Lessons in prospecting from hawkers’ profiling

The hawker’s profiling may not be an exact science but neither is yours-you just have a higher chance of hitting the mark than he does.

The profiling that goes on in traffic is just brutal. Watu wa gari kubwa wanauziwa property magazines n ish! Sisi wa magari madogo ni ndizi, jumper cables na alphabet charts. (Combining English, Sheng and Kiswahili, the author of this hilarious and popular Facebook post, laments the discrimination that happens by hawkers in traffic, based on the type of vehicle. That those in high end vehicles are sold to property magazines and the rest bananas, jumper cables and alphabet charts).

Prospecting is the most important sales activity

You may have also noticed that those vending free newspapers in traffic, target those in private cars, avoiding passengers in public service vehicles, like matatus. This daily occurrences in traffic are a stark reminder of the importance of prospecting.  Contrary to popular belief, prospecting, and not closing, is the most important step in selling. Prospecting is the act of seeking out new customers for a business or product. To be blunt, it is profiling.

We can debate till the cows come home that simply because they have high end vehicles doesn’t mean that those prospects can buy the houses advertised in the magazines; that, possibly some are just drivers and not the owners; that simply because they are passengers in a matatu doesn’t mean they cannot respond to the advertisements in the free newspaper.  Yes, we can debate that.

Prospect as per your product

What we cannot debate though, is the fact that the hawkers have a limited window of opportunity to sell their wares; and dishing them out to everyone in sight isn’t the most effective method of selling. It would be, though, if dishing out the wares to all and sundry was the objective. But it isn’t. The free newspapers have paid for adverts which are intended to elicit a sale; likewise the property magazine. There has to be a method to the madness. There must be criteria that will increase the chances of making the sale useful in the limited time available. And the chosen criterion is profiling.

Most likely you have the luxury of time to seek out your ideal prospect. And as you do so, those you do not sell to, are none the wiser and won’t lament. The hawker’s profiling may not be an exact science but neither is yours-you just have a higher chance of hitting the mark than he does. If yours was an exact science, then your closing ratio would be one to one-meaning that every one you sell to buys.

Shoot and miss struggles

There’s another lesson to be learnt from this profiling-the hawkers are way ahead of many formal sellers. As vital as prospecting is, few sellers do it.  Unlike the hawker whose chosen sales prospecting technique is type of vehicle, formal selling requires a deeper exploration to know who can buy and needs our product (prospect) versus the rest (suspects). Because of the work involved, most sellers don’t prospect-instead, they shoot in the dark hoping to hit a bull’s eye. And then, while in a matatu, they will point out the speck in the hawker’s eye wondering why he is dishing out the free newspaper to every passerby.


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