Let us now turn to personal selling and sales force management in the rural context. As a general rule rural marketing involves more intensive personal selling effort compared to urban marketing.
Rural Marketing Calls for Some Unique Traits on the Part of Salesmen
While the basic traits of personal selling such as empathy, enthusiasm, communication skill and knowledge of selling techniques are required in equal measure by urban and rural salesmen, the latter require certain additional traits and capabilities in order to match the peculiar conditions of the rural market.
Willingness to Get Located in Rural Areas
First of all, only those who are genuinely happy in living and working in the villages can become good rural salesmen. It is common knowledge that the rural areas lack modem amenities compared with the urban areas, Because of this factor, salesmen are generally reluctant to work in rural centres. To circumvent this problem, some firms locate their salesmen in towns and allow them to cover the rural areas assigned to them from these towns. Experience has shown that such an arrangement does not produce optimum results. Experience has also shown that successful rural marketing firms locate their rural salesmen right in the midst of the rural market to be covered. Lipton India for example, has located one of its salesmen in Khategaon, an interior place in Deva district in Madhya Pradesh. It takes three hours by bus to reach the location from Indore Similarly, it has located a salesman at Anthiyoor in Tamil Nadu, which can be reached (only after a 2 1/2 hours journey by bus from Coimbatore followed by half an hours walk through paddy fields. The company proudly cites this practice as one main source of its bazaar power.
Location is just the starting point. The salesmen must have proper acquaintance wi6 the cultural pattern of rural life in the given rural territory. Since the cultural pattern of rural communities differs from one another, a cultural background that is in consonance with the culture of the given rural community is a specific requisite of success for the rural salesmen. Urban markets in contrast, present a cultural convergence.
Rural salesmen must also be able to guide the choice of products. They should not hook the customers into buying all the products in the catalogues. On the contrary, they must help them eliminate items that are outside their specific requirements and those that are beyond their financial reach.
Attitude factors are of particular significance in the rural context. For example, the rural salesmen must have a great deal of patience, as their customer is traditional and cautious person. Perseverance is another essential trait. It will not be possible for the rural salesman to clinch the sale quickly. He may have to spend a lot of time with the customer and make several visits to him to gain a favourable response from him.
Knowledge of the Local Language
Another special requirement is that the rural salesman should be well versed with the local language. Whereas his urban counterpart can successfully manage with English and a working knowledge of the local language, the rural salesman needs a strong background of the local language. In fact, he has to go one step further; he must be well versed in the specific lingo and idiom of the local area/community, for, in rural India, within each major language group, the colloquial expressions and speaking manners vary considerably from locality to locality.
Capacity to Handle a Large Number of Product Lines
The rural salesmen are often required to handle a much larger number of product lines compared with their urban counterparts. In urban marketing the salesmen are able to generate economic size of business through a limited number of product lines. As such, their employers do not have to load them with too many items. The rural salesmen on the contrary, usually do not generate economic volume of business if they handle just a few products. They are compelled to handle a large variety of items. Quite often, the items differ widely from one another. In other words, the rural salesmen are required to become a jack of all trades. The rural salesmen are also required to travel more compared with their urban counterparts. Whereas the urban salesmen move in highly concentrated and compact market segments, the rural salesmen have to cover larger territories and scattered customers. Their workload and strain could therefore be more.
Rural selling also involves greater creativity. Often, the products concerned may be very new in the rural context. The rural salesmen cannot sit back and say that it will take, several years for a particular product to penetrate the rural market. On the other hand, he must endeavour to introduce them in the rural areas through creative selling, using the consumption pioneers and opinion leaders. Rural marketing also presupposes the delivery of a new standard of living to the rural masses. It is essentially developmental marketing. The rural salesman has to be a carrier of a developmental message to the less privileged rural community.
Solving Sales Force problems by managing sales force in rural areas
Managing the Rural Sales Force
In tune with the special requirements which the rural sales force has to meet, the task of sales force management too carries certain added dimensions in the rural context. In selecting the salesmen, in giving them orientation, in motivating them and in developing them the sales manager has to adapt to the unique requirements of rural selling. For example, while providing orientation to the newly recruited rural salesmen, the sales manager may have to devote a longer time. And mere classroom training will not meet the requirements of orientation of rural salesmen. The salesmen need comprehensive on the job coaching in selected village markets. And they need to be educated about the rural marketing environment in addition to being trained in salesmanship and selling techniques. The rural sales manager must also support his salesmen with non-conventional means of market promotion suitable to the rural consumers. Rural salesmen also need more intensive sales training & as they have to handle a variety of products.
In short, sales force management in the rural context becomes an exacting job, especially when the firm has big stakes in rural marketing and when it operates on a nation wide basis. For example, Hindustan Lever’s rural salesmen have to cover 70,000 rural locations. Administering such a large and scattered sales force, supervising them, supporting them in sales calls, coaching them on the job, attending to their official and personal problems and above all, motivating them for better results in an exacting task for the sales manager.