Three lessons on risk taking in selling from Pope Francis’ visit

Pope Francis is in town. The Catholic faithful are expected to bring Nairobi to a standstill if not Thursday then surely on Friday.

The last time a religious event was hyped this much was the beatification of Sr Irene Stefani in Nyeri in May.

For traders then, the sales were dismal. Only the county government made a killing selling parking tickets and selling space.

In Nairobi, with the turnout expected in the hundreds of thousands, one can only hope that traders will make a killing. These two events teach us an invaluable lesson on risk taking.

The first risk-taking comes with the selling territory. Sellers who travel to Mombasa and pay to pitch tent at the annual three-day head teachers’ conference take a risk that the congregation will lower their closing ratio.

When the British Army compensated the Maasai a multinational bank chartered a plane to go convince them to open fixed deposit accounts with the lender. The Maasai instead preferred to buy cars, entertainment and torches. Some risks pay off, others don’t.

Next, simply because it didn’t work in Nyeri doesn’t mean we won’t try it in Nairobi. Business and selling are not for the faint-hearted.

There are traders in Nyeri who invested (borrowed) Sh250,000 hoping to double the amount yet made a paltry Sh4,000.

Others paid Sh4,500 for a stall alone, and made only Sh1,400 in sales. Still, others sold their cooked food at a throw-away price, or gave it away instead of watching it rot.

The faint-hearted will warn everyone to desist from “that market.” Not sellers they will find out what went wrong, where and why later.
They will learn from the experience how to, not why not to.

They are risk takers. And so they are probably already in Nairobi weaving through the traffic — but with less leveraged (borrowed) stock or with dry foods (sweets, ground nuts and bottled water, for instance) as opposed to perishables.

Finally, I’m reminded of a member of my sales team (call him Oti), several years ago. Oti excitedly announced that he had discovered a new market. The market didn’t rhyme with our product but I went along. The product we were selling then was a new bank account targeting “upwardly, mobile and urban” individuals.

When we got to a government office at Community in Nairobi, we found staff making tea in a sufuria on a jiko in their office!

I swear I’m not making this up. When Oti started making his presentation he was cut short with a curt, “Ongea Kiswahili” (speak in Kiswahili).
A smattering of Kiswahili later and he mentioned that to qualify for the product, one had to earn a gross minimum of Sh50,000 per month.

The “cooks” paused, stirring the tea, looked up, laughed and called out to a colleague to “come listen to this.” And then asked in Kiswahili, “elfu hamsini ni loni ama mshahara?” (is Sh50,000 a loan or a salary?)

A dejected Oti didn’t sell anything that day, but he had learned his lesson. He went on to become my best salesman.

Some risks are not external, they are borne out of naivete. Irrespective of the cause, taking risks is inevitable to growing in selling. Karibu Pope and good luck to all traders.

Kageche is Lead Facilitator, Lend Me Your Ears a sales training and development firm.