In Part 1
, we talked about the unorthodox training technique of learning to present through Toastmasters. Members learn the basics of public speaking, in a supportive and controlled environment. Gaining knowledge, practice, and confidence there, will prepare you for the real-world task of selling yourself in front of colleagues, executives, vendors, and clients. This time we're going to talk about another valuable skill. For many, it might be an even more traumatic situation. Most people tend to shy away from it, almost instinctively. It's negotiating. That's right, everybody needs practice negotiating. Well, except a new car salesman, of course. Hey, come to think of it, why not learn from the best? Time to go to a dealer and buy a new car.
I don't really mean buy a car, if you don't need one. I mean go through all the motions and steps, up to the point where it's either sign the deal or walk. If you can force yourself to get reasonably proficient and comfortable negotiating with a car dealer, you should have much less trouble putting a deal together, when you go after that next plum assignment or consulting contract. Much of the negotiating game is mental. You have something someone else wants. In the case of the car dealer, it's your money. In the case of an employer, it's your ability to make them money. You have the money (for the car) or the knowledge and expertise to get the job done profitably (for the employer, vendor, or client). You banter back and forth with the other side (dealer or employer) until an agreement is reached or the transaction fizzles. Is there anyone in the world you would rather NOT deal with...than a car salesman? You will never beat them at their game and buy below cost, no matter what they tell you. They have no concept of “loss leader.” The best you can do is make a deal that YOU can live with and, of course, afford. They use a system, specifically designed to maximize the cash flow from your pocket to theirs. Don't judge them too harshly, though. Instead, marvel at their expertise and soak up every trick you can learn from their shtick.
Do A Little Recon
It will take time to understand the car buying dance. Three texts I'd recommend are “Don't Get Taken Every Time”
by Remar Sutton, “Winning Through Intimidation”
by Robert Ringer, and “You Can Get Anything You Want, But You Have To Do More Than Ask”
, by Roger Dawson. Yes, I know, it's quite a reading assignment. Don't forget that you are going to negotiate with professionals. The people offering you a salary and benefits deal, are professionals too. You should spend some time learning the game. Before stepping into the showroom, take a couple of hours to research your vehicle of interest. Information is power. Look up your new car model on the Web. You should know everything about your car (and potential employer), like features, options, prices, how they stack up against the competition, and so on. Knowing your car, inside and out, gives you a strategic advantage when the salesman tries to sell you on an obscure, throw-away feature, just to convince you to pay a higher price.
Next, go to your first dealer and start learning the car buying/negotiating process. Programmers, developers, and tech people are well equipped to track the infinite combinations, complex calculations, and confusing choreography of the salesman's games. Be aware of the fast pace and all of the engineered distractions. Theatrics and drama are the order of the day, in many dealerships, as is high pressure and one-upmanship. The lower level salespeople will try to qualify you and figure out how much you can spend then get you all emotionally excited about driving away in your new ride. Run with it! The senior salesman or closer is there to work “with you” against the sales manager to get you the best deal. It's the old good cop, bad cop routine. I always look at the sticker price, then offer anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000 less as a starting point. So for example if it is a $30,000 sticker price, offer them a ridiculous $22,000. Naturally, they be monumentally insulted and try to dismiss you as “not serious.” “How did you ever come up with that number?” they'll inevitably ask. “I thought it was a reasonable number” should be your response. Push the buttons and see what happens. It's just part of the game. Then, turn it around and ask them for their number. Your aim here is to learn and test the limits. They'll go through much hemming and hawing, raised eyebrows, stepping and fetching. They'll probably even try to insult your character before they come up with their first figure. There are a hundred different variations on this theme, and it will probably be repeated over and over several times. You'll want to stand strong and resist any temptation to cave. Look disappointed and after a few minutes of deep thought, along with a deep sigh, maybe bump your number up a couple hundred bucks and see what happens. Test those limits, look confident and have fun experimenting, all the while keeping a straight face. Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you refocus and find a convenient way to leave the dealership. Say you have another appointment, fake an urgent phone call, or simply say that you can see that you won't be able to make a deal today. Then leave! During this whole process you should be noting the flow of the negotiation. Take a notebook with you and scribble down your thoughts as you experience the various stages of the process. What are the roles of each participant? How did they try to gain an advantage? What is the hierarchy of authority? Where were you vulnerable? What part of the negotiation was difficult or uncomfortable for you? What seemed to make them uncomfortable? What recurring themes appeared? How would you conduct yourself differently next time?
OK, so now you've gone through your first negotiation training session boot camp. How did it feel? Are you a little more confident? Wasn't it kind of fun? Want to do it again? Good! You'll probably want to make several trips to different dealers. Stick with the same car and brand. Features, options, and price should be consistent so your focus is on the negotiating process, itself, not really buying a car. Play a few mind games of your own. Ten years ago, I'd carry a notebook computer into the showroom and plunk it down on the salesman's desk, to intimidate him. They'd invariably ask me what the computer was for, to which I'd remark with a subtle grin, “Oh...I'm playing a video game.” What I'd have on the screen was an amortization table or a pre-built spreadsheet that I'd use to analyze costs, depending on the base price, features, options, down payment, interest, etc. When we bought our new 2011 Dodge van, last summer, I had everything on my Samsung Galaxy-S smart phone, including the ability to browse for information on the Web. Yup, had the ever-present pre-built spreadsheet, stocked with all the calculations and variations needed to evaluate that model, too. Tech people can be very tough on car dealers because they are highly intelligent, very well-organized, disciplined, and cool under pressure. You were made to negotiate and certainly can give a master salesman a run for his money...you just need some practice. It will take a few times to get comfortable with the whole negotiating thing. Learn about and practice the process before you really need it. Then, the next time you need to work a deal on a new car or get the best salary and benefits, you'll know what to expect and be ready to roll.