Sales lessons you can learn from street vendors

Remarkable, isn’t it? The sales lessons you can learn from street vendors. Remarkable because we don’t see them in the same light we do formal sellers, whom we call professional, organized. I’d already shared a similar post here, but an experience from last weekend informs this article. In fact, it informed not just sales, but business lessons from the streets too.  The experience would make a perfect essay on street vendors.  Anyway, here goes. What can we learn from street vendors?

Lesson 1: Offer a frictionless customer experience

My preferred street vendor didn’t have the item we wanted. So we asked if she knew which seller might from the multitude in the market. She did not hesitate. “Yes, I do. In fact let me bring the stuff here. Give me a moment.” A moment later she was back with precisely what it was we sought. Except for one. “For that one, let me take you to the person that sells it.” You really must admire the depth in understanding customer experience that she showed.  And so it was that she took (not pointed at, took) and handed us to one Garang (a moniker) who seemed to have it. She then assured us that the stuff we had bought from her, she will keep safe until our return. Zero friction.

Lesson 2: Sales lessons from street vendors. Engage

Now Garang took the customer experience three notches higher. A quick rummage through his stuff showed he didn’t have what we were looking for. (Which later on we found out he did, but we were not describing it correctly). Completely unflustered he asked if there is anything else we might be looking for. “Yes, actually, a hiking boot. I see you have boots but not hiking ones.” He paused momentarily a light bulb going off in his head. “I know what you are looking for. Come with me if you don’t mind.” We didn’t.

Sales lessons from street vendors

And so he led us through the maze that is the market of street hawkers and straight to one Elkana’s shop. Jackpot! He’s boots were precisely what we were looking for. Elkana was not in but completely undeterred Garang proceeded to show us the shoes on display, complete with, “Here, try this one on. It’s a great boot and your size. It was great, but a size slightly bigger. “That space is for the socks,” he explained.” Here let me get you a pair.” And off he dashed only to re-emerge a moment later with two pairs of thick socks, and their vendor in tow. Unfortunately, the boot was till slightly lose. Plus, I was also eyeing another one, I liked. “That one. How much is it?”

It was at this point that he went in search of Elkana, who promptly appeared and gave me the price. Garang waited patiently, engaged in the purchase process while respecting Elkana’s space. When we were done he said, “OK. Let me take you back.” Imagine that level of caring for the customer. The more when you realize that we hadn’t even bought anything from him.

Lesson 3:  An exemplary service sells

Luckily en route, my friend asked him if he has any jackets He did. Mercifully, at his shop. Mercifully because, by this time we were silently thinking of tipping him, or something,, anything,  just to assuage our guilt for feeling like we had used him. We hoped to find something to buy. We did. Phew! By this time Garang knew our names, had told us about his physical fitness routine and found a point of connection beyond product. It was at that point that having described the type of pants we sought that the penny dropped. Turned out he had them all along.  You could argue that the advantage of street vendors is that they have all time in the world and you would be wrong. They just understand the importance of the customer better, and make it the heart of their business.

How can street vendors teach a great lesson in selling? Now you know.


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