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Lessons From a Persian Rug Merchant in Jaipur

“Salesmanship, too, is an art; the perfection of its technique requires study and practice.” – James Cash Penney

He had an oversized mustache, a beard, and a substantial pot belly. He was wearing Gucci loafers, Armani jeans, a red Izod shirt, and a big, red turban tied Sikh style. His name was Betu. K had spent some time in his shop the day before, and told me I had to meet him.

When K meets and likes a man I don’t know, the reptilian portion of my brain retracts in fear. “Who is this Mr. Adorable?” I want to know. “And what is he doing charming the wife of another man?”

In his defense, Betu was a rug merchant. And his job is to persuade people to buy from him.

Using charm to sell your product is legal. And, in fact, it’s been a defining characteristic of the Indian merchants we’ve encountered. We’ve found them to be enthusiastic salespeople, though their techniques are subtler and less forceful than, say, merchants in Istanbul. When you buy a rug in Istanbul, you feel like you’ve been beaten up a little. When you buy a rug in India, you feel like you’ve had some good, playful fun.

This brings me back to the way my caveman brain reacted when K introduced me to Betu. I was very suspicious. After all, this is the guy who had been having some good, playful fun with my wife the day before.

“This is Betu,” K said, beaming.

“Ah,” he said smiling and extending his hand. “Now I get to meet you. I can see in your eyes, you have the confident look of a warrior and a wealthy man, and now that you smile I can see the smile of a Raj!”

And with that, he made a sweeping bow. “Welcome to my house, Raj Masterson!”

The confident look of a warrior and a wealthy man? The smile of a Raj? I was completely unprepared for such flattery. It was quick. It was unexpected. And it was effective.

I liked this man!

That’s the wonderful thing about flattery. It can overcome great obstacles. In this case, with Betu, the primitive part of my brain had tagged him as a threat, somebody I should be leery of. So, as a potential buyer of his rugs, I was entering his store with a bad attitude. As a salesman who had probably encountered this situation several thousand times before, Betu knew just how to deal with me.

He knew he wasn’t going to win me over with rational arguments – at least not yet. He had to destroy or neutralize the negative feelings I had about him before he could begin the selling process.

Instead of paying attention to K, who, he knew, was already 90 percent sold, he focused on me. K’s bringing me back meant that I was the delegated decision maker for this purchase. How could he get me in his corner?

He chose flattery – a very genuinely expressed flattery – and it did the trick. With a warm smile, a deferential gesture, and a few dozen well-selected words, Betu broke down the wall I’d erected and had me liking him.

Three minutes later, sitting on a bench next to K and sipping tea, I was under his spell.

“Look at this beautiful rug your wife has picked out for you,” he said. With a wave of his hand, two barefoot men scampered up a mountain of rugs, grabbed one, and scuttled back down. Holding one edge, they unfurled its coiled bulk by flinging it in the air. It clapped like thunder, and then rolled out in front of us.

“What do you think of your wife’s selection?” Betu asked me. He seemed very excited – as if he expected me to like it as much as K did.

“It’s very nice,” I said.

“This is a very good quality,” he told me. “All silk. Very easy to clean. It will last many lifetimes.”

I turned to K and told her that I thought it might be too large for the space she intended.

“No problem,” Betu said, as if I had been talking to him. “Let me show you the same rug in the next size smaller. See if you like that.”

With another brief wave of his hand, the barefoot men rushed up and down another hill of carpets, and unrolled a smaller version of the same rug. Betu must have seen some hesitation in my eyes, for no sooner had that rug hit the floor than he turned to his assistants and shouted something in Hindi. Within seconds, similarly sized rugs were being presented to us, one after the other.

K and I liked them all. Betu explained how they were made – all the handwork involved – and had us examine them to see their quality. We were now a little confused about what to buy. Betu’s men had thrown so many carpets in front of us that we felt both overwhelmed and a little guilty. They had done so much work to please us, and yet we weren’t at all sure we wanted to buy anything at that point.

I glanced at an especially beautiful carpet that was hanging on the wall behind Betu. Immediately, he picked up on it.

“Ah, I can see that you have a good eye,” he said, shouting something quickly in Hindi. This sent the barefoot men rushing over to grab the wall hanging and lay it down in front of us. K and I were struck by its beauty.

“You have recognized a masterpiece,” he said. “This one is made by one of the finest families in India. It has 2,200 knots per inch.”

Having bought a Persian rug in Istanbul several years earlier, I remembered that, generally speaking, the higher the knot count the better the rug. Although we had been happy with the rugs we had been looking at, they were disappointing in comparison to this much more tightly woven piece.

“How much more is this carpet?” I asked Betu.

He smiled at me playfully. “Of course, Mr. Masterson, now you are selecting a carpet fit for a Raj. The price will be much more.”

He didn’t tell me the price right away. Instead, he had his men toss out dozens of these higher-quality pieces. He made sure I saw them from every possible angle and under fluorescent lighting, natural lighting, and incandescent lighting. “I want you to know exactly how they will look in your house so you will never be disappointed,” he said.

By the time he had a dozen of these superior rugs laid out – and had us examine them front and back and walk over them and even spill water on them to see how they don’t absorb liquids – we were sold. I was fully expecting the price to be in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. When he finally said, “This beautiful carpet you have selected is $9,000,” I felt almost relieved.

He must have been able to read my thoughts. “Okay,” he said. “How many of these would you like to purchase?”

