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10 Powerful Lessons I Learned from a Turkish Rug Trader

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Several years ago, I was on a fan boat jetting between islands in Greece and having an excellent time in all respects. The only problem was that there were lots of waves and the boat was crashing into waves and pretty soon I became so sick I realized I needed to get off at the next stop. The next stop was a very small island with only a "boarding house" and no hotel. The next airboat would not be coming through for four days, and I figured that I would get some well-deserved relaxation on the island.

When I got to the boarding house, I was informed that I could share a room with a group of six German tourists. I paid the equivalent of a few dollars per day and was handed a key. After I opened the door to the room, I immediately turned around. A few of the Germans were lying on the floor, and another couple of them were watching a third inject something into himself. I had seen enough and did not stay long enough to unpack my bags.

When I reached the port, I was informed that the only boat passing through for the next few days was arriving in a few hours; it was a freighter bound for Turkey. This sounded good enough for me because I did not feel like spending the next few days in a drug den. 14 hours or so later, I was in Turkey, in a small port town that catered to the occasional cruise ship. It has been so long since this happened that I have forgotten the name of the town.



For the next few days, I wandered the streets and became very interested in how people sold rugs and carpets. There was literally a Turkish bazaar of people attempting to sell rugs and all sorts of knick-knacks. In some shops, they burned incense. In others, they played music and attempted to lure tourists in.

The shopkeepers would walk up to people passing by and speak to them in 10-plus languages until they found out which languages the people spoke. Russian, English, French, Dutch, German, Italian…the languages rolled off the merchants' tongues. I was fascinated by the merchants because they were so persistent and so motivated about attempting to sell rugs and so creative. They tried to sell rugs in a million different ways, it seemed.

What was so fascinating about this experience was that after looking at numerous, numerous rug shops, I became very interested in the idea of purchasing a rug. I could not put my finger on why, however, because not a single one of the rug-shop merchants had seemed particularly interested in selling me a rug. I would try to ask a question occasionally, but the response was most likely to be something along the lines of "How much you want to pay?"

One day, I wandered into a different rug shop, and the people there taught me how to sell rugs—and just about anything. The following are the lessons I learned that day and over the course of the next several days:

1) Put Your Best Products Front and Center.

This rug shop had displayed its best two or three rugs so that passersby could see them. Many other rug shops put their best rugs in the back. The store I went into that day had its very best rugs right out front and center. This attracted my eyes. This was all it took. Every good salesperson and every good sales organization needs "bait" to interest clients and potential customers.

When you think about it, no other strategy makes more sense. When you see the best goods right out front, they are most likely going to attract your attention. Attracting attention is what it is all about.

The rug store was located in a corridor, and the corridor looked like it had been there for thousands of years. (I think it had, in fact, been there that long.) When people passed by, the inside of the shop was barely visible. The only things that could be seen were the rugs outside. Incredibly, most of the other stores nearby simply hid away their best rugs, apparently hoping that if customers came in, they could potentially interest them in the rugs. This was ridiculous. Think of the thousands of people who passed by these rug stores each day without ever seeing the best rugs.

Yet isn't this what we do in sales a lot of the time? We forget to tell people about our best benefits and why they should use our services. We fail to show our best clients our choicest properties immediately or show them inferior goods first. Lead with your strongest product. This will get your customer's attention.

As I got to know these rug traders over the next several days, they told me that the space they were in was exceedingly expensive for Turkey. They paid $800 per month to be one of 1,000-plus shops in this corridor that tourists and others walked by when getting off cruise ships.

The store paying $800 per month in rent is no different than the business on the Internet that is paying $10 per click. If the Internet business can get traffic without paying $10 per click, then it is doing well. The same concept applies to retail establishments. If you have no display that attracts customers and 10 come into your store per month, you are paying $80 per lead. If you have an exciting display and 100 customers come into your store per month, you are paying $8 per lead.

2) Have People Watching Your Customers Who Can Provide Them Assistance When They Need It.

