What roadside sellers can teach you about selling

Anyone interacting with a customer should borrow a leaf from what we commonly refer to as stalls.

Again and again I tend to see “informal” sellers thriving more in selling than “formal” ones. What is it that I see us learning from them?

Stall owners

Wealthy or poor, indisposed or healthy, African or European, man or woman, adult or child, the fundamental need of any human being, is the desire to be appreciated. Acknowledging a prospect meets this desire. Simple, yet rarely practiced in the corporate world.

Anyone interacting with a customer should borrow a leaf from what we commonly refer to as stalls. Choose any, whether in Nairobi’s CBD, Gikomba or Kibera’s Toi market. As you pass by, you will hear welcoming voices and feel their warmth.

“Karibu customer; Ingia tu, ni sawa (Welcome! Come on in; it’s ok); Karibu jeans (Please come and see our collection of jeans); Sema tukusaidie customer (How may we help you?); Kuona ni bure (Viewing is free)’’ and on and on.

The salespeople in these much less elaborate, capital intensive, and formal stands will not fail to acknowledge your presence. Drawn in by such warmth and having been further enticed with, “hiyo shati ni yako (that shirt fits you perfectly)-said after you’ve tried it on-the sale is a natural consequence.

Salespeople at these comparatively simple stands tend to realize and practice this with much more frequency, professionalism and success than their counterparts in the corporate world.


Rejection is painful. Rejection is so painful, that many actively avoid it. Sadly though, for the salesperson, avoiding rejection is a step backwards towards safety, and not a step forward into growth. The primary reason why rejection is painful is because of the meaning we give to it. We take it personally; we own it-we give it this meaning: it’s me his rejected. There is truth in the advice that the salesperson separates himself from his product if he is to manage rejection. Just like the hawker does when you roll up your window at his approach-I imagine he takes this to mean, not today, and casually moves on to the next vehicle.

Hawkers also teach us the importance of hunger. Few corporate sellers will want to be seen “chasing” after a business. It’s beneath them they think. It shows desperation. Yet to thrive in selling requires that we must hunger; like the hawker approaches you immediately you just look in his direction or runs after you because traffic has moved and interrupted the sale. Tragically, many sales people are too proud to be seen to be following up and following through. Pride comes before a fall. And whereas the labourer’s appetite works for him, his hunger drives him on (Bible). To go beyond merely surviving to excitedly thriving, sellers must embrace the hunger of the hawker.

Newspaper vendors

Creativity and intelligent prospecting. Unfortunately, the word creativity has tended to be given M-Pesa proportions. And so many sellers see it as beyond their scope. Yet the vendor who stands at a bump knowing you must slow down is being creative. And intelligent prospecting is seen in the one who pushes his “free” newspaper through the slit in window. It is intelligent because he knows “free” isn’t free. He has much higher chances of securing a prospect (one who can advertise in the paper) among drivers on Mombasa Road early a.m. than with the labourer’s on Mbagathi Road trekking to Industrial Area on that very morning. Instead of complaining about patients not remembering their file number, creative customer service staff, use stickers to stick it on the patient’s insurance medical card and voila! –problem solved.

Life is too short to learn everything from your mistakes. Learn from the three mentioned and let me know how it goes.


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