Sales Lessons from the Grand Bazaar

One of the nicest things about being in sales is getting to travel to interesting places that you probably wouldn’t go to normally.  In my career, I’ve seen nearly the entire US and several countries.  Last week, I got the opportunity to travel to Istanbul and it was an amazing experience.  I am very intriqued by historic sites, and in particular the events that shaped the world we live in today, but actually planning a trip to Turkey wasn’t high on my list.  My family would much rather travel to more relaxed and vacation sites that require less thinking.  And… as a salesperson that travels, we are often at the mercy of where our families want to go when we do get fun travel.

I was certainly fascinated by Istanbul.  Its history.. Its beauty.. Its culture.  One of the many sites that I visited was the famous Grand Bazaar.  The Grand Bazaar is a massive market with over 1,000 shops selling everything from jewelry, clothing, food, trinkets, etc.  The trip through the Bazaar gave me a fantastic chance to view lots of different sales styles, tactics, mistakes, and successes.

The overarching style of sale here is one of haggling.  There is no set price for just about anything.  The vendors and the customers all understand that haggling is the mode of operation here.  I set about a number of purchases to investigate the sales style of some of the vendors.

Understand your prospects alternatives and willingness to walk

My first purchase was a toy gun for my son.  (Yes, yes… Its already been established that I have questionable parenting skills – and I’m sure I will get judged in the comments again.)  A beautiful replica of an Ottoman Empire Blunderbuss with a mother of pearl inlay seemed like a great purchase for a boy of 7, to me.  I asked the vendor how much the gun was.  He said it was 90 Lyra.  I said that I only wanted to pay at max 50 Lyra.  He then showed me some cheap guns at about 30 Lyra.  I said thanks and started to walk away.  He grabbed me back and said that he could do 85 Lyra for the original gun.    I said, “sorry.  I only want to pay 50 Lyra for something for my son.  If you can’t do 50, then I’ll find something else.”  He went to 75.  I said, “50.”  He said, “I keep changing my price, but you stay the same.”  So I said, “OK.. 51 Lyra”  He laughed, put the gun in a bag and said, “60 Lyra”.  I handed him 60 Lyra and went on.

I respected his tenacity, and his salesmanship, but he certainly saw that I didn’t have that much attachment to the item, and was willing to walk.  My willingness to walk was not a tactic.  It was literally that I wasn’t that attached to the item – but at 60 Lyra – approx $40 – it seemed like a decent deal.  The challenge that this vendor, and all vendors there have, is that there are 50 vendors selling very similar stuff in a very close proximity.  So his challenge was to make the deal as quickly as possible and as fairly as possible.  By keeping it a fast exchange, and quickly understanding my pain points and my willingness to pay, he was able to quickly negotiate a deal – and get me off my initial price.

When you are selling, you need to understand your prospects ability to walk, their absolute need for your product, their willingness to take alternatives – even if they aren’t perfect matches.  When you are selling your product, do you know the alternatives that they are looking at?  Do you understand why they might choose an alternative?  This vendor might have understood my hesitancy with getting a gun home on a plane or my willingness to just get anything for my son.

When you truly understand why someone will NOT buy your product – you are more likely to understand why they WILL buy your product.

Understanding generally what your customer is looking for – if anything

After I purchased the gift for my son, I started browsing around again, and was stopped by three different people asking me to “check out their uncle’s shop right around the corner”  These wandering “lead generation tools” are seeking out people on the street to pull them to their shops.   When the first person grabbed me, he asked what I was looking for and I told him that I was shopping for my wife.  He then took me around to his “uncle’s store” and when I got in the store, I was brought a delicious glass of hot tea.  I was then shown, in a private space, a series of very beautiful and amazing silk carpets.  I acknowledged that the carpets were indeed well made and beautiful (which they were… probably the most beautiful carpets I’ve ever seen or touched) and kept looking for my exit.  After I was shown about 25 carpets, the salesman finally told me that the rug I liked the best was only $10,000 – which he said was a great deal.  I actually believe this probably was a good deal given that it was a very large handwoven silk carpet with a very complex design.

I explained to him that while I thought the carpets were beautiful, I was not in the market for a carpet – and especially not a carpet for $10,000 that I then had to cart around the rest of the day and then 5,000 miles back home.  He then tried desperately to show me $5,000 and $3,000 carpets but I finally got my exit chance.  I thanked him for the tea and went on my way.

Two more times I was approached by the “lead gen” guys to go to their “Uncle’s Store”  Apparently the thing in Istanbul is to have your nephew pimp your store in the Bazaar.

What struck me as I thought about the exchange was that I wondered how often this tactic was successful.  Were there many people who when just walking thru a bazaar, just suddenly decide to drop $10,000 when they went to the bazaar not looking to?  It seems to me that if I’m going to spend $10,000, there has been some thought put into it before hand.  And, I was certainly not dressed in such a way that would have given him the impression that I was much wealthier than I am where dropping $10,000 would have been an afterthought.  (or do they think all Americans are that wealthy?)

This salesperson didn’t once try to understand me, my shopping habits, my ability to spend $10,000 on a moments notice, or any of the skills that I would expect someone to have if they are in a high priced product sale.

When you sell your product, do you think about who you are calling on and their ability to pay for your product?  If you are cold-calling, do you even know if they need or have ever thought about a product like yours.  The answer is probably that they havent, and you need to take this into account.  You need to take the time to understand the customer better.  This salesperson sat me down and gave me tea – which would have been the perfect opportunity to find out things like… what do I do for a living, do I live in a house or an apartment, do I have a co-financial decision maker (wife) at home that would change my purchase habits on large items, etc.  He didn’t ask me any of those questions and was therefore just throwing anything and everything at me in the hopes that something would stick.

It was a very curious exchange and one that I’d love to see stats on how often this works for them.

Speaking the same language

My third exchange was purchasing food.   This exchange didn’t actually happen inside the bazaar, but near it.   As I tried to order food and wine, the waiter just looked very confused – obviously not understanding anything we were saying – and it took quite a while pointing at menus and pictures before we got our order.

This was certainly not the waiters fault as it was me who was in the foreign country and should have been able to communicate, but it helped to illustrate something to me.  Are you and your prospect speaking the same “language?”  Are you talking in your native tounge and using the buzz words and phrases that make perfect sense to you – but when your prospect looks at you – they have no idea what you are talking about?

Too often I see salespeople who are so close to their product that they don’t realize that everyone outside of their company has NO idea what they are talking about.  You should always make sure that you are speaking in the native tongue of your prospect if you want an easier sale.

I have to say that my trip to Istanbul was educational, successful, and informative, and as usual… I found great sales lessons in the trip.

  • D. George

    I see you weren’t able to avoid item # 5 on my Istanbul list, haha!