When I walked by the rug store and made eye contact with the beautiful rugs that were placed front and center, there were two salesmen watching me. They immediately came up to me and started to speak with me, smiling and talking enthusiastically until I responded to what they had to say. Had these men not been watching me, I might have simply walked on by.

While different customers purchase things in different ways, you can lose them if you are not on guard to notice the second they need your product or service. In this case, I could have simply walked by the store without stopping—and I most certainly would have had the rug merchants not made immediate eye contact with me and approached me immediately.

You need to be aware of when your customers and clients are ready to buy or want information. Just being ready for your customers can make a profound difference. I have gone into auto dealerships before, ready to purchase a car, and then left after being there for more than an hour because no one would help me! This sort of thing happens with customers all the time and in every sort of business. If you see a client who looks ready to buy or looks interested, you need to make immediate contact with him or her.

3) Always Look Professional and Ensure That All of Your Salespeople Look Professional.

The men who approached me when they saw I was looking at the rug while walking by (along with a crowd of other people at the very same time) were very well dressed compared to the others around them. They looked like they had just taken showers and were also wearing nice-looking shirts that appeared to have just been ironed. They were neatly shaven and looked very good.

What was so interesting about this was that later I learned that the "men" assisting me (who were young—only around 16 or so) were actually poor, uneducated Kurdish boys from the desert whose parents had persuaded the store owner to hire them. The boys were paid no more than a couple of dollars per day and slept under a tarp outside of the store in the evenings. The store owner let them borrow money to look the part and gave them a very minimal commission for each sale that resulted from their efforts.

What this business understood—and what every successful salesperson understands—is that you always need to look the part and look your very best when attempting to make a sale. The quality of the persona you put forward will determine the presumed quality of your products. Had these boys been poorly dressed (like poor Kurds from the countryside), they would not have aroused my interest and would have, instead, frightened me away.

How many salespeople make the mistake of not always looking the part? Clients want to be impressed by you and need to feel as if you have the capacity to lead them. They want to be proud of the people selling to them because their decisions to do business with certain people say things about them, as well.

4) A Good Sales Manager Does Not Interfere with His or Her Subordinate's Authority.

Once I got inside the carpet shop, I was met by another salesman, while the "spotters" who had led me inside continued to work the tourists walking by. I started asking one of the salesmen numerous questions about the different rugs in the store.

The salesman could not answer most of my questions. I asked about dye, about whether the rugs were handmade, about how many knots there were per inch, and more. The salesman I was speaking to simply could not answer the questions. He eventually approached a man sitting behind a desk (the owner of the rug shop) and asked him for help answering my questions.

I had noticed that the owner of the store never once interrupted his salesman when he was stuck. After a few minutes of speaking with the owner of the store, I realized that his knowledge and understanding of rugs was profound and that he could have talked at length for hours in response to my questions. However, he did not interrupt the salesperson while he was speaking and also did not give the slightest indication that he would. This was very important.

A sales manager who interrupts subordinates sends the wrong signals to a prospect. The prospect may think the merchant or service provider is disorganized. Additionally, the prospect may simply get uncomfortable and leave. Finally, the salesperson may feel demoralized. There is nothing worse than demoralizing a salesperson in front of a customer or making a salesperson feel as if he or she does not have any authority. This is never a wise tactic and undermines the strength of a sales organization at its very core.

The owner of the rug shop did not step in until his help was requested. Once he did, I actually respected him as he began answering questions that his salesperson had not been able to answer.

5) A Good Salesperson Constantly (Sincerely) Compliments His or Her Prospect.

From the second I walked by the rug store and made eye contact with the rugs displayed outside, I was complimented. First, the "spotters" complimented me on spotting the rugs, telling me they were the very nicest rugs in the store—"perhaps the nicest in the city."

"You have very good taste and an excellent eye for carpets," one of them said. This was quite powerful and lessened my defenses somewhat. "You have such good taste in carpet. If you like these, you will be even more impressed with these rugs."

When I finally started speaking with the owner of the store, his first instinct was to compliment me, as well. "I heard all of your questions. We've never had someone come in like you who sought to be so educated. You must be very smart."

