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Entrepreneurship, Sales, Startups, Uncategorized

Michele, The Rug Merchant and Me.

In September I attended an SPE-SIAM conference in Istanbul on the modeling of giant oil and gas reservoirs. Michele(Mik), a colleague from NVIDIA who recently moved to HUE, had invited me to contribute to one of the keynote talks. Mik spoke very generally about the exponential growth of GPU adoption in HPC especially in Oil and Gas and I added my own take on the value of GPUs in HPC and how I saw their role evolving in the larger picture of technical computing. A brief summary of that talk will come in a future blog post. Where does the rug merchant come in? I’m getting to that.

Before the conference, Mik and I set aside an afternoon to tour Istanbul…this by the way is probably an order of magnitude less time than would be needed to properly see this beautiful city but it was all we had. I’m a fan of the Rick Steve’s travel guides so I had brought the Istanbul edition. One of the first things the guide advises is to be wary of aggressive merchants and ‘helpful’ people who approach you with advice. Within 30 seconds of exiting our cab we were approached by our first helpful local. I adopted a stony forward-facing facade as recommended. Mik started talking. Our self-appointed guide accompanied us through the famous Blue Mosque offering interesting facts and talking with Mik, while I looked distracted. I was getting increasingly worried that our unofficial guide would expect compensation at the end of our visit which would lead to an awkward negotiation. Why was Mik encouraging this guy? It turns out that he didn’t want money from us…at least not yet. His real purpose was to deftly lead us from the Mosque to his “uncle’s” rug shop where I assumed we’d either be murdered or offered the opportunity to buy rugs.  There we sat through a presentation on the history of rugs, shared some tea and eventually left without buying anything to the disappointment of our hosts. My North American nature which prefers order to serendipity felt awkward about the whole experience. Mik’s more Mediterranean approach to life thrived on it.

Mik has a gift for identifying strategic interests, connections and opportunities for partnering and he knows everyone. By the end of our three-day conference, the Turkish minister of Energy was on a first name basis with him. As a native Italian he is from the land of the Romans, who were strategic masters and of Machiavelli who wrote the book.  As we left our new Turkish rug-monger friends, I asked Mik why he let us get led around to the shop. His response was interesting and gave some insight into the mind of a skilled sales person. He told me that street merchants are some of the best salesmen you will ever meet and so he likes to observe them at their craft. The young guy that approached us initially engaged us by providing information about hours of operation of the sights in our area and which attractions needed tickets. He quickly got us to talk (or at least Mik to talk… I had read the guide book) by asking questions. He was generally likable and not too pushy. His job was to fish in the large pool of people at the major sites and bring them to the backwater area nearby where the rug shop was located. Once in the rug shop the proprietor took over. He spoke softly, shared some coffee and tea with us and started to entertain us with a little history of rugs demonstrating his knowledge. At one point he used a simple brochure to demonstrate the Turkish double knot vs. some other single knot approach. The message was clear…Turkish double knot good…other lame single knot bad. He brought out some more affordable rugs first and laid them on the ground. Then he unrolled several more expensive rugs from a height which made a loud slapping sound as they hit the floor. The implicit message here was “These rugs are substantial!”. He wrapped up his presentation with his very best, really beautiful, specimen. It all took about 10 minutes. The experience reminded me that selling is always about people and whether you are selling technology or rugs there are some universal principles which apply:

  • Know your product—Our merchant/host knew all about his product, its history, details about its construction, origin, methods and materials. There’s no substitute for the hard work of knowing what you are selling.
  • Know the competition—How are you different from the next guy and what makes you better? Where is your double knot vs. your competitor’s single knot.
  • Keep your message simple—Stay on message and keep it simple. Most clients won’t have the attention span to tolerate an overly complex presentation. The elevator pitch, TED talks and Zen presentation style are all examples of the power of simplicity.
  • Use tangible sensory qualities—If I can see it, feel it, taste it or hear your product’s superiority…all the better.
  • Respect the client—A good salesman makes his message clear to the client. A great salesman clearly reads messages from the client. A great salesman can read the client and is sufficiently self-aware that he or she can rapidly interpret reactions and modify the pitch. They respect and address a client’s hesitations and know when to break off.
  • Be likable— Ok…not much you can do to change this.  I’ve always found that clients choose to work with people that they like and trust.
  • You have 10 minutes to make your point— Get it all done in about 10 minutes. That’s as much time as a client will give you.

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