Every good seller has their secret, and Bete’s is very easy to guess. The clue is in her smiling eyes, strong voice and expressive manner. Her customers only need a few minutes of conversation to find out: Bete’s secret is friendliness. She gestures when she speaks, chooses the right words and puts her customers at ease. Her wide smile is the finishing touch. No one can resist Bete’s charms. This was how she won her first customer in 2010, when she first became a vendor for Aurora da Rua.
Selling the street paper was her first experience of working after spending 10 years on the streets. “It was my way into heaven,” Bete explains. “I began to organise myself financially, I got my dentures, I opened a savings account and I bought a mobile phone.” She is articulate and a grafter, and so it was little surprise that the offer of a permanent position soon followed. Today, this former homeless person is celebrating seven years as a facilitator on the Levanta-te e Anda [Get Up and Walk] Project. Despite her work in this role, Bete has not walked away from selling Aurora da Rua. During her free time, she sells lingerie, perfume and beauty products.
Selling is Bete’s true vocation. During her time with Aurora da Rua, she produced a sales guide based on her own routine. “I used to sell copies of the paper on the buses I caught, in the shops I went into and even during medical appointments,” she tells me. “Once, the doctor stopped examining me to read the newspaper and afterwards he said: ‘Dona Bete, give me ten of these newspapers!’ Around the same time, I showed my boss the edition with my comments about what I would do if I was president of Brazil. She loved it and she bought 50 copies in one go!” Bete roars with laughter as she tells me these stories.
Another word to add to Bete’s marketing dictionary is spontaneity. Wherever she is, her makeshift shopping counter will be nearby. “My bag is a shopping centre; my virtual shop,” she jokes. She makes her sales completely naturally, with the levity and magic of someone pulling rabbits out of a hat. “I don’t like to play on emotions or compassion,” Bete says. “I always try to be outgoing and to make the sale an enjoyable moment for the customer.”
Bete talks about selling with the expertise of someone who really understands the topic. As well as social reintegration, her profession has allowed her to develop her skills and another thing that has always been genuine: her gift for winning people over. “Nowadays, I am known as ‘Dona [which means ‘owner’ in Portuguese] Bete’,” she says. “I wake up and I see a fridge, an oven, a house. It’s satisfying.”
Her plan now is to continue her studies, get a diploma and give lectures about sales. For those interested in the subject, Bete tells me that one of the tips in her guide to being a good seller will be as follows: “A word that you must never remind the client of is ‘no’,” she explains. “You must respect their limits, without persuading them into anything. You just need to win them over. That way, they will miss you and will come back as they are interested in the product. Remember: you’ll need the client more than once, so as well as selling, focus on winning them over.”
Translated from Portuguese by Ellie Weekes