This sort of complimenting naturally lessens the tension and creates an atmosphere of goodwill between the parties. These compliments were also insightful because they were about issues that I was susceptible to being complimented on.

How many salespeople compliment their prospects consistently? If someone in sales or marketing is not complimenting his or her prospects, chances are he or she is doing something wrong and should be in a different profession.

6) You Need to Educate Your Potential Clients Excessively.

Salespeople who do good jobs of educating their clients are almost uniformly the most successful. At the Turkish rug shop, I asked tons of questions about the rugs and did not stop asking questions for several days. I believe I spent at least five days with the rug traders in their shop asking them all sorts of questions. I became fascinated with the rug trade.

When a prospect has unanswered questions about a product, he or she is much less likely to purchase it. You need to educate your customers as extensively as possible. Tell your customers everything they could possibly want to know, and have information available to teach them everything they want to know. The more people learn about something, the more they come to appreciate it.

You know your family extremely well. You know your friends extremely well. Most people do not start caring about someone or something until they begin learning about him or her or it. You need to educate your clients in excruciating detail about the product or service you are selling so they will want to purchase it.

When Steve Jobs was competing with Jean-Louis Gassée to sell his NeXT company to Apple and Gassée was trying to sell his own system, Jobs' team did far better. The result was the sale of a company for $377.5 million versus no sale at all. In a biography of Steve Jobs, iCon: Steve Jobs, the Greatest Second Act in the History of Business, the story is told as follows:
Steve Jobs went first, and again was brilliant and compelling. "Pragmatic, specific, and precise," Gil later called it. Then he handed off to Avie Tevanian, his top technical guru. Tevanian had brought along a laptop to demonstrate that NeXTSTEP was not just an idea in progress but a functioning operating system. The two of them put on a gold-star presentation.

They were followed by Jean-Louis, who either misunderstood that this was a shoot-out and his final opportunity or was so certain of a decision in his favor that he didn't think he had to do anything further than show up. He arrived alone, empty-handed, and not prepared to do anything much more than answer questions. Gil wrote that "everything pointed to Steve Jobs and NeXT, but Jean-Louis had made it a no-contest. The vote for NeXT was almost a foregone conclusion." (Some insiders thought that Gassée's software would have been the better solution…)
As in many crucial events in history, the decision to educate the audience of buyers made a profound difference—in this case, it was worth more than $350 million. Isn't this the same mistake many people make when selling goods and services? Far too many people fail to educate their clients and lose sales due to this. Far too many sellers are far too arrogant and feel as if they do not need to wow clients.

The owner of the rug store lectured me for hours. He brought out tea and talked about where he bought each individual rug. He had purchased numerous books about rugs from secondhand bookstores and had put paperclips on various pages to allow me to read about certain rugs. He had a photo album with pictures of his favorite rugs and notes beside each picture of a rug. The man even had a loom set up in his office where he could show people like me how the rugs were made.

The ability to educate customers is of paramount importance. Educating people shows them that you have a passion for your product or service. Educating people also gives them the knowledge they need to care about the service in the way that you want them to—in a way that makes them buy.

In the case of the Turkish rug trader, after attempting to sell me thousands of dollars worth of rugs and still seeing I was not entirely convinced, the man offered to take me on a 20-plus-hour car ride to the Turkey-Iraq border in order to purchase rugs with him. I almost took him up on his offer. A good salesperson will go to all lengths possible to educate a client.

7) Bond with Potential Clients and Be Human.

It is exceptionally important to bond with potential clients. The man who owned the rug store immediately served me tea and took me to a quiet part of the store (which turned out to be a sort of "rug cave") while he talked about rugs and answered questions. He introduced me to everyone working for him and told me personal details about them, such as where they were from and so forth.

The owner of the store even introduced me to his cousin and took me with him and a group of his friends to a Turkish casino. This level of bonding with a client was fantastic and unlike anything I had ever seen before. I will never forget when he introduced me to his cousin. The cousin looked somewhat depressed. "His wife is like his mother," the rug store owner told me, laughing.

