Sales Lessons from Nigeria’s Highway Hawkers

Sales Lessons from Nigeria’s Highway Hawkers

We all enjoy their services. They seem to show up when we need them most. They station themselves at strategic areas and try to make life easier for us. To be honest, we look out for them and when we don’t see them, we feel uncomfortable and disappointed.

These are the highway hawkers. They are there to make travellers feel less troubled by our bad roads. We see them at popular road junctions, traffic lights, police and army checkpoints and at sites where roads are so bad. They sell things like snacks, portable water, handkerchiefs, drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic), books, auto parts (especially windscreen wipers), toiletries, house cleaning equipment, bush meat, and so many others.

I don’t really like this business because of the risks involved. I mean, this is highway, even though they station themselves in places vehicles have to slow down. But anything can happen. I know the rate may be low, but accidents can still happen and claim the lives of some of these hawkers. Besides, some drivers and their passengers are mean enough to run off with these people’s wares without paying them. Anyway, that is a story for another day.

A lot of people see these hawkers as nuisance on the highways and I don’t really blame them for that. This is because most of those that pose as hawkers are actually robbers – those living in Lagos can tell this story better. In fact, when they come close to your car’s window, keep your bag out of their reach so they don’t pick-pocket you. If you are not mindful of them, your phones, money and other valuables can just disappear without your permission.

But we still have so much to learn from these hawkers. The other day I was wondering why start-ups don’t recruit these people as sales agents instead of employing those that don’t really understand aggressive sales and marketing. These hawkers have some qualities that make them survive in the business and be able to generate enough income to solve their financial needs. There is no way anyone that doesn’t possess these qualities can go into the business.

Below are some qualities of highway hawkers every salesperson should learn and imbibe:

  1. Agility: Of course if you are not agile you can’t be in that business. I haven’t seen a sluggish person selling on the highway. Make out time to observe these people when you see them. You will notice that they are always ready for actions. It always seems as if their antennas are up all the time. Their whole bodies are up and actively listening and searching for potential customers. Once they sight one, they move as fast as anything towards him. As they are selling to that customer, they are listening and looking for another one. They are ready to sell to several customers at the same time and collect their money the same way. If a vehicle they are selling to drives off, they run like Usain Bolt to collect their money and hand over balance. Like Nigerians will say, “these people are sharp”; every salesperson needs to be like that.
  2. Resilience: Most Nigerians can’t stand under the sun or the rain for 30 minutes, but these hawkers do that the whole day. The bad weather or climate doesn’t deter them. If they stay under the shade when traffic is light, they immediately jump back into the road once they see a prospect. And after a tiring day’s work, they come back tomorrow to continue.
  3. Passion: I strongly believe that these people are driven by their passion for the business. They have this zeal to get the job done. I don’t know if their passion is with the type of business or with the income they generate through it – all I know is that there is passion.
  4. Attitude: You know, so long as you have a positive attitude towards whatsoever you do, you are bound to excel in it. I believe these hawkers have positive attitude towards their business. I haven’t heard any of them complain about how they suffer to make a living. I haven’t seen anyone of them ask for pity. All they do is try to convince travellers to buy their products, which most people do.
  5. Forceful Marketing: This attitude may annoy some people, but it is a strategy that helps the business. Have you ever been thirsty as you were travelling and all of a sudden, one of these hawkers thrust a cold sweating bottle of Fanta before you? Lol. Let’s be honest, what was your first reaction? Let me guess, you asked how much the drink was? Well, the only reason you won’t buy that drink is because your pocket says so or your doctor kicked against it. If not, you won’t rest until you settle your appetite. This is forceful marketing – appetising dangling what you need before you.
  6. Team Spirit: I think this is part of what makes these people survive on the highway and in the business – they work as a team. If you don’t know, you may think they all come from one family. Take for instance the women that sell okpa at 9th Mile Enugu, they stand together to gist and move together to vehicles to sell their wares. All of them will be shouting “aunty/brother buy this okpa” at the same time that you won’t know who to buy from again. If you finally choose one person, the others will shift back and look for other prospects. If the person you patronised needs to give you balance but doesn’t have the ‘change’, any other seller can easily help her out. If you decide you don’t want to buy okpa but plantain chips, the okpa sell will happily call the plantain chips seller for you (you will be left to wonder if the okpa seller also owns the plantain chips business). Honestly, these people don’t compete among themselves, at least as far as I can see.
  7. Strategic Citing of Business: These people knew the right places to cite their businesses. They first try out places where cars usually stop to drop off or pick-up passengers. Next they check up areas where there are checkpoints or traffic lights because the probability of vehicles slowing down there is high. Another place they try out is where roads are so bad that there is every possibility of hold-ups. This quality may sound trivial until you consider that a lot of salespersons don’t know where to locate their customers.

One more thing about these hawkers, they move in groups, thereby making it possible to watch each other’s back. I think this is the major reason they are hardly robbed or knocked down by moving vehicles.

But all in all, I think business owners should consider recruiting their salespersons from among these highway hawkers. If they are not comfortable with that, they should encourage their marketers and salespersons to pick up their (the highway hawkers’) qualities.

Share this post

Post Comment