I made several significant purchases during the holidays (including a car) and these negotiations highlighted four lessons that apply in almost all negotiations.
• You have to ask. It’s a basic point, but one that many just don’t do. In most negotiation situations, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a discount. Even if it’s not traditionally viewed as a “negotiation,” like in many U.S. retail environments, the worst he can say is “no.” We bought a swing set over the holidays and the retailer had already substantially discounted its sets. But I still asked for more off. The saleswoman didn’t have any authority to move, so I spoke by phone with the store’s owner. After a short conversation with him, we received an additional discount.
• Negotiate with the one with authority. In each of my negotiations, I had to move up the chain and talk with my immediate counterpart’s boss – sometimes more than once. This is often to be expected. In fact, this is frequently planned as your counterpart may have consciously been given limited authority to negotiate in the first place.
• Expert advice can carry the day. I was in trouble. I needed to make this purchase quickly to get it on time, but I was out of town and didn’t have time to do the research. Fortunately, I have a friend who is an expert in this area. So when he called saying he had found what I needed, I jumped on it. The lesson? Seek out experts in the area – and then rely on their advice.
• Leverage is king. A critical element of leverage is knowing and creating a Plan B for yourself if you can’t or don’t get the deal done with your counterpart. In my new-car negotiation, I solicited bids online from eight dealerships in town (this only took five minutes on Edmunds.com). Each dealership bid was my Plan B to the others. After I found out most had or could get the exact car I wanted (which gave me strong leverage), I then basically worked them off each other until I got the best price. Finally, don’t be afraid to walk if the deal just doesn’t smell right and your Plan B is better than what you consider their last best offer.
Published January 7, 2010 The Arizona Republic