back to him than to the other vendors at that spot, but not for that extra pani-puri.   Chaat is a heavy food, I find it hard to finish a plate. When he offered me the bonus dahi-puri, I politely declined it, as I was already done. Even my friends did the same thing. Yet we went back to the same vendor whenever we went to Bandra Bandstand.

I also noticed that he offered that bonus strictly only to first-time customers and not to repeat customers.

So what made people go back to him? How did he succeed?

With that one simple gesture,

  • He built an instant relation with his customers
  • He differentiated himself from his competition
  • He built instant customer loyalty

How brilliant is that! The chaat vendor proves:

Develop customer loyalty and sit back, customers will return to you.

I’ve seen a similar vendor distribute for free a spoon full  of *irresistible* peanuts to people in a park.  A sort of a free trial.  After tasting them, they instantly bought.  Each one of those that tried them bought.

The peanut vendor takes us back to our first ‘P’ in marketing that we almost forgot about while we focus our energies on promotion, promotion and more promotion! So marketing really starts with creating an irresistible product, as the peanut vendor demonstrates:

Create irresistible products, give out a free trial, relax and enjoy a 100% conversion rate.

An even more humble door-to-door veggie vendor comes home frequently. After I buy pumpkin and lemon, she suggests that I should eat more spinach. So I buy spinach. Then she says she has “fresh” coriander.  Coriander added to basket.  She goes on to suggest that I buy drumsticks to add value to my sambar.

So what’s the lesson, she is only upselling and we all know about it.

The trick here lies in the timing.  She does not return to me the next day to upsell. She strikes when the iron is hot and upsells in the same transaction. She alerts us that:

A customer who is already buying is a red hot prospect to sell more to.

Marketing lessons are  learned not just in top B-schools or from experts. In fact top B-school participants are trying to learn from the humble, illiterate, meagerly-waged dabbawalas who deliver six sigma quality service.

So I guess, if you are selling, be it on Main Street or Wall Street, you have to somehow  learn how to market,  how to improve quality, how to deliver, how to build customer loyalty,  whether you went to Harvard or not.

For those humble small time vendors, *survival* is probably their B-school, where they learn all their marketing lessons.