Reposted at Speakeasy Media
I recently had the good fortune to travel to Istanbul, Turkey, where I spent a day negotiating for wares in the Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world.
For me, traveling and experiencing foreign cultures challenges me to observe customs that differ from my own. While it is easy to conclude different = bad, I found myself intrigued by the tactics employed by the vendors. Clearly, the Grand Bazaar has been profitable for hundreds of years, and I began to see time-tested business practices that I can apply as a social media strategist.
Know the language of your customers
All the good vendors in prominent locations spoke more than one language, and I frequently observed vendors listening for snippets of a conversation among a group so they could address the passers-by in their preferred tongue.
In social media, listening before speaking is essential. Megaphone marketing is becoming less effective every day, and individual conversations aren’t productive until we understand what our audience will comprehend and understand. Moreover, listening to target audiences before speaking gives seller confidence to establish a genuine connection.
Host the conversation and provide exceptional hospitality
Once vendors discerned that we were interested in their goods, we were often ushered into a private room or space away from the teeming masses. For us, this meant a comfortable seat in a quiet, climate-controlled environment away from the crowds. For the vendors, moving the conversation from the public thoroughfare to their own private space gave them the maximum leverage to complete the sale — an opportunity to deliver a individualized sales presentation & ensure they resolved any/all customer questions.
As Comcast and other social companies have demonstrated, taking customer complaints offline to provide individualized attention and solutions is an effective way to create positive word-of-mouth in the long-run.
First one’s free
There has been much written on how free gestures inform our social interactions, and without fail, Grand Bazaar vendors had apple tea or Turkish coffee on hand for us as we perused their offerings. The hope was, and is, that an unexpected token gift will engender loyalty and increase the likelihood of a sale.
Is your organization offering a Foursquare special or badge for customers who check-in? How about a Yelp offer? Need a coupon that appears when someone searches for your business on Google Maps? Are you providing thought leadership on your blog, website, Twitter, and Facebook?
Email me and I’ll provide you with a free quote on how I can help you set any (or all) of these up for your organization. See what I did there?
Asking questions is always a good strategy
Many organizations are confident they know what their customers want, and they ignore all information that doesn’t fit to their customer profile…even the protests of their own customers.
For whatever reason, I’ve never been a fan of woven rugs. Many of them are empirically and aesthetically beautiful, but they just doesn’t fit with my personal design preferences. But rug vendors were excited to hear that I was American because they were sure I wanted/needed a top-quality Turkish carpet in my home in America…and they were perplexed at my disinterest. To save us both time and trouble, I began answering all sales pitches from carpet vendors in Spanish. This seemed to help.
I advocate that organizations should test assumptions intermittently over time. We may experience some “failures” — those data points that do not align with prior expectations or behaviors — but through social media tools we are able to discover genuine customer feedback as tastes and demographics change.
All businesses are social
Profitable and growing organizations are social because their customers are social. Customer loyalty implies a relationship that goes beyond a single transaction.
Perhaps my favorite anecdote from my day at the Grand Bazaar after I unsuccessfully tried on a variety of leather jackets:
Vendor: “What else are you looking for? How can I take your money?”
Me: (amused at the vendor’s bluntness) “I didn’t like any of your jackets, but do you have any leather bags?”
Vendor: (excitedly) “Ah! You must meet my cousin! He has the finest bags in the whole city!”
We were then escorted through the winding streets of the Grand Bazaar to an expansive leather bag vendor. Our vendor-turned-tour-guide spoke a few Turkish words to this new vendor, introduced us to his cousin, and we were prompted ushered in to the back room and offered more tea and coffee…and hundreds of leather bags for sale.
For all the smiles and politeness, the Bazaar vendors know bottom-line business is about ROI and relationships. It didn’t matter to us if these vendors were actually blood relatives. They understood we had unique preferences, they asked the right questions, and they offered exemplary hospitality.
As you probably have noticed, I haven’t spent any time discussing the smartphones or social networks of the Grand Bazaar. Often, businesses are enamored with “social media” as a cure-all. Social media is a tool and a channel to reach customers. It is only effective if businesses employ time-tested practices and solid marketing principles.