Three Lessons in Selling From A Hawker

Something interesting happened to me as I was fueling recently. A hawker walked up to my car and politely asked if he could tell me something about the wipers. Intrigued, and not being much of a car enthusiast, I agreed.

He went on to show me how worn the front spongy part of the wiper was and the damage this would eventually do to the windscreen. He then led me to the rear windshield which he also pointed out was not the right size and would leave a mark every time it is swiped.

He was right on both counts: my windscreen and rear mirrors usually have smudges after the wipers are turned off. He then went to show me the right size of wipers which he was carrying and asked me to buy. He named the price and also offered to fix them.

I was deeply fascinated by his sales technique at this point and was totally sold. Being human, however, I raised an objection. “Sina pesa saa hii,” (I don’t have the money on me) I sheepishly stated.

But this did not deter him: “Ni sawa mkubwa; wacha nikuekee tu, halafu utatuma na M-Pesa” (“It’s ok, Sir. Let me fix them. You can send me the money via M-Pesa,”)

This threw me off balance slightly but I quickly recovered. I said I didn’t have any money on my M-Pesa account either and that I wouldn’t want to trouble him. Surely this would put him off, or so I thought. His next statement gave me a technical knockout— I never saw it coming.

Ni sawa tu boss; kwa vile najua unahitaji hizi wipers wacha niweke tu, najua utatuma.”

I was speechless. He was willing to fix the wipers and wait for payment yet I was a complete stranger.

This blog has always challenged sales people to stretch their thinking beyond their product and learn from any opportunity where selling is demonstrated. This episode got me thinking. What are the lessons to learn from it? Many, but I will limit myself to three.

First, understand your product. If the hawker did not understand what he was selling, how it works and most importantly, of what benefit it would be to me, I doubt that the conversation would have gone far.

Next, when selling a product (as opposed to a service) nothing beats a demonstration—it is difficult to argue with a demo. A thick boring manual can be condensed into just a few minutes of animated explanation. Think how much easier it would be to learn how to use a new electronic device under the pupilage of your child compared to reading its operational manual.

Thirdly, listen keenly and study the unspoken word.

Here was a hawker ready to replace my wipers with new ones (and this is the lesson here) on credit. Why? Because he trusted I would send him the money. I believe this is not something he does for every Makau, Onyango and Pogishio.

He was able to tell that I could be trusted to honour my part of the bargain. Tell-tale signs of buying can be googled but even then what you read can only be appreciated at a conscious level. But the body language I’m talking about here is at a subconscious level.

He must have sensed I was impressed by his presentation, that I’m not a wiper guru and also that I had acknowledged a problem for which he had a solution. Most importantly, he could trust me.

This I believe could only have come from the many interactions he has had with prospects and learning from them. It is possible that he is not always 100 per cent right about his customers, but the small percentage of defaulters pales in significance to the larger one that does not.

And in case you wondering, two hours later, I sent him the money.


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