They know their customers. They know what their customers want. They know how to present their products so that their customers will purchase from them. They know the ideal pricing for their products so that they clear their goods daily. ‘Fresh’, ‘freshly cooked’ and ‘relevant’ are the maxims by which they operate. These are the street vendors. Early in the morning, they make the trip to the market and stock up with the day’s ingredients. By day-break, they have already prepared breakfast for those on their way to work. As they sell, they prepare the vegetables for the lunch stew. By morning tea, the meat is diced and the stew is simmering, the inviting aroma being the only advert that they need. Their monthly profit is handsome, as their costs chiefly relate only to the ingredients and to travel. They know how to do business to gain maximum benefit.

Many corporates, on the other hand, languish under the yoke of corporate policies, politics, processes, people issues and product renewals and seemingly lose ‘relevance’ as a strategic business focus. They misplace the art of ‘listening to the customer’ and rather concentrate on keeping the corporate ‘system’ running smoothly or at least to the satisfaction of leadership. The flexibility that is needed for relevance is not maintained and these corporates regularly find themselves in a place of having to re-invent themselves in order to make their respective businesses sustainable.

One might ask: “How is it possible to relate simple street vendor businesses principles to those of corporates dealing with mega investments and returns?” The principles of ‘relevance’ and ‘flexibility’ remain the same for both. Here are some of the key determining issues for leadership teams that need to be rectified in corporate companies:

  • Create an environment of trust and obliterate company politics and executive game-playing – internal politics saps energy away from key needed focus areas and restrains involvement in growth activities. Executives need to model integrity and transparency. (Street vendors don’t have this problem)
  • Engage with both employees and customers – employees who feel valued readily come up with innovative ideas and customers, if listened to, will generally tell you what they need. This feedback assists with staying relevant. (Street vendors constantly talk to their customers)
  • Be ‘present’ and connect emotionally – product and service value propositions are only received as valuable where there is emotional connection to the same. (Street vendors develop intimate relationships with their customers)
  • Eliminate unnecessary bureaucracy and empower employees – give employees appropriate spans of control and delegate decision-making to the lowest possible levels. (Street vendors can make immediate decisions to reduce pricing to clear stock and prevent waste before leaving for home)
  • Keep the business value proposition as simple and as clear as possible – German motor manufacturers have luxury/quality, safety, performance, economy and reliability as their maxims. Coca Cola has quality, consistency and accessibility as theirs. Define the value proposition and focus on achieving it. (Street vendors have freshness and tastiness, at a good price, as theirs)
  • Evaluate progress and assess relevance constantly – success doesn’t lie in producing the product well or offering and delivering the service with quality, but in being relevant (exactly what a customer needs), at the right price (value perception), at the right time (swift delivery, accessibility) and with emotional connection (the customer speaks fondly of you). (Street vendors frequently get this right)

Street vendors ‘connect’ with their market and are totally relevant in their business endeavours. Their value proposition sits well with hungry commuters and other people walking to work. Companies need to learn from this relevance and flexibility.

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