Are there people living under the ground in Turkey?
13 May 2016
In the eighties, one of the important export markets for Kordsa Turkey was the former Yugoslavia. In that big and successful country, we had nearly ten customers operating in the fields of tires, mechanical rubber goods and conveyor belts. We were organizing combined visits, driving from one city to another, visiting two customers a day. Those visits were vital in understanding the differences between the customs and traditions around the world.
When we visited Yugoslavia, we were picked up from the Belgrade Airport by our representative and good friend Petar, and never had to worry about the logistics of the trip. Those trips were fun. Scenery in the countryside was beautiful and all the people we met were extremely friendly. Food was another story. Everything we ate was delicious, but what with joining customers twice a day for meals (one for lunch and one for dinner), we had to get on a diet after each trip. During these visits, our representatives had a vital role to play: acting as a bridge between the customers and us.
Petar was a solid thinker and a wise person. The long rides were never boring: we were usually driven around by another driver and enjoyed long conversations with Petar on the way. We had cultural differences, of course, and in those days, information was not that easy to come by. That made such conversations on the road the most valuable tools to understand the habits and customs of countries we visited.
On one of those trips Bulent and I had the following conversation with Petar:
Bulent: Petar, how are houses cleaned and maintained under the Yugoslavian socialist system? Do you have doormen or janitors?
Vahe: Germans call them Hausmeisters. I think it is also a common practice in big French cities.
Petar: I don’t know what you mean by that.
Bulent: In Turkey most of us have doormen in our houses. They clean and maintain our apartments. They also buy us fresh bread and newspapers everyday.
Vahe: They usually have flats in underground floors of our houses (and he means “basements”).
Bulent: Vahe, probably they don’t have that service. Seems Petar did not understand what we mean.
Petar: No, I really don’t understand. We don’t have people in Yugoslavia, who buy us bread and newspapers. But Bulent, why don't you buy your own bread and newspaper?
Bulent (getting a bit edgy and defensive): Petar, sometimes I don’t have the time.
Petar: If I don’t have the time, my wife buys me bread, not someone we don’t know. Besides I don’t see why those people live under the ground. No, Bulent, we don’t have people in Yugoslavia, who live underground, and buy bread and papers for others.
He continued, "Bulent, when you don’t have the time maybe you can ask a neighbor or a relative for help, you know. Just an idea…"
In those days, those conversations on the road were invaluable to express yourself and to get a feel of the atmosphere as a salesperson. In contrast to today’s communication opportunities, it was not easy to access basic information as in the above example. As we did not have advanced communication and information technologies, our representatives took it upon themselves to introduce the customs and traditions of their country.
So such small talk on the road and during dinners was a significant tool not only to talk about your company and your expertise in the field, but also to understand your customers. Even though there was a huge difference in terms of communication channels, the logic behind these talks was same as today: to know your customer better. The more you knew your customers, the more you would understand the pains, needs, and expectations, which had to be addressed before the next visit.