Friday, October 12, 2012

I Have a Personal Negotiator

I'm terrible at negotiating. Awful. I lack whatever gene gives people the ability to haggle. Fortunately, my fiance has the gene and employs it quite frequently. He has the magical ability to make sales reps give him whatever he wants. When one of the TV channels we like to watch disappeared one day, he called up DirecTV and got the channel back, and lowered our cable bill while he was at it. When he got rear-ended on the freeway, he managed to double the initial settlement offer he received from Geico. He manages the company phone plan with AT&T for his work, and has negotiated lower costs and often gets employees discounted device upgrades.
While I still leave all the negotiating to him, I have picked up several tidbits that could help others improve their negotiating skills.

Know What to Ask for
Do your research first. If you ask for too much, you might wind up with nothing, if you ask for too little, you're selling yourself short. When he was negotiating with Geico for his medical/pain and suffering settlement, my fiance did a lot of research to find out how much was a reasonable amount to ask for. He visited a lot of forums online and asked his chiropractor for advice. By hearing how much other people were able to get for similar injuries and based on the recommendations of a licensed professional, he was armed with the knowledge he needed to enter negotiations. He knew he'd have to go through a few rounds of negotiations, so his first counter-offer was a little higher than the max he thought he'd be able to get. After a few rounds of negotiating he wound up with double Geico's initial offer, and right in the ballpark of some of the higher settlements people reported online.

Be Prepared to Walk Away
My fiance's first rule when it comes to negotiating is to always be prepared to walk away if you don't get the offer you want. If you've done your research and know how much money you should be paying for something, why would you let a salesperson talk you into paying more? Salespeople want to sell you at the highest price possible, but they'd rather make a sale at a lower price point than wind up empty-handed. Make it clear to the salesperson that you have no attachment to the particular item, their brand, etc. and that you have no problem leaving the store without having purchased anything. That will get their attention.

Ask to Talk to a Manager
Very often, you might be negotiating with someone who doesn't have the authority to give you the deal you want. Salespeople are generally given a certain amount of wiggle room for negotiations, but they're not the ones who are going to be able to sign off on a big discount. And when it comes to things like dealing with claims adjusters for insurance companies or the call center for cable, phone or internet companies, you're likely talking to a low-level salesperson who has very little flexibility. Their managers will always have more authority to give a bigger discount, so don't waste your time talking to someone who isn't able to give you what you want.

And finally, here's a piece of advice from little ol' me:

Bring Proof
If you looked up the car you want to buy on Kelley Blue Book, saw what other people paid for an item on a message board, or received advice from a licensed professional on how big your settlement should be, print it out and bring it with you, or if you're negotiating over the phone, insist on emailing the documentation to them. Even if you're as terrible at negotiating as I am, you can always point to the proof and say "this is how much you charged this other person last week. I want the same price."


  1. Fantastic tips. Many times I've had people negotiate with me based on what they "deserve" instead of facts. If they bring facts to the table, they're more likely to get my attention....and a deal.

    1. Thanks, AverageJoe. I think the biggest struggle a lot of people face is that even if they are informed and know what they should be asking for, the kind of high pressure negotiation tactics many salespeople use paralyze them. That's why I think the last piece of advice is very important for those people. Even if you're intimidated by the salesperson and can't find your voice, you've got a piece of paper in your hand that can do the talking for you.

      Upon further reflection, I think I have another piece of advice for those of us who get intimidated by salespeople: bring a friend with you. Even if your friend is no better at negotiating than you are, just having someone in your corner could give you more confidence to stand up for yourself.