Marketing to Rural India – An Enlightening Reality

Published by MBA Skool Team, Published on September 09, 2014

For a large part of the time while I was in my B School, The definition of Rural India was sadly limited to adjectives and few numbers, such as “640000 Villages”, “Untapped Potential”, “shifting paradigm”, “A 1 Trillion dollar economy” et al. While numbers as such these do tell you a part of the story, Rural India, for its vibrancy, magnanimity & terrain, is best captured in its dusty tracks and glorious sunny fields - something that is a lot easier said than done! Straight from the air conditioned classrooms of Mumbai to the hinterlands of Bihar & Jharkhand was quite a task for me as I prepared to begin my sales & marketing career.

Image Courtesy:, Stuart Miles

While the buzz of Rural Marketing and careers thereof never seem to fade, it is important to do a reality check whether one has it in him to pursue the task embarked upon. A lot of my peers joined the rural bandwagon only to fall by the way side. One of the biggest challenges that a young city based management graduate will face is the extensive traveling! Now, I am not talking about hopping flights from one city to other - a lot of interior markets can only be reached on foot! Overloaded Auto rickshaws and buses that seem to be falling apart are the only option, and one must not forget - this is not a one day rural immersion program, it’s your daily job! Distribution is still the most important factor when it comes to selling in rural India. It is a mandate by FMCG companies to rural field force to have direct distribution in all 5000 population towns, and to do that one has to keep traveling. On any given day, a rural salesman has to travel anywhere between 60 to 150 Kms, meeting different stake holders, consumer sets and customers, not to forget the condition of the roads will only make the task more tough and testing. A train can take 5 hours to travel 100 Km while a bus can take 8 hours to travel the same distance. Once while in Bihar, enroute to a town in a train, I noticed every 15 to 20 odd minutes the train used to stop in a middle of nowhere. It was later that I learned that people living in the villages near the tracks stop the train at their convenience to board the train!

But truly speaking, its all about perspective. It is these bus and train rides that will hone you to be the professional of the future. For a country as diverse and dynamic as ours, it is essential to experience it ourselves. One shall pick up a lot of anecdotes to share – for example, you have to see it for yourself to believe that in a jam packed bus, if the TV plays the video of the song ‘Tip Tip Barsa Pani’, how not a single soul in that bus blinks his eye; how men and women in dhotis & ghunghats shop for deos and face washes in a newly inaugurated super market. A Rural stint is undoubtedly the biggest eye-opener, replete with extra ordinary experiences and insights. For instance, meeting a family in the hamlet of Jharkhand, where the parents themselves uneducated, not only send their 3 children to a government school but also send them to a private tutor in the evening who teaches them English. Lessons such as these are plentiful, but so are the challenges. While in Bihar, I was in a town which was inundated as the water levels of the nearest river rose. My challenge? Educating the villagers about waterproofing products used in construction (As my organization manufactures quite a known one), so that the next time the water levels rise, the least that they can do is make sure their food grain stocks remain safe.

More than anything else, a Rural stint gives you a perspective, One gets to experience that how has India migrated from ‘Roti, Kapda, Makkan’ to ‘Bijli, Sadak, Pani’. Indeed! The field has many lessons and not one too small, but only for those willing to learn. The journey may not be too kind, but it is blessed with experiences, often of epic proportions.

This article has been authored by Lokesh Vishwakarma from Pidilite

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