Risk-taking comes with the sales territory; it is inevitable if the seller is to grow

The Pope is in town. The Catholic faithful are expected to bring Nairobi to a standstill; if not today, then surely tomorrow. The last time a religious event experienced this much hype was the beatification (first time I ever heard that word) of Sr. Irene Stefani in Nyeri. For traders then, the sales were dismal. Only the county government made a killing selling parking and selling space. In Nairobi, with a turnout expected in the hundreds of thousands, one can only hope that informal traders are making a boom. These two events teach us an invaluable lesson on risk taking?

Risk taking comes with the territory

First, risk-taking comes with the selling territory. Not reckless but calculated risks. Sellers who travel to Mombasa and pay to pitch tent at the annual three day head teachers conference take a risk that this congregation of prospects will lower their closing ratio. Out of the 6,000 present given I’m swimming with the prospecting tide surely I will float. I stand the chance of many more buying now (or later) at much less cost (in time and money) than if I approached each one individually. When the Masai were compensated by the British Army, a multinational bank chartered a plane to go convince them to open fixed deposit accounts for their millions. They preferred instead to buy cars, entertainment and torches. Some risks pay off, others don’t. Hence risk.

Selling is not for the faint-hearted

Next, simply because it didn’t work in Nyeri doesn’t mean we won’t try in Nairobi. Business and selling are not for the faint-hearted. There are traders in Nyeri that invested (or borrowed) Kes. 250,000, hoping to double the amount yet made a paltry Kes. 4,000. Others paid 4,500 for the stall alone, and made only Kes. 1,400 in sales. Still, others sold off the cooked food at a throwaway price or just gave it away instead of letting it perish.

The faint hearted will warn everyone to desist from “that market.” Not sellers; they will find out what went wrong, where and why. Further, they will learn from the experience how to, not why not to. They are risk takers. And so they are probably in Nairobi weaving through the multitude but with less leveraged (borrowed) stock; or with dry foods (sweets, ground nuts and bottled water, for instance) as opposed to perishables.

Suspects aren’t prospects

Finally, I’m reminded of a member of my sales team (call him Oti), several years ago. Oti excitedly announced that he had discovered a new market and could I take him. The market didn’t rhyme with the product but I went along. Oti had taken the risk of discovering a new market and as part of his learning I let him be. The product we were selling then was a new bank account targeting “upwardly, mobile and urban” individuals. When we got to the government office in Community we found them making tea in a sufuria on a jiko…in their office! (I swear I’m not making this up). When Oti started presenting, he was cut short with a curt, “Ongea Kiswahili” (speak in Kiswahili).

A smattering of Kiswahili later he mentioned that to qualify, one had to earn a gross minimum of Kes. 50,000. The “cooks” paused stirring the tea, looked up, laughed and called out to another colleague to “come listen to this.” And then asked in Kiswahili, “elfu hamsini ni loni ama mshahara?” (Is Kes. 50,000 a loan or a salary?) A dejected Oti didn’t sell anything else that day, but he didn’t lose the lesson. He went on to become my best salesman. Not all risks are external; some are borne out of inexperience.

Irrespective of the cause, to grow in selling, taking risks is inevitable. Karibu Pope and good luck to all traders.


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