My 93 year old mum-in-law came to live with us recently, and this meant that we needed to install a stair lift to get her to and from her bedroom on the upper floor of our home. It is now installed and working, much to her satisfaction. Doing the deal gave me food for thought.
I did my research online - it looked like we were going to be in for about £2000 given the specification and size of the staircase. We selected three companies to come and quote; one which advertises nationally and is a household name, one selected from the internet, and one recommended by our local mobility store.
Wayne, the salesman from the household name, came first, and quoted £2500. He asked if we were talking to anyone else. We told him. 'Oh' he said, 'we'll be much more expensive than both of them'.
I recognised that Wayne was structuring my expectations and good for him for doing so. But I also realised that Wayne was a conflicted man. Not only was he in a potential negotiation with me, but in his head he was also negotiating with his competitors.
He started to explain why the others would be cheaper. Less good build quality, less comprehensive warranty, inferior materials. He failed to mention the huge amount of money the others must be saving by not advertising as much as his employer did.
I told him that I expected there would be a negotiation once I had quotes from the others. 'No point.' He said. 'My bosses don't discount ever - even for their own family!'
'So if the other prices are much lower than yours, as you suggest they will be, shall I just drop you an email saying you lost the business?' I asked. Wayne winced. 'No. Call me.' he said.
In the following two days the other two companies came. Both quoted about £1800. Wayne was probably right about comparative quality. But the really important issue for us was that if all stair lifts are ugly, and believe me they are, the other two were even uglier than Wayne's. A very important issue for my house-proud and style conscious wife. So we wanted Wayne to win.
I called Wayne, and told him what the gap was. He said he was not surprised. I suggested that the real gap was actually even bigger, since the other two had indicated that they would be prepared to negotiate downwards from £1800. He agreed. I proposed a figure close to the original online research price, with some other requirements about speedy delivery and payment terms. He agreed to go and speak to his boss. He emailed later to accept the deal.
So the first question is - did I get the best possible deal? Probably not, but like all negotiators I had to estimate Wayne's bottom line because I couldn't know it for certain. My view was that he would never be able to match the competitors price, because his cost base was significantly higher than theirs (better quality, more advertising spend), so trying that would be counter-productive. So I guessed a bottom line figure (£2000), and then pitched somewhere near it. Would he have agreed to £1900, or £1800, or even less? Maybe - I'll never know.
The second question is more interesting for me. Which was the bigger demon for Wayne - me or his competitors? Did he agree my price because of anything I said or did about my needs or situation? No - he decided it on the basis of what he thought his competitors were doing, which he then worried about, taking him to a dark place in his head. The only way out was to agree a big discount.
Wayne should have recognised that if either of the other offers would have worked for me, I wouldn't have been talking to him anyway. When I called him back, that was a big buying signal. We would have paid up to £200 more, but he will never know that.
Such are the ups and downs of negotiating life. Sorry, no pun intended.