In Agra, our group descended the stairs into the marble shop where ten men sat on the floor before us. We seated ourselves on the long bench to observe their craft. Sam, the shopkeeper and guide, walked us through the making of the intricate marble tabletops, boxes, and plates inlaid with semi-precious stones. This same art work adorns the Taj Mahal.
We watched transfixed as the younger men — often sons of the older men — sanded ant-sized pieces of malachite, turquoise, onyx, abalone, cornelian, lapis, jade, mother of pearl and coral into the correct shapes. The master craftsman chiseled out the marble into which these minuscule pieces would be glued in place to create the ornate designs.
Naively, we didn’t realize the sales process had begun.
Sam invited us to take turns chiseling the marble where the stones would be set, to examine the tiny pieces of stone, to guess the names of the stones used, to touch the men’s callused fingers from holding the tools for many years, and to feel the final, polished pieces. He engaged us in the process.
His sales prowess continued when he invited us into the showroom to show us the finished products. But he began by asking if we would sit and have a beverage with him — our choice of tea, water, or soda. He seated us around an exquisite 4-foot wide table inlaid with thousands of stone pieces in an intricate and beautiful pattern. He asked if he could tell us more about the work. We happily agreed, as we were now intrigued.
He further explained the process of making the pieces. He showed the stain resistance by spilling tea and soda on the white marble with no problem. He shone a flashlight up from the bottom while an accomplice — I mean colleague — turned off the lights to show the beauty of the translucent stones.
He then asked if he could talk to us about price. But first he had us guess how much we thought something like this piece would cost, telling us how many man-hours had been put in making it. Our guesses were $5000-$10000 US. So then when he said it was $3000 US we were agape at what a bargain that was!
Afterward we roamed the store looking at the various pieces, and each of us was accompanied by our own salesman! I was enamored by the process — some would say suckered in — and wanted to take a small piece home with me. I had become emotionally involved and wanted to take a reminder of this experience. However, the lowest-priced item I could find was $300! Others in my group felt similarly and left, not wanting to fork over $300. I found a piece I liked and haggled a bit to get the price down. They wrapped my 8-inch platter in 6-inch thick bubble wrap so I could put it in my checked bag to take home.
When I made my final choice all of my colleagues had left. Unbeknownst to me until I was back at the hotel, when they left without buying, they were exited through another showroom that had smaller souvenirs, starting in the $25 range! So while I kept insisting to the salesman I just wanted something small, and he kept showing me items in the $300 range, had I left I could have bought a small souvenir for $25. I guess that “sucker” tattoo on my forehead stood out!
So while I felt stupidly naive for not having left and shopped elsewhere, I am happy with the piece I bought — and the lessons in salesmanship are singed in my memory.
What did Sam and his gang — colleagues — do right?
- They got us involved in the product. From simple things like asking us to guess the names of the stones, to giving us a chisel and letting us see how difficult the work was, to admiring and touching the final product.
- He hooked us emotionally. He told stories of the Taj Mahal and how this work was commissioned by these craftmen’s forefathers to commemorate a great love.
- He used the law of reciprocity — do something nice for someone (give them a beverage) and they will be accommodating to you. Whether it’s just listening to your spiel or feeling they should buy something, hospitality helps soften people toward you. We saw this same technique replayed in pashmina shops in the market.
- Get your prospects to give you a price they think something should cost. He had clearly used this ploy enough to know that the guesses would be more than the price he would quote. The prospects then think the item is a bargain based on their perceived value.
- Ask permission to talk price. This throws off the prospect when you transition to cost. They can’t object to your “selling” them as they gave you permission.
- Give enough attention to the buyer individually. Keep telling them you’ll give them a good price and what good taste they have. Reassure them. When I asked the price of a piece, the salesman said, “You have excellent taste. This is one of our best pieces.” Of course, I heard other salesmen say this to others in our group.
- Make the prospect feel she’s getting a good price. Quote the price, then say, “But for you, $X less.”
- And finally, don’t let on there are less expensive items until you know you have lost the higher priced sale. You’ll still be able to wrangle some money out of their pocket, even if it’s not as much as you had hoped for.
Now am I really recommending all of the above? No. But it was fascinating to watch — and succumb to — the tactics of people who’ve been selling successfully, no doubt using very similar techniques, for centuries. Can you adapt some of their less smarmy techniques to your sale? I think so. I am.
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