Sales lessons from an Athens Taxi driver…

Recently I was booked to deliver the keynote talk at a big sales and marketing conference in Athens, Greece. 

Athens - Jan 15The event organiser kindly had a chauffeur collect me at the airport.

As we chatted during the journey I was reminded in no uncertain terms by my driver – what a desperate time many Greeks were experiencing. Massive unemployment, pitifully low minimum wages of those lucky enough to have a job.


They’re deep into a severe financial “crisis” and were just two days from an election – tough times for Greeks no doubt… and a tough gig for a business growth speaker too!


I was all geared up to share hints, tips and strategies to boost sales and profits. But how could I do this without belittling their massive challenges. What could I share that would not sound arrogant or patronising?


Arriving a day ahead of the conference I decided to visit the sights of Athens taking in not only it’s spectacular history, but seeking fresh inspiration for my keynote too.


“Head towards the city centre”, said the hotel concierge. 


“Cross the road, take the second road on the right, walk about 100 yards and you’ll reach the Metro. It’s just six stops and only costs 1.20 Euro” he explained.


Quick and cheap – that’s what he was thinking. Times of austerity and cut backs.


At that moment I was tourist. What did I want? I wanted sight seeing. He was suggesting I head underground – what would I see?


I did as he suggested, just in case it was like no other metro in the world – and what did I see?  Yep. A crowded train, lots of people and a dark tunnel. But he was right, it was cheap. But it failed to meet my needs and wants.


In your business, do you listen to what your clients and prospects actually want? Or do you make suggestions and proposals based on certain assumptions?


I took a couple of taxis after the underground experience, visiting the early Olympic Stadium and other spectacular ancient buildings around the city. It was great to be overground, and to enjoy the sights and sounds of a beautiful, bustling city, but again, each driver was full of doom and gloom.


Moan, groan – 4 euros, thanks. Moan, complain… 4 euros, thanks. 


Then – fortunately I hailed a taxi driven by George.


He welcomed me with a smile. I asked if he could now take me to the Acropolis. We set off on our way. As he drove we engaged in conversation.

George The Taxi Driver - Athens

“Tough right now isn’t it?” I said with a sigh having been conditioned with negativity since arriving in town.


“For sure, it’s tough, but what’s easier to change – the state of the economy, or our attitude towards it?” he said.




That’s the kind of stuff I tell people all the time – now George was my teacher. I loved his attitude.


Then he continued…


“How long are you visiting for, only the Acropolis won’t look at it’s best this time of day, if you’re tight on time you might be better to visit this place or that… and come back to the Acropolis just after lunch” he explained. 


(Sorry, I can’t remember the names of the places he mentioned, but at this point I was more focused on the fact that he was focused on me, my wants and was potentially “up selling”, or “up serving” me better that anyone else I’d met.)


Great idea – how would I get to all these places I asked?


He explained that there are busses and trains – if I can work out which ones to get. Or I could take different taxis from place to place.


He’d quickly become my trusted advisor. 


“Could you take me George”? I asked… well surprise, surprise – yes he could and for 40 euros he’d turn the meter off and stick with me all morning and show me around. He actually turned a 4 euro taxi ride into 60 euros including a tip by the time we’d done.


How are you “up-serving” your clients?


He was brilliant. We drove to the coast and chatted over a coffee.


George explained how he helped his wife get a job in nursing which she’s now had for eight years. He did this after a chance conversation with a doctor, another customer in his cab.


Chance – no. After a conversation he engaged in and listened carefully to. Then took action – he called the doctor as requested once his wife was qualified. Not once but several times until he reached him.


How persistent are you with your follow up?


When we reached the Acropolis – I asked him to park up and join me.

2015-01-22 13.04.23

He shared yet more wisdom – “look at the structure of the building” he said. “There are many columns supporting the roof. Not one, but many… that’s how we need to be in business and in society – many levels of support.”


Brilliant – thanks to George, my talk was coming together!


He finally pointed out another lesson for us all in a busy market square.

2015-01-21 16.13.30

Vendors had stalls crammed with all manner of items – everything for anyone, pile them high and sell them cheap. Much the same stuff on every stall – all they could compete on was price.


Key rings, knickknacks, knives, guns and bottle openers! Seriously!


Then we turned into a quieter road and George pointed into a shop window.


Olive Oil – this shop sells Olive Oil, but these people don’t sell the low end to every household. They sell only high end, beautifully packaged, very fine Olive Oil and to clients from all over the world that want the best – what crisis they’d say…


When times are challenging; sell differently, sell to someone different or sell something different. Don’t just keep doing the same as everyone else and hoping for better results.


Just think of how many ways each of Georges stories applies to your business.


I changed my entire talk – delivered the same messages  – but through a new hero…


Thanks to George – here’s the feedback I got from the organiser.


“The delegates were more than pleased to hear your very inspirational speech! It was the highest rated talk of all 20 speakers at the conference!

We will work together again in our future events!”

Ξένια Μαντζιώρη
Διευθύντρια Σύνταξης Σελφ Σέρβις
Boussias Communications

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