5 Startup Sales Tips From Turkish Rug Dealers

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5 Startup Sales Tips From Turkish Rug Dealers


I'm writing this article on the flight back from a week-long trip to Istanbul, Turkey.  My wife Kirsten is an amateur rug collector and we decided to celebrate her birthday in Istanbul where the 11th International Conference On Oriental Carpets was being held.  (Candidly, until earlier this year, I didn't even know there was such a conference -- let alone the fact that it drew hundreds of people).
Loving husband that I am, I accompanied Kirsten during her visits to a variety of rug dealers in Sultanhamet (the old district of Istanbul which is the carpet capital of the world).  This is where The Grand Bazaar is located.  If you've never been to Istanbul, I highly recommend it.  It's a great city.

In any case, here are some of the insights I gained from my experience.
Sales Tips From Turkish Rug Dealers
1.  Make your customers smarter:  I was very impressed with the amount of time various dealers spent with Kirsten educating her on the various types of rugs, their histories and the regions from which they came.  Of course, it shouldn't be surprising that these dealers would try to sell their wares, and it would be easy to dismiss their efforts as not much more than a form of selling.  But, at the best dealers, this went well beyond just selling.  Even when it was clear that certain rugs were outside of our budget and there was close to a zero chance of a sale, the passion some of the dealers had still continued to show through.  They were genuinely pleased to share their knowledge.  If you're a startup founder, chances are that you know a lot more about the problem your offering solves than the customer does.  I'd suggest you share some of your knowledge and do everything possible to make your customers smarter (without sounding patronizing).

Pithy Quote:  If your offering is clearly the "smart" choice for the customer, helping the customer get smarter is a great strategy. 

2.  Focus On Relationships, Not Transactions:  The rug dealers did not behave in a way that I expected when it came to their selling process.  Rarely did I ever feel pressued to purchase anything.  Once it became clear that Kirsten was a new (but passionate) amateur collector, the dealers seemed to recognize that there were going to be a lifetime of future opportunities.  They sought to build a relationship, not close a transaction.  I'm guessing that this strategy has worked for them in the past as many avid collectors and U.S.-based dealers make regular trips back to Istanbul and become lifelong customers.  As a startup founder, even though you may only be selling a low-end (or even free) product, your early customers should all be oriented around relationships.  These first customers will help shape the product and give you insights into future opportunities.  Don't get overly maniacal about "closing the transaction".  Take the time to forge the early relationships. 

3.  Make It Safe and Easy To Leave:  Every dealer we encountered was supremely polite and courteous.  Even at that most crucial of times -- when we were ready to walk out the door without having bought anything (which was most of the time).  They thanked us for stopping in.  I kept waiting for the hard-sell, but it never came.  I think startups can go even further.  Send signals to potential clients that you will make it just as easy to walk out the door as you made it for them to walk-in.  Go out of your way to reduce the customer's barrier to exit.  This is counter-intuitive (you would think it would be smarter to erect higher barriers to exit).  The easier it is for customers to walk out, the more likely it is that they'll walk in.

Pithy Quote:  By making yourself easy to leave, you make yourself easy to love.
4.  Don't Disparage The Competition:  Not once did we have a dealer state (rightly or wrongly) that another well-known dealer in town had higher prices, inferior quality or offer other forms of criticism.  Instead, they focused on what their particular specialty was and what made them different. 
5  Don't Judge The Customer:  Kirsten and I are not the typical rug shoppers.  When walking in to a high-end dealer, it would be easy to immediately dismiss us as being "non-buyers".  Or, it would be even easier to assume that I was the primary buyer (it seems that most antique rug collectors are men).  But, the dealers did not make the mistake of assuming anything.  Kirsten was greeted with much energy and enthusiasm.  It seems that the Turkish rug dealers had learned, after decades of experience, that you should treat every customer that walks in the door as if they were a serious buyer, because there's really way to really tell for sure.  I contrast this to my first car buying experience in Boston.  I went to a high-end dealer ready to make a purchase and was treated as if I were simply there to admire the cars, but couldn't afford one.

Pithy Quote:  Your best customers unfortunately do not walk around with convenient labels on their heads.  You'll actually have to try and get to know them.