“Only one,” I said. “We are just looking for one rug.”

“Okay, no problem,” Betu said. “Let us narrow down your choices. Tell me which of these rugs you are sure you don’t want.”

Thus began the weaning process, narrowing the selection from 20-something to a dozen and then to six and then to four and then to two and finally to one.

“So how much will this one cost me?” I asked.

And Betu answered: “This is the very finest quality you have selected. This rug took one family more than a year to create. With the other rugs, I can give a 20 percent discount. But for these masterpieces, I can take very little off. I can give this to you for $8,500.”

“How about $8,000?” I asked him.

He smiled and put his hands together. “I honor you, my friend. But I cannot give you the price you ask. The best I can do is $8,400.”

I put my hands together and smiled at him. “I honor you too, my friend, and the best I can now offer you is $8,100.”

We settled, happily, at $8,200. He was smiling. I was smiling. K was smiling. Even the barefoot workers were smiling.

“He’s a really nice man,” I said to K as Betu left to write up the sale.

“What did I tell you?” she replied.

I had no intention of buying a rug when I walked into Betu’s showroom. But an hour later, I had spent $8,200 on one… and felt very good about it.

Since buying it, I have looked at half a dozen other carpet stores in several Indian cities. Based on the price and quality of what I saw, I feel very comfortable with my purchase. Since I have no expertise in Persian carpets, Betu could have taken advantage of me. The fact that he gave me a good value for my money will only make him richer in the long run. The next time I want to buy a Persian rug, I will contact him.

Since this experience, I’ve been thinking about Betu’s selling skills and how universal they are. Let’s go over some of them.

1. The flattering greeting at the door

Betu made me feel like an honored guest.

Think about the first contact your customers have with your business. Do they get a big smile? Are they complimented in some way? Do they feel like honored guests?

2. The playful buying process

Betu made me feel like I was, indeed, a Raj, and that he was my minister of rugs. I am not exactly sure how he did this. It was a combination of lighthearted banter and not seeming to care whether I actually bought anything. He conveyed the idea that he was having fun showing us the carpets. “It doesn’t matter if you buy or not,” he seemed to be saying. “What’s important is that we have fun looking at these beautiful things!”

Think about the selling process your customers experience. On a scale of one to five, how would you rate it in terms of playfulness?

3. Establishing the feeling of reciprocity early on

All of the rugs in Betu’s shop were rolled up in tight bundles in tall piles on the floor. To show individual carpets to us, two barefoot men had to run up and down these woven hills like billy goats and throw open one rug after another. All this enthusiastic work made us feel a little uncomfortable. “It’s too much trouble,” we told Betu. “Don’t worry,” he said. “It is a great pleasure and honor to do this. You don’t have to buy anything from me. I am happy to show you these carpets.”

Despite giving us permission to feel no obligation, an emotional IOU was created in my head every time a carpet was dramatically rolled out. All this work on our behalf created such a sense of gratitude toward Betu and his helpers that I had decided that if I didn’t buy a rug I’d pay them for their time. This, of course, is the marketing principle of reciprocity at work. In past issues of ETR, we’ve talked about how powerful it is.

Think about the sales and marketing process in your business. What do you give your customers? How can you give them more?

4. Paying attention to my clues

Because Betu was watching me closely, he saw me glance at the higher-priced rug – and that immediately doubled the amount of money I ended up spending in his store. I was, he realized, a customer who would spend more to get more.

In every group of customers, regardless of the product or service being offered, there are 10 percent to 20 percent who will spend much more. If you don’t know who they are, you are missing out on a lot of profitable dollars. (Remember, the profit margins on higher-end sales tend to be greater.)

Do you know who your VIP customers are? Are you watching them closely so you know when they are ready to buy the next better-and-more-expensive product?

5. Selling me emotionally on the value of his rugs before telling me the price

When I first asked Betu the price of the higher-quality carpets, he put me off until he had thoroughly convinced me (emotionally and intellectually) that these were the only carpets worth buying. By repeating the many ways these carpets were much better than the average rugs, he created in my mind a perception of value that was higher than the actual price. Once that higher perceived value was established, he knew he could tell me the price without shocking me. At that point, it was just a matter of negotiating a discount that he was already prepared to make.

Examine the way you “close” sales on your expensive, high-end products. Do you clearly establish a perceived value that is much higher than the price you are asking? How could you do a better job of that?

A good salesman closes a high percentage of his sales opportunities. A great salesman not only closes them but leaves the customer wanting more. That’s what Betu did with us. By combining the personal skills of flattery, playfulness, and attentiveness with the marketing techniques of reciprocity and perceived value, he created a pleasant selling experience for everyone involved… including, apparently, his barefoot rug runners.

[Ed. Note: Get Michael Masterson’s insights into becoming successful in your business and personal life, achieving financial independence, and accomplishing all your goals on his new website. You’ll find updates on all of Michael’s books, news on upcoming ETR events, Michael’s blog, and room to send in your comments and questions. Check it out today.] [Ed. Note: Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Palm Beach Letter. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.]

Mark Morgan Ford

Mark Morgan Ford was the creator of Early To Rise. In 2011, Mark retired from ETR and now writes the Wealth Builders Club. His advice, in our opinion, continues to get better and better with every essay, particularly in the controversial ones we have shared today. We encourage you to read everything you can that has been written by Mark.