I have had a long-standing relationship with sales that, no matter what I do, somehow manages take on jobs that relate to sales… in some aspect.

Sometimes, it’s all love (when the buyer believe I descended from heaven and granted her wish).

Other times, it’s full of uncertainty.

It all started when my mother dragged me by the ears (maybe I am exaggerating a little) during one of her sales escapades. I use the term escapade because she loved doing it. But the truth was, that’s how we fed ourselves—selling stuff—so it was also a life and death matter for us. Unless you hustle, you starved. That was the norm. But she was so passionate about it, I never saw her struggle with it. She thrived on it, like a car needing gas to keep running.

I first fell in love with the idea of selling as the way to make money and travel. She took me for a long trek to sell wool blankets to the natives in the mountain—this gave me a chance to wonder and admire the misty mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and the mystical flowers that dangled from the trees as we passed by, making the 5-8 hour walk bearable. She would distribute the blankets like a charity distributor would, making the buyers smell and touch items before handing her their money or chicken—whatever form of payment they preferred (could afford).

Open Market

Then she got savvy and started selling in open markets. Twice a week, we would bring our fruits and vegetables to the nearest town, lay our mat on the hot pavement, and sell to market goers. That did not prove to be as easy as one would think. The excessive heat from the cement and the blazing heat killed our vegetables in less than an hour—with or without an umbrella.

Door to Door

My mother then got a bright idea—the best so far. She serenaded gatekeepers with freebies to let their employers know about our “fresh fruits and vegetables delivery”. We did very well, selling everything we could carry within the hour. Often times, a customer would buy everything from us, which made me wonder if it was my mother’s persuasion or if because they felt so sorry for me—a six-year-old carrying the heavy fruit basket around town.

High School Pastry Girl

An orphanage was not an option after my parents left me and my siblings early on in our lives. Luckily for me, one of my mother’s customers took me in as her “helper” while I attended high school, but I still had to pay my own school supplies. As luck would have it (or maybe my life was designed that way), my employer’s house was beside a bakery. So I’d buy baked goods on my way to school and sell them to students at recess.

My sales pitch was simple: “I got fresh pastries in my bag—but keep it a secret.” Each customer (students) would have to swear to keep their supplier a secret. They would have to pay an initiation fee to be my customer too. The reason? I didn’t want my teacher or the canteen people to know. So in essence, it was a membership-only service.

Back then, I wasn’t doing it because I love selling. I had to do it to survive.  If I had a choice, I would have chosen something else.

But, looking at it now, this experience taught me 4 SALES LESSONS which are:

  1. Know who you are. Form an identity that matches your brilliance. My mother was known as the “fresh delivery woman from the mountain”.
  2. Know your customers and what they want. Don’t brush this off as this may be the door to your success. You may think that you know your customer, but if you can’t answer what keeps them up at night, or define what their dreams or aspirations are, or share their world views (how they see things), then you really don’t know them. And you can’t effectively begin to sell to them until you know them. My mother knew her customers and she solved two of their biggest problems: 1) Get to the market early or you don’t get your hands on fresh produce, and 2) The vegetables don’t stay fresh unless you carry a Styrofoam box (cooler) with you and be at the market before 9 am.
  3. Everywhere you go, there are “gatekeepers”. Know them and treat them well. They open the door to your success through their referrals and recommendations.  According to Cialdini, people are more likely to reciprocate a favour.
  4. Be nice and treat everyone you meet with respect. You never know who will buy from you.