Difficult People – Part 2: The Buyer


Buyers. Can’t live with them, can’t live without them. It seems that they alone have the power to make or break your day, your month or even your year. The Gun Marketer needs to understand the Buyer if we’re ever to get what we want. I was given this from a manager I once had, when I was having trouble dealing with a buyer. It’s an excerpt from “NEGOCIER PRESQUE TOUT” by Roger Dawson and is used by some organizations as a buyer-training document. Whilst I don’t agree that this is the way to build good, solid business relationships, not everybody is looking for a win-win outcome. It gives a very unique insight into the world of the buyer, and now when I meet with buyers, I have to try not to laugh even though I can literally see them ticking their way down this list.


1. Never rush enthusiastically up to a salesman

Obvious as the recommendation may seem, it is still rarely followed. Just look at the way most clients make a beeline for the car dealer, especially when they are loyal to the make or have already made their choice! Remember that any salesman, whoever he may be, is paid to sell! Why make it easy for him by letting him see your mind is made up? Make him work for his wages, let him sweat. Never forget: in the opening hours of negotiations, stick to an unremitting skepticism, lack of enthusiasm or indecision.


2. Always react (adversely) to a first offer

This tactic can be incredibly successful if you rely on it systematically whenever someone mentions a price. Never admit that the offer is “fair”, “interesting”, “better than the competition”. But beware: a lack of reaction on your part is equally dangerous. You are playing into the salesman’s hands by an implicit recognition that the price is one of the factors in the negotiations that is already decided. The only ground left for you to fight on is marginal issues such as availability, after sales service etc. So acquire the habit of commenting aloud any time you hear a price mentioned. Expressions such as “What?” or “You must be joking” instantly puts the onus on the opposing team to justify its position.


3. Always ask for the impossible

Have no hesitation, right from the word go, in asking for far more than you hope to obtain. For one thing, your demand, excessive as it may seem to you, may mesh perfectly with what the other side is prepared to give way on. Most important of all, this gives you so much room for maneuver that you can afford to make minor concessions to demonstrate your willingness to come to terms and let your adversary feel that he, too, has gained something from the negotiations.


4. Never accept the first offer

Never jump at a first offer, however fantastic it may be. This advice can sometimes be difficult to follow. Imagine, for example, that your house has been on the market for six months and you’re starting to get desperate when suddenly someone offers your asking price! The last thing you should do is snap up the offer and sign posthaste. Accepting a first offer is frustrating for both parties. You will end up regretting that you didn’t stick out for more, while the buyer will be kicking himself for not having made a lower offer and even wondering what hidden defects might lie behind such prompt acceptance. In reality, you have left no scope for negotiations to develop and made two sets of people dissatisfied!


5. Tell them they will “need to do much better than that”

Six words that can change the whole course of negotiations. Professionals are wise to this tactic, but you can wheel it out from time to time, especially when someone mentions a price. The ball is in your court, and now is the moment to smash it back over the net.

When Henry Kissinger was Secretary of State under the Nixon Administration, he once asked his chief aide to produce a written analysis of the Vietnam conflict and offer a diagnosis. A few weeks later, the aide submitted a full, documented and accurate report. Two days later, though, back it came to the author’s office bearing the laconic inscription “You’ll have to do much better than that. H.K.”. The aide went over every page of the report, adding notes that covered every possible aspect of the situation. Then he submitted it to Kissinger once again. A few days later, back came the report with the same note. Yet again, the luckless author buckled down to his task, adding photos., graphs, and numerous expert opinions. Grasping his courage in both hands, he delivered the report to Kissinger in person and said “Please don’t send this report back again, there’s no way it can be improved, I simply can’t do any better”. “In that case” replied Kissinger, “I’ll read it”.


6. Always play second fiddle

An experienced negotiator will never claim to be the man who makes the decisions, even if he’s the CEO of a major multinational. Greener young professionals, glorying in their new responsibilities, often commit the fatal error of boasting that they have carte blanche to strike a deal. This approach can cause you serious problems. If you, as the decision maker, agree verbally to a proposal from the opposition, then you’re left with no way out. At the close of negotiations, it’s always a good idea to claim that you have to refer to a higher authority (boss, associates, Board) before things can be finally settled. This leaves you time to think things over and even the option of putting the whole deal back to square one on the claim that “they don’t agree”.


7. Be smart; Act stupid

I love acting stupid. It’s a surefire way of getting rid of hawkers and sellers of Christmas calendars. A salesman is struck dumb in the face of an apparent madman muttering “Mummy isn’t here, she takes care of all that”. But it is also an extra tactic for getting what you want. The dumber you act, the better you’ll do. Ask people to explain things, say you don’t understand. The chances are the other guy will feel sorry for you and make concessions. Not only that, acting stupid is a good way of undermining your adversary’s assurance. Imagine a photocopier salesman launches into a full-scale demonstration of his machine’s performance and capacities, with documents to boot, and then after fifteen minutes you shamefacedly admit to having understood nothing and ask him to start all over from the beginning. Nothing like it for taking the wind out of a super-salesman’s sails and getting the upper hand.


8. Never strike a deal without something in return

Every time someone asks you to make a gesture, demand something in return. “If I do this for you, what will you do for me?”. This attitude brings you benefits without you actually having to ask for them. It gives a value to any concessions you make. Finally, it discourages your opponent from coming back with an unending series of other demands, if he knows you will automatically require something in return.


9. Always be prepared to break off discussions

If the contract you are about to sign is not entirely to your satisfaction, remember that you can always break off the negotiations. Once