Establishing a certain level of familiarity and bonding with a client is necessary in order to create a human connection and ensure that the client feels comfortable with buying. A seemingly simple purchase can take on a whole new level of meaning.

Over the next several days, I actually made friends with the rug traders. I watched as the tax authorities came and frightened them into paying taxes. I watched them have internal squabbles. They introduced me to their friends and the places they liked to go to eat lunch during the week. They showed me how they sold stuff to tourists and won their confidence. The men talked about the tourist women they had struck up short-term relationships with while the cruise ships were docked. In all respects, the experience was fascinating and meaningful. This showed me that people who are truly exceptional at sales bond with their prospects.

8) Trust Your Clients.

The rugs the traders wanted to sell me cost thousands of dollars. After days of haggling and bonding, I finally told them that while their rugs were beautiful, I could hardly justify paying the amounts they were asking for them without getting them appraised. Incredibly, the men told me to write them a check and that I could cancel it and send them the difference if I found out the rugs were worth less than they said they were when I got home.

I could scarcely believe it. This ended up really sealing the deal for me with these traders. I purchased several thousands of dollars worth of rugs from them. I would not have done this had I not trusted them.

As an aside, when I returned home, I discovered (after visiting numerous rug shops) that two of the rugs I had purchased were not worth what the Turkish traders said they were worth. I cancelled my check (which they had not cashed) and, after several telephone conversations with the men, sent them a check for the value of the rugs. While this left a bad taste in my mouth, the trust did go both ways, and I realized that there is a different method of doing business.

9) Love Your Product.

Early one morning, I was sitting in the carpet cave with the Turkish rug traders, surrounded by rugs. I could not have anticipated at the time that I would soon learn one of the most powerful business lessons of my life.

We'd been drinking tea and a Turkish liquor, Yaki, for hours, and it was about 3:30 in the morning. One of the Turks was trying to explain to me the enthusiasm it takes to succeed in the rug business. But he was really saying more about life itself.

He went off down a corridor and came back with a rug that was worth about $40,000. It was the most beautiful rug I had ever seen in my life. The colors were so vibrant. It was a Kurdish rug, about 100 years old, and had been smuggled into Turkey from Iraq during the Gulf War.

The trader lit a cigarette, took a long hit, and took a sip of the Yaki. The eyes in the room were all glued to the rug. The rug really was something else. But this particular trader had his thoughts on something even more significant. He was looking toward the ceiling.

"You do not see it now," he said slowly. "But you will."

"What don't I see?" I asked.

"You have to love the rug," he said. "You have to love the rug."

The idea of loving the rug was so powerful. For the rug traders, the rug represented how they made a living. It was an art form and something that transformed lives everywhere—including their own lives. Carpet, to these traders, truly was "magical."

If you think about it, how many merchants and salespeople truly love the products and services they are representing? When you love your product or service, everything changes. It changes for you and for the people you are doing business with.

10) A Well-Sold Product or Service Has Long-Term Value.

Using considerable strength, I carted all of the rugs I had purchased from the rug traders back to the United States as luggage. There are two matching rugs in particular that I like quite a bit and have taken with me from place to place across the United States for more than a decade now. These rugs have always been on one side of my bed and have been with me through different relationships and numerous life changes.

I look at these rugs every night before going to bed and step on them every morning when I get up. I will probably pass them on to one of my children when I die, and I will tell my children the same story about these rugs that I have told you today—they have that much meaning.

And this is the point of something that has been well sold. The good or service may not be worth a ton of money, but when the person selling it imbues it with a ton of meaning, it becomes worth something to the buyer. This is significant.

Perhaps the rugs are worth far more than any estimator could ever appraise them for. The reason for this is simple. They are priceless because of what they have come to mean and what the owner of the rug store stated they meant. He told me the rugs were from a family, that he had purchased them, and that they had been a wedding present. He held them under bright lights and almost cried when he spoke about them. The rugs are meaningful to me, and I will always consider them priceless because of what the rug trader made them mean.
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