At the beginning of the month, I shared the story of NPR’s Ben Calhoun and his “good guy discount experiment, where he’d ask retailers for a discount just for being a good guy. Naturally, I decided that as part of my negotiation challenge, I should give it a shot as well.
My opportunity came quickly, at the checkout line at Trader Joe’s. Without thinking it through, I spoke:
Me: Do you have any discounts for me today. You know, just for fun?
Cashier (looking puzzled): No our prices are really low.
Me: You can’t give me anything at all? (chuckle smile wink)
Cashier: Sorry like I said, our prices are the lowest.
Me: That’s a bummer.
Yes, I asked for a discount – not because I’m a “good guy” or a “good girl”, but just for fun. And if that wasn’t bad enough, I had to go and say “bummer” afterwards.
Fortunately, most of my negotiations weren’t quite so tongue tied or embarrassing. I had some good wins. Among them: $30 off my cable bill (for spotty service), an upgrade on a rental car, a free cocktail at a neighborhood restaurant, a coupon applied to a item at Walgreens that I didn’t have a coupon for, and a ridiculous deal on a brand new dishwasher.
Other attempts were not as successful. I did not score a discounted lift ticket for my upcoming ski trip. I did not convince Jet Blue to allow my lap infant to occupy a middle seat, even though they had two empty seats. And State Farm wouldn’t budge on their insurance rates when I pitted them against Progressive.
What went well… and not so well
I look at the negotiation process as a two phased approach. First there’s the initial ask, where you either receive a positive or negative response. Next comes the back and forth.
I nailed part one. I asked. I asked a lot – in person, over the phone or instant messaging on a company’s website. More often than not, I got what I wanted with that one simple ask.
Unfortunately, I haven’t quite figured out part two. There are people who will not take no for an answer, who will ask three, four, five and six times until they wear the other party down. I’m not one of them. I concede far too easily. I accept the “no” with a shrug and a thank you, or I plain say the wrong thing.
Here’s me calling the upscale ski resort in search of discounted lift tickets (conversations like this happened a lot at first):
Me: Do you offer any discounted lift tickets for people who buy them in advance?
Ticket lady: No, we don’t do discounts.
Me: Ok thank you.
I hung up the phone upset with myself for not even trying to press on. I could have said any number of things to plead my case. I could have explained that I was invited to their resort for a trip, but the $120 per day price tag was out of my budget. I could have asked if there was anything she could do to help me out. I could have asked to speak to her boss.
What was I afraid of? Was it looking silly? Offending the person on the other end of the phone? Being that annoying person? And why did I care so much?
I called back the next day.
Me: Do you offer any discounted lift tickets if I purchase them in advance?
Ticket man: No, we don’t do discounts
Me: Are there any local shops or specials where I could find some. The $120 price tag is a little steep for me and I’m trying to see if there are any savings to be found.
Ticket man: I totally hear you. We’re one of the few resorts that doesn’t discount. But you can try calling Ski n See because they might be able to bundle ski rentals with a discount off of the ticket.
And so the conversation went. In the end, I didn’t get the discount I was looking for, but at least I didn’t back down so quickly. I succeeded in getting the ticket agent on my side. He wanted to help me out, and I felt good about the effort.
Some other things that worked for me:
- When a phone conversation wasn’t going well, I’d hang up the phone, call back and try my luck with another representative.
- Naming a price. When negotiating for pet sitting, I offered a number lower than what was quoted (oh gosh, that’s a bit out of my budget. I was hoping to pay X, can you work with that?) and we were able to come to an agreement.
- Being polite, personable and funny.
- Most importantly, ASKING, even if you know there’s a good chance they’ll say no.
What’s your time worth?
I must confess, I didn’t expose myself to as many negotiation opportunities as I would have liked.
Part of it was not wanting to spend money I wouldn’t normally spend for the sake of gaining experience. These adventures do affect the wallet.
Another part of it was my unwillingness to bargain when I didn’t have a good reason to – case in point – my episode at Trader Joe’s. I didn’t haggle for routine groceries or gas or at places where my business means something like the farmers market (ok fine I bargained there once) or the struggling nail salon down the street.
Finally, the whole process was time consuming. With three little kids in the picture, it’s hard enough to make time to write a blog post, so I naturally wondered – is it worth the extra 10, 20 or 60 minutes to save X when I could be spending that time doing Y? This month I spent a considerable amount of it waiting – waiting on hold, waiting for a manager, waiting for a price, waiting for an approval. It didn’t always seem worth it to me.
I’m grateful for the practice that I received because I know that the only way to truly become a more persuasive and impactful communicator is to keep exposing yourself to a variety of circumstances. So while the month is over, the challenge isn’t. It took me all month to finally feel comfortable speaking up, and I’m eager for more opportunities to practice.