For the last 5 years Marrakesh has been my second home and every day spent in the busy medina meant yet another valuable lesson to learn. Tourists from around the world, tempted, allured and attracted by the unique blend of colours, tastes and smells may have a hard life in Morocco. Especially if you’re forced to haggle over the price or constantly reject countless sales proposals or invitations for tea and carpet demonstrations. The life of shopkeepers isn’t easy either. I’ve spent hours and days watching my Moroccan friends in action, I’ve seen how they fail and succeed trying to sell products to customers from different cultures and in different languages. Then I realised they do exactly what all business owners and sales professionals are instructed to do. The only difference is that the street sellers don’t need any training, fancy online courses or popular bestsellers. It all comes naturally as an art of survival.
Below you can see my list of top business lessons learned from the street sellers:
1. Speak the language of your customer
Sellers from the Moroccan medina don’t wait until passers-by and tourists enter their little shop. They approach potential customers from a reasonable distance, shouting “hello” or “just have a look” in their language. That is: the language they think their potential buyers speak. Professional shopkeepers will recognise in seconds whether you’re from Spain, Germany, Ireland or Poland and quickly switch to the right language. They know that language and communication is the key to successful transactions. After all, wouldn’t you be impressed to hear that business owners from a distant land speak and understand your native language? More than that – they also know habits and traditions of your country to be able to sell you the right products and customised services.
2. Adjust the price to your customer
Once the shopkeepers and street sellers recognise where you’re from, they usually know how to change their price as well. The prices are low for the residents of Marrakesh, slightly higher for shoppers from other Moroccan cities, much higher for tourists from the Eastern Europe and super high for tourists from the Western Europe and USA. The street sellers know the buying power of their customers and adjust their prices to increase the profit. If they sold their spices only to tourists, ignoring the needs of residents, chances are they would be blacklisted and ignored. On the other hand, if they sold only to their neighbours or those who can barely afford their products, they would probably go out of business in no time. Thus, personalised pricing and price differentiation is the magic wand.
3. Embrace the power of free products
If you take a walk through the main square of Marrakesh you will quickly realise that the lines of orange juice stands never end. The same happens if you plunge into the narrow streets of medina to find out an endless array of olive and spice shops. If everyone sells the same products or services, how do you know where to buy? How different is the orange juice stand on the right from the orange juice stand on the left? The answer lies in samples. By handing out little samples to the passers-by, Moroccan sellers can attract potential shoppers to come closer and build the connection. Once they taste the sample it’s time for questions – “How do you like it?”, “Where are you from?“ etc. Plus, it works better than any kind of advertising. If you try the excellent olives or refreshing orange juice, you’ll be more likely to buy the product from the particular shopkeeper. Although the costs related to giveaways have to be covered by the business owners, it’s still nothing compared to the benefits that come along with the freebies and tasty samples.
4. Personal connection matters
Another way in which hundreds of similar shops and stands try to be different is by personal connection. Here’s a short story: one day, being unable to make a decision whether to buy orange juice from stand 44 or stand 45, I decided to go for two drinks, each from a different stand. It quickly turned out that the stand 45 is run by a cheater who was successful in attracting his customers, but failed to deliver a high quality product. His freshly squeezed juice was mixed with water. The stand 44, only half a meter away from the cheater, offered not only a real juice with no extra water, but also a big smile and a friendly conversation. To be memorable, he quickly introduced himself, made sure I remember the number of his stand and kept serving extra amounts of juice to turn the short stay at his stand into a remarkable experience.
5. Convince your customer to buy more
A typical scenario on the Moroccan market? You only want to buy a handful of fresh cumin, and suddenly end up with 5 other bags of spices with names you can’t even remember. The salesmen know how to play their game. They know what you don’t know. They recognise your needs better than yourself. And so, once they see you’re interested in cumin, they will also let you touch the crystals of alum or smell the real saffron. Once your eyes start to shine, they will quickly present more exotic names, colours and smells and name all the health benefits of every single product. ‘This is for headaches? Yes, I have headaches, I will take one. And that’s for sore throat? Then I’ll take it too…’ The street sellers know not only how to present extra products that their customer may need, but also list any potential problems and explain how their products will help.
You don’t have to go to Marrakesh or spent 5 years watching and talking to shopkeepers. A short visit to your local store may give you a valuable business lesson as well.
What if all the books, courses and trainings you passionately consume boil down to one simple communication message that can be learned if you keep your eyes wide open?
Photos by D. Pawlak