Sales Tips from the Grand Bazaar

Contrary to popular belief, the art of the deal was not invented by Donald Trump. The ability to forge an agreement between buyer and seller is a much older and unchanging pattern of human interaction that is as ancient as the market itself.

Take the merchants in Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, for example. Shopkeepers selling the goods of the Orient on Europe's doorstep have been working the same time-tested rhythms of the sales cycle under the chaotic, winding, covered streets of the Grand Bazaar for almost 600 years now, and while each merchant applies their own style and nuances to the exchange, the lessons learned from these masters could be well applied to closing more deals and growing your business.

Competing with Distraction

The most captivating element of the Grand Bazaar is the bombardment of all the senses at once. The colours of golden jewellery and bright turquoise tiles, and reds, yellows and orange hues of dozens of pungent spices compete with the sounds of the bustling crowds and the merchants that pander to them. If that wasn't enough competing for the attention of potential customers, bear in mind that there are dozens of shops that sell nearly the same merchandise within the Bazaar, and hundreds more in the adjacent neighbourhoods, all hungry to attract customers and make sales. Like in today's online marketplace, with its  countless distractions, noise and competitors, how is it possible for one business to stand out amongst this crowd?

Building a Foundation of Trust

In the Bazaar, awestruck tourists are cajoled, barked at, whistled at, hustled, strong-armed, fast-talked and manipulated into making expensive purchases by those who rely on sales strategies that closely resemble the kind of used-car sales shenanigans that make us cringe. Trust can be hard for a vendor to earn. 

However, there is a Turkish proverb that says one cup of coffee commits people to a lifetime of friendship, which is why many merchants in the Bazaar insist on beginning any sales pitch with an offer to sit down and enjoy a coffee or tea. While it may seem at first like little more than a pleasantry, according to Tahir Oten, whose family has been selling persian rugs to Bazaar shoppers under the brand name Guney for over 40 years, this step is critical in the foundation of trust that must exist between the buyer and the seller.

"The ceremony with coffee or tea, it cannot be rushed," said Oten. "It is at this time where you listen to your customer and learn about them, who they are, where they live, what they like and why they came into your shop. At the same time, they are learning about you."

Adapting your Approach to your Customer

This slow, relational approach to sales seems in many ways at odds with North America's transactional sales structure, where databases and algorithms promise to tell us everything we need to know about a customer, but the former approach is employed consistently throughout the Bazaar, from shops selling luxurious rugs to those selling knock-off t-shirts and purses. While some shoppers welcome this change of pace and style, others are keen to jump straight to brass tacks and press for a sharp price before they really even look at the merchandise they are negotiating over.

“It's very important that you sell at the right speed,” said Oten. "Sometimes customers want prices right away. Other times, they cannot make up their mind, they take all day to decide and then don't like the price or make a very unfair offer. Once, many years ago, I spent an hour with a customer and she offered $10 for a $1000 carpet. You can't do business like that."

Instead, Oten suggested that the speed of the negotiation will vary somewhat with each customer, but the overall pattern and pace should be set by the salesperson. Of course, everything is negotiable, and the customer knows this. Many tourists though do not have much practice in sales negotiation and that becomes part of the novelty of the Grand Bazaar experience for the shopper and a challenge for the salesman. 

A Relaxed Customer is a Happy Customer

"It's my job to make the experience enjoyable and memorable. That means making the customer feel comfortable. At many other shops the salesmen are very aggressive, but I like to make sure my customers are relaxed, that way when they buy, they are happy. They buy more and I might also be able to take them to my other shop (which sells tiles and pottery) too."

In the end, Oten maintains that the most important part of being an entrepreneur and salesman is to be genuine. "You should have your own style and be yourself. That way customers will trust you and buy from you. You won't sell to every person in the Bazaar, but your customers will like you, come back to you and tell their friends too."

It might seem like overly simplistic advice, but when something has been working for the merchants of the Grand Bazaar since 1461, it's clearly a winning formula.