Marketing lessons from the street

by Gillian Pritchett on November 3, 2008

Today I lined up to buy one of the new plastic cards for the Metro in Montreal and then I lined up a second time to use the machine to actually load my monthly pass onto the card. Pain in the butt system or what ?!!!

In the time all this took I had the opportunity to observe one of the people who regularly beg in the subway here (underground to readers in the UK !!). Then I started to compare him to someone else who begs in the same Metro station (Sherbrooke for those of you who live in Montreal).

I would argue that begging for money isn’t a million miles different to getting business from a potential client. Here’s what I learnt from my observations:

THE FIRST BEGGER

Pick the right moment – begging for money is not going to be successful when you solicit people rushing to go to work. I wondered why the guy didn’t pitch to those of us lined up – we were a captive audience, bored, fed up and possibly receptive to a good story.

In business ensure that the client is undistracted and ready to listen to what you would like to say.

Close off objections – dirty, in tatty clothes and telling me you’re hungry … maybe you are but maybe you want money for drugs. Good idea to think about what I might be thinking and then close off that objection before I even make it.

Same applies with a potential business client. If you think the person might be wondering if you have the right experience, could harness the right resources, whatever.. then cover that off when you are speaking to them.

Address the “what’s in it for me” – what should the guy in the Metro be doing so that we get someting? just imposing the odours of his unwashed body so that we give him some money to make him go away? Maybe. But, suppose he appealed to our more generous side: “You’re buying your monthly pass I would like to be able to buy some food” (guilt trip); “While you are waiting in line think about people like me who have ended up on the streets” (compassion with a bit of guilt).

In business think what the person’s pain might be, actively listen and ask questions to make this discovery before pitching in for their business.

THE OTHER BEGGER

Let them come to you – Now the other guy who begs at the same Metro station just stands there and smiles at you. That’s it. He smiles. he ackowledges you as you hurry by. The only person who does. Soon you find he smiles at you each day so you start to say “Bonjour”. Then you don’t see him for a while and you ask where he’s been, how he’s been. You learn a bit about his life, his story. Then you find he’s quite a conversationalist. Quite smart in a street-wise kind of way. You start to warm to him. From time to time you give him some coins or something. He always remembers you and asks how you are and, in my case, how my mum is. He becomes part of your life.

I bet you he gets way more money than the other guy.

And in business… build yourself a good reputation; strong visibility; be seen in the right places talking to the right people; earn credibility. Then they will come to you.

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