For those of you that have been to Turkey or shopped for rugs, you may have had a much different experience than I did.  Could be that we just got "lucky" and wound up in shops that had a disproportionately high level of professionalism.  I don't think any of the above insights are particularly controversial, but if you have comments or criticisms, please share.

Posted by Dharmesh Shah on Tue, Apr 24, 2007


Here is a great post that follows on from the first tip of making your customers smarter - http://www.freshview.com/thoughts/2007/03/5_reasons_why_teaching_your_cu.html

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 7:47 AM by Scott Carpenter

One more tip... this one comes from a dealer my Dad knew in Khorramshahr, southern Iran, when he served there as a US Consul many years ago. "If your customers offer to pay you in unfamiliar currency, make sure you know its value." Somebody once paid my Dad's rug-dealer friend in very poorly counterfeited US $20 bills. He got smart about US currency very fast after that.

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 7:53 AM by Oliver Jones

I just returned from Istanbul, and enjoyed the Bazaars there, here is a business idea i had based on their negotiations. http://immadsnewworld.blogspot.com/2007/04/business-idea-grand-bazaar.html Kind off funny that I should read your post on a similar subject. I agree with you the Turkish sellers were very good, the ones in some of the more touristy areas were slightly more annoying. Some of them did seem to have the same sales script which made me wonder whether they went to a english sales school I heard the "What nationality are you" line, "welcome, brother" and a few others many times.

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 8:04 AM by Immad

Great post. I am happy to add that these behaviours were adequately demonstrated by an American rug dealer in Edinburgh, who had lived here for 30 years, selling rugs sourced from Baluchistan, Persia, Turkey etc. to the collectors and amateur buyers alike. He retired last year. He knew the provenance of each rug he sold and was adept at guiding his buyers (however inexperienced) with things such as how modern rugs from certain parts of Iran differed from older ones in weaving and colours and patterns. He even moved me away from my quest for a round silk rug (although I am going to find one, I am sure) which I wanted for my floor and not my walls. He also gave me tips on cleaning rugs (Tip 1: never send for chemical cleaning. Do it yourself and regularly with diluted soapy water). Over 2 years or so, I spent a lot of money with him buying rugs with stories as interesting as the weave. And even the foot-mats to the bathrooms in my house are now Persian mats!

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 9:25 AM by Shefaly

My experience has been that there is a natural tension between #1 and #4...part of educating your customer is explaining to them why your offering is better than the competition...it can be tricky to educate them on the advantage of your approach within disparaging the approach that someone else has taken...

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 9:42 AM by Sean Lindsay

My wife and I were in Istanbul in 2003 and bought a rug from a seller in the Grand Bazaar. It was really an amazing process and for the most part they did follow the script above. The part that amazed me the most was the fact that they asked if we wanted anything to drink or eat and proceed to order us two chai (Turkish tea) which was delivered to the store and I did not have to pay. I am not sure if this is the norm but it certainly made me feel special. In the end we bought a $ 300 USD rug (3'x4') so I guess it was worth it to get us the tea ;-) I highly recommend visiting Istanbul but the traffic is just a little nuts.

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 10:22 AM by Toby Field

Toby Field. Çay (turkish tea) is a part of every process in Turkey :D It's often free of charge, sign of courtesy and hospitality :)

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 10:34 AM by Emre

When I lived in the Persian Gulf, there was a rug dealer I liked who fit all of your criteria. One day, he was trying to explain something to me, and I paraphrased something Warren Buffett said about insurance policies, and told him, "There's no such thing as a bad rug, only a bad price." His eyes lit up and he smiled, and he said, "Exactly!" When I moved back to the United States, I believe that line had become part of his talk.

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 10:48 AM by Valentime Michael Smith

I spent two weeks in Turkey in 1991 and I concur with your experience. All the merchants there were extremely friendly and eager to have you come in and share a glass of tea. They took the time to explain how rugs were made and the different weaving styles used. It didn't matter how serious you were as a customer (I wasn't, having just graduated college). This was six months after the Gulf War and business wasn't exactly booming, but there was no hard sell going on. I don't know what Istanbul or the rest of Turkey is like today, but my trip was memorable and and I think very fondly of the country and its people to this day.

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 10:54 AM by Scott

I think personal touch and going extra miles is definitely something that is missing from many American businesses. If it wasn't you wouldn't have to wait hours on the phone wating to get customer support online.

