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Online selling lessons – from street touts

May 3, 2016 | PR, Vee's blog | 0 comments

Touting – online selling lessons

We’ve been abroad twice last month – 6 days in New York as tourists and 6 days in Albufeira as a ‘retreat-er’ and despite being different ends of the earth, the one thing that both have in common is those annoying street touts. Street touts are those people who jump out in front of you and try to get you to buy all sorts of stuff from open top bus tours, or visit their particular eating or drinking establishment. But let’s remember – we’re all in the business of selling or touting our products and services. So it got me thinking and observing the touts at work and the difference between a good and bad tout and how that can apply to online selling.

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Our friend Gary is a tout in Albufeira’s new town strip. His job is to pull people into to Frog’s one of Albuferia’s more expensive pizza restaurants. Frog’s is set back from the street and easy to miss as their frontage isn’t that visible from the main street, apart from a post with their poster on it.

Most touts don’t last more than a couple of seasons. It’s tough being a tout – it’s probably one of the worst sales jobs there are as you’re out there in person, immersed quite literally in cold traffic, vulnerable to being publically rejected. There’s not even a phone to hide behind! Gary’s been working as a tout for various restaurants on the strip for some 12 years. He’s good.

But, as annoying as they can be to tourists, touts are valuable for their establishments. There’s a lot of bars and restaurants for people to choose from in a relatively small area, so it’s a vital piece of their marketing to have someone out there winning customers over to get them to come to theirs and not their competitors. In fact, our friend didn’t call himself a tout. He called it PR.

When we met up we got a chance to chat to him and I thought I’d share his insights on what made good PR.


Gary told me he doesn’t approach everyone who walks by. He knows that not everyone who passes by are their customers, so he doesn’t waste time on the ones who don’t look the part. He observes them as they walk up the street towards him. He’s making mental observations about their manner, what they’re looking at and if he can hear them, what they’re saying.

The Approach

As they get nearer and he catches their eye, Gary will start talking to them. He’ll make a joke or point something out that he’s observed as they were walking. Unlike other touts who stand in your way barking at you to have a drink at their bar, Gary gets them engaged in a conversation. It doesn’t feel icky. It’s just pleasant conversation. He’s building up rapport.


The sell

Only after he’s got them talking will he ask them if they’re hungry and/or eaten yet and invite them to eat in the best pizza place in Albufeira. It helps that it actually is the best place to eat pizza. Frog’s pizzas are amazing.

But his job isn’t to sell pizza. His job is to direct them up the path to the pizza restaurant where the waiting staff take over.

A ‘no’ is not a ‘no never’

It might not be that they come in that time. And that’s fine. Because the next night they’d more than likely pass in the street again and he’ll get chatting to them again. This time round it’s easier because he’s already built up a rapport from the previous night. He’s friendly and warm. Not desperate, like the other touts. So they’re happy to listen to him and accept the recommendation to eat pizza at Frog’s tonight or another night.

Of all the people that Gary gets into conversation with, 80% come in to eat pizza at Frogs there and then. And the remaining 20% probably come back another night to eat pizza at Frogs. Job done. That’s a good conversion rate by anyone’s standards.


These are the qualities that Gary thinks are necessary for good touting. They’re qualities I think are necessary for all of us involved in getting business.

  1. Thick skin – people can be quite rude when approached cold. They ignore you. Gary takes the attitude, ok so not today. The next day or even the next day after that, he’ll catch their eye and make a joke – ‘I know you’ve been trying to ignore me all week….’ usually works to crack a smile on most hardened faces!
  2. Charisma – you need to come across as charming, open and friendly. It’s probably why touts don’t last more than a couple of seasons – they get disenchanted by the rejection, which in turn affects how they come across – desperate, fed up, unhappy – which means their conversion rates drop even lower, making them more desperate, fed up and unhappy which means they get sacked if they haven’t already left.

How this translates to online selling

In the online world, the process is similar. Being in the right place where likely prospects are. Frogs is in the main strip in Albufeira. People are on holiday and walk through there for a fun night out which will typically involve eating. In the online world, your ‘strip’ it’s where you turn up on the social platforms.

Then from all that passing possibly interested traffic, making it clear who your ideal client is. Gary is Frog’s way of filtering prospects – Are we hungry? Yes, Should we eat at Frog’s? Yes.

In the online world, turning up on the right social media platforms is your version of Gary making observations and getting into dialogue with passer-by’s. You listen to the conversations looking for clues and signs, so that when you start talking, it’s personal to them, so they instantly warm to you.

Then when you’ve established rapport you can dive deeper. Do I have this problem? Yes. Should this be the business to solve my problem? Yes. So like Gary’s prospects, they walk up to the restaurant, the waiting staff show them to a table and hand them a menu, ‘what would you like’? Your people filter through to your website, ready to choose from your menu of offerings. Job done.

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