3 lessons in selling from matatu!? You must think I’ve lost it, huh? What lessons can one possibly learn from the manic matatu crew?! Well, here’s three.

1: There is always a way

Somehow, the matatu driver will always find a way forward.

He will overlap, use the wrong lane to get on to another wrong one which has access. He will detour, climb the pavement, cut corners, anything to move forward. He’s attitude is: there is always a way. He is conditioned thus.


And therein lays the lesson-persistence.

Not unethical persistence as in the case of the matatu but a dogged persistence to overcome rejections, to grow and remain solution-oriented. And when everyone else is resigned to being stuck in the traffic of “the market is saturated” or ‘marketing budgets are low’, you know there is always a way to stand out.

So you hawk (dispense) your branded coffee in traffic. Or, you treat the tire-pressure-only customer as you would the fuel buying one, complete with checking the engines vitals. Or, you hawk (dispense) your branded tea on the Ferry.

3 lessons in selling from matatu
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Lesson 2 of 3 lessons in selling from matatu: Enviable team work

If teams in the corporate world had half the synergies of matatu drivers and their touts, productivity would double.

It’s truly remarkable how the two collaborate: seamlessly independent and simultaneously interdependently. When the tout bangs the side of the matatu indicating GO!, the driver does not question it. He goes.

Equally, when the driver, unexpectedly steps on the brake, announcing chukua huyo, (let’s pick that pedestrian), the tout does. In the thick of traffic, the tout does not dig into his role (“I’m a tout and if there’s traffic, that’s not my problem”). No, he excitedly, exits, rushes ahead to scout the territory for a way out. He will even act traffic cop for the period of time it will take for his matatu to clear the entanglement of the traffic jam. The teamwork is to die for.

As for teamwork in the corporate world…

Customer service personnel and field salespeople many times are at logger heads with each drawing a line where they feel their job stops. High on independence and low on interdependence, glaring sales opportunities are missed.

The field salesperson will land the contract for, say, Lend Me Yours Ears, to make bookings through his travel agency; when LMYE calls for a return ticket three days apart, only the customer service agent, (CSA), and only she, can ask the question, “May we interest you with hotel reservations and airport transfers, madam?”

Insisting sales is not her job, is myopic, loses sales and inconveniences customers. Conversely, when the CSA inadvertently antagonizes the customer, or finds out there’s a department in LMYE that still doesn’t book through them, the field salesperson intervenes to resolve the matter.

Lessons 3: Never-ending Prospecting

A matatu will stop anywhere to pick, but not to drop off passengers.

During off peak hours, it will meander within an housing estate or in town looking for passengers. Irritable passengers will be consoled with repeated, “tutaenda sasa hivi” (we are departing shortly). Or be told the truth, “the car can’t go empty.”

Yet, many sales people diaries are empty weeks on end. They struggle to depart; where do they go to and they have no prospect to see? The matatu will diligently prospect (look for potential people to buy) which, at off peak, means getting outside the comfort zone of the scheduled stop and into unfamiliar territory.

And when he spots a prospect he will beckon (twende-let’s go), coax (bado wawili tu ijae-only two passengers to go) and woo (siste, umekaa smart; njoo ukae hapa mbele– and he proceeds to open the front door for the lady prospect, smitten by the compliment, to sit). He knows that prospecting is the sales lifeline; without the prospect, there is no passenger, no sale and no income.

There you have it. 3 lessons in selling from the matatu crew. It’s been wisely observed, that nothing is to be feared only understood. Before you condemn the next matatu duo, let me know what else you can learn from them.

You may also want to read Make a customer not a sale: Lessons from landlord, schools & matatu

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