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 11:28 AM by Gene

I am an amateur rug dealer myself. Most of my rugs are from Kashmir. the one thing I have learnt from my dealings is simply the care with which they show you their products. I have a rug that took 1 full year for 1 person to weave and its silk-on-silk rug with an amazing level of detail on it. It was sold as an art piece and that's how I spent much more than what I would have otherwise and continue to enjoy the art work. Great post with amazing parallels for sales folks!

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 11:29 AM by Paroon

Great post, my family went to Ephesus to see the ruins, and on our break in town, we were treated to a wonderful display. Twenty of us were led into the shop and downstairs, where our drink orders were taken, and we were made comfortable. Then, as one man basically gave a lecture on Turkish rugs (history, how made, etc.), four men rushed around, grabbing relevant pieces to show the audience. In the end, two elderly couples purchased large rugs, and everyone left. I only wish the majority of American businesses approached the customer with this much enthusiasm and genuine rappor, with no thought to, as has been said, "closing the deal."

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 11:54 AM by Scott

How did you manage your vegetarianism in Turkey? I've always wanted to visit, but the prospect of having to eat grass (so to speak) freaks me out.

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 12:07 PM by zooman

great post, love the connect to the real world, help me remember that while e is the new marketplace, serving customers is an ancient art form. here is a related article detailing the five step selling process. E-Myth Lead Conversion

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 12:17 PM by Hasan Luongo

sorry, link above is no good, try this: http://www.e-myth.com/cs/community/view/ms_a/217

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 12:20 PM by Hasan Luongo

Zooman: I actually found Istanbul to be very vegetarian friendly. Great food with a fair amount of choices for vegetarians.

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 2:18 PM by

Zooman: the trick is to ask for "zay-tin-yaw-ly" (zeytinyagli = made with olive oil) foods. There's a good variety of those which are made without meat.

posted on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 8:16 PM by Joe

I lived in Turkey for 17 years (born and graduated H.S. there), but after a hiatus of nine years I returned, and wrote a short story about my experiences in Istanbul upon my return. This article inspired me to post my short story on my blog. http://www.khan.org/blog/index.cgi/2007/04/24#carpetsales

posted on Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 12:12 AM by Khan Klatt

Zooman: I've been to Turkey about 15 times over the last 10 years - a vegetarian the whole time. I concur w/ Joe's suggestion about "zeytin yağlı" - and would also add that about half of all "meze" (appetizers) are vegetarian.

Key danger words for a vegetarian:
"Tavuk" chicken
"Balık" fish
"Et" meat (signifies lamb by default, though applies to any meat)

Important question you can ask:
"Et suyu var mı?" pronounced roughly "et sooyoo VAR muh?", meaning "Is there meat broth?" - which is a great way to navigate through Turkey's delicious offering of corba (soups).

posted on Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 5:13 AM by Jon

Lol, just be careful for most of the salesmen in the Grand Bazar (Egyptian Bazar in Eminenu, down the road from Sultanhamet). They are quite aggressive and when you make the mistake to enter their shops they'll most of the time try to terrorize you into buy stuff. Doesn't work for me, I can handle myself. But you're warned.

posted on Wednesday, April 25, 2007 at 7:05 AM by Steven

Nice article and I'm glad you liked istanbul. imho, it all boils down to cultural context: From a sociological point of view, means of communication highly depends on cultural context. The culture's context may be divided into two (not so clear-cut) categories: high-context cultures and low-context cultures (being any of them is not a bad thing don't worry) In low context cultures (like Sweden or the States) words -generally- do not have side meanings. non-verbal behavior (i.e. body language) and non-written context of the text is often ignored. There is a high reliance on rules and legal paperwork. When communicating with these kinds of cultures, one should give direct messages and be as clear as possible. Because words carry all information, no additional meanings are bound to them. On the other hand, in high-context cultures (such as Saudi Arabia,Japan and Turkey) people depend heavily on the situation, the context of the message, non-verbal behavior in creating and interpreting communications. In high context cultures special emphasis is given on background, (undocumented, non-verified by an independend third party) personal reputation, and basic values. As you may guess, legal paperwork is given least emphasis. Contrary to low-context cultures, the best approach to give messages to a high context culture is to give "indirect messages", taking senses and feelings into account. (For instance Japanese commercials show beautiful scenery on the background most of the time). There, words do not carry all info, and the whole "context" of the communication is important. Hope that explains all that warmness of Turkish dealers. And yes istanbul is a fabulous city to fall in love (literally). Cheers from Gallipoli / Turkey.

posted on Thursday, April 26, 2007 at 2:21 PM by Volkan Özçelik

Nice article, Dharmesh. The Turkish Rug Dealers are certainly giving it a nice spin. I must admit, I wasn’t nearly as observant when shopping in Istanbul - a place where it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the diversity of shopping displays. I’ve been in Istanbul for a couple of times last year. I can confirm that the number of rugs sold there are enough to make a quilt visible from the moon. The art of selling must be embedded in Turkish genes. Though they can sometimes be slightly persuasive, the vendors in Istanbul will give you a unique shopping experience. I wandered around the crowded Grand Bazaar and walked the streets around it. There is also a nice street market behind the Blue Mosque. In one of the small booths I found a photo of Clinton which was taken there during his visit. The owner was very proud to be in the picture with the former president of the USA. That’s where I ended buying my own rug. I must say, I don’t know anything about rugs, but your post brought back some memories and I came up with three additional tips on my blog. All of them inspired by The Turkish Rug dealers: http://qgsoftware.com/blog/. I suspect, those dealers are so good, that I greatly overpaid for my purchase. I don’t plan to do any research on that. Instead, I prefer to nurture the thought that I got a great deal. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

posted on Friday, May 11, 2007 at 9:40 AM by Sergei

PLEASE: Larger fonts (or at least support browser choice of larger fonts.

At 39 my eyes are getting worse by the minute and with an LCD monitor at native 1200+ resolution I can barely read this 'blog (which I love.)

posted on Saturday, May 12, 2007 at 10:49 PM by Speech therapy after stroke

Those rug dealer are most of the time family business and they start to train their kids on elementary school age. I am glad that you enjoyed your trip. Tea is a rituel in Turkey- happily for free:)

posted on Saturday, June 30, 2007 at 5:41 AM by Oya

If you would love the same experence as this rug dealer come in to a Harry Rosen store in canada we are a upper scale mens store I work at the Yorkdale store in Toronto drop in any time we are open and let me and my colleaugues educate you on the fine aspects of good clothing you will be glad you did .thank you

posted on Thursday, September 20, 2007 at 9:51 AM by Cory Grafstein

i want to buy gave / tullu rag rugs. does anyone out there supply??thanks .ross

posted on Thursday, December 20, 2007 at 4:07 PM by ross

This is great, and if you have ever been involved in sales or selling then you may well relate to some of these – and hey please grow the list, I am sure there are a lot more out there that I have not even heard of!
So check it out here: http://digg.com/comedy/11_reasons_selling_sucks

posted on Thursday, March 06, 2008 at 3:11 PM by Simona Rusnakova

Enjoyed reading, good tips and advice.

posted on Monday, May 12, 2008 at 9:07 AM by Niall Devitt

Dear Customer Service,
My name is Eric Moore,the representative For kshearman inc. in Turkey,we will like
to have a order from you ,but we will like to know if you can ship to our
location Turkey and if you can accept credit card as a means of payment.
We shall be expecting your response.
Eric Moore.
kshearman inc.

posted on Saturday, May 24, 2008 at 10:39 PM by eric moore

Dear Sir/Madam, 
Our company in Uganda,Africa deals in computers,watches,mobile phones,used shoes,clothes solar panels and other mechadise..We would like to get in toch with your company so that we can purchase some goods.Hope for your cooperation. 
Company contacts are, 

posted on Friday, August 15, 2008 at 1:54 AM by SALI ADUL

hi,we are weawing Turkish Carpet since 4 genaration.If you have any questions I would like to answer them with pleacure.İf you have visit to Turkey,have great time:)

posted on Sunday, January 25, 2009 at 5:40 PM by Hakan Tosun

great post, love the connect to the real world, help me remember that while e is the new marketplace, serving customers is an ancient art form.

posted on Monday, April 27, 2009 at 5:29 AM by ozn

increasingly come into question with this turkey of such sites is 

posted on Monday, April 27, 2009 at 5:31 AM by bng

We like conning people especially dumb Americans, they will fall for anything.

posted on Friday, June 19, 2009 at 3:17 PM by Bill

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