Take a walk through the streets of Isla Mujeres, Mexico and you’ll hear “Hey lady (guy), take a look, it’s almost free” over and over again from the many merchants hawking to tourists. While some tourists may get annoyed with this and scurry away I’m always fascinated, as one who loves to study human behavior. There are lessons to be learned from anyone and everyone who is in the business of making money.
On my most recent vacation to Mexico with my husband I was more observant than ever of how the locals sell their wares (always looking for blog topics). There were different styles based on different circumstances and different merchandise and all with the same goal – to earn a living. Read on to learn about the different types of “sales people” I learned from on my trip … and as usual, these things really happened!
Gift Store Merchants: These were guys and gals shouting out “Take a look, it’s almost free.” I’m disappointed in myself for not stopping and asking “What EXACTLY is considered almost free … and why do you think I specifically want something almost free. Do I look cheap or like a haggler who won’t value what you’re selling?”
This is certainly a hook to engage buyers and get their attention, but for those who take the bait, are they the most ideal customer? Will they potentially haggle on price and not value what they’re buying? OR, is the merchant really the savvy one who will bait and switch them and ultimately take advantage of them?
They were also savvy about identifying their target demographics. Male merchants yelling out to male tourists, “Hey guy, we got cigars” and female merchants calling out to the female tourists, “Lady, look at these dresses.” Seems like common sense, right? But are you always this aware of who is standing in front of you, whether ideal or not ideal, or are you distracted by the “noise” of being in your business?
Jewelry Store Merchants – Waterfront: These merchants had a slightly different “hustle” to them because they were competing for tourists who were coming off of the ferries in droves from Cancun, especially the merchants who were located directly across from the ferry dock. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it … a sign that one of them held up: “Free PiPi Room”. I was confused by the spelling of “PiPi” and then I saw another merchant with a sign that said “Free Toilets” and I figured it out. This too fascinated me, especially since the ferries have restrooms. Clearly they knew something I didn’t. This was clearly a pain point for the ferry traveler, in the merchants’ opinions – the need for a restroom. Let them use the toilet and then sell them some jewelry.
Jewelry Store Merchants – Inner city streets: While driving through the inner streets of Isla Mujeres on our golf cart we encountered other jewelry store merchants with other interesting tactics. They too used signs. One of those signs said “Free Hugs” on one side and “One Shot of Tequila Just For Looking” on the other side.
There are a couple of ways to look at this. The approach could be one of addressing some human needs of getting a hug or getting something for free or added value. For me, it was the humor approach. I busted out in laughter at the “Free Hugs” one because I wondered if anyone actually stopped for a free hug. It stimulated conversation. We stopped to talk to him and take pictures. He created connection. Did we buy? No. But I suppose if I were interested in buying, I’d choose his store over others because he would most likely create an experience (especially with tequila involved).
Beach Peddlers: These men and women walk the beach carrying everything you could imagine on their bodies from shark teeth necklaces to hammocks. They were incessant and stood in our personal space until we said no. And then came the next peddler, often selling the same things and sometimes not. Surely they watched each other trying to sell and even though they saw people say no to the peddler before them, they took their turn in making the next offer.
Think about times when maybe you lost the nerve to make an offer because you assumed your prospect wouldn’t buy from you because he or she didn’t buy a similar product from a competitor. It’s a numbers game for them. Eventually someone will buy something when the timing is just right. People buy from you and sometimes they buy just because of YOU.
Golf Cart / Tour Peddlers: Most of these sales people were located near the ferries, ready to pounce on the incoming tourists from the mainland. They were competing with a lot other golf cart and tour peddlers and they hustled. They didn’t hesitate to approach or shout out to every single ferry passenger that came their way. Again, a numbers game. Plenty of leads, many being qualified (looking for transportation or an activity to do on the island) with lots of “noise” (competition). They never gave up. They kept asking for business until they got it.
Restaurant Hawkers: Many tourist destinations have restaurant hawkers, aka “hosts”/”hostesses”, specifically in restaurant districts (“rows”). This is probably, in my opinion, one of the most competitive and difficult services to sell. Differentiation is key, yet difficult.
Many of these hawkers would follow the tourists as they walked by, offering them free drink and appetizer coupons. I guess they had to because they needed something to get their attention. We sat at one restaurant while the hostess went to great lengths to display a freshly caught and cut snapper (including the head) at the front of the restaurant next to the giant outdoor menu. She and her colleagues spent a great amount of time trying to position a desk lamp on a wine barrel next to the fish to create a spotlight. What do you do to stand out from the competition and all of the noise?
Having so many restaurants to choose from creates confusion for the buyer and a confused mind doesn’t always buy. Granted, a hungry mind will buy something just to get something to eat eventually. And that’s exactly how I felt. I just wanted to eat and it almost didn’t matter where or what. Chances were that we wouldn’t return to that location anyway, so I thought. Ironically we found one restaurant (away from “restaurant row”) that we ate at three times during the week because the food and service were awesome and consistent. With the option of too many choices (confusion), we stuck with quality food and service because they proved their value during our first encounter. We also were drawn into restaurants with lobster tanks because we assumed we’d get fresh (quality) lobster (and we did)!
The Fisherman: While writing about the restaurant hawkers and the red snapper on display I remembered the wandering fisherman who actually sold the snapper to the restaurant. Prior to arriving at this restaurant we witnessed a barefooted and scruffy fisherman walking the streets of Isla Mujeres with a bucket of two large and heavy fish. He kept approaching different restaurants trying to sell them his fish. We couldn’t understand the conversations but could tell by the body language that most restaurant owners were not interested.
Thirty minutes later we saw him again with one fish and then ultimately we saw him unload the second fish at the restaurant we were sitting at. The learning here is that he kept hustling until he made his sales for the day. He didn’t have a choice. He couldn’t sell the fish tomorrow. They wouldn’t be fresh anymore and would no longer be of a value. Tomorrow was not an option. What if you had that mindset in your sales efforts?
In summary, I was reminded of some of the most basic sales techniques that most of us know but sometimes forget to employ. If you want to increase your sales and improve your profitability, practice these skills:
- Identify your ideal clients and recognize them when they come your way
- Engage them with a dialogue or copy that will inspire them to buy
- Identify needs and pain points
- Create experiences that attracts clients to you
- Be persistent and committed; don’t give up
- Don’t make assumptions about your prospects and clients
- Timing is a factor; sometimes clients buy tomorrow or an hour later and sometimes you only have today to sell them. Know how to create urgency as well as practice patience.
- Stand out and differentiate yourself from the competition; emphasize your unique selling proposition
- Demonstrate and prove your value and the value of your product or service
- Observe people outside of your industry to learn how they sell; always be learning, always be coachable
By Gina Trimarco, Chief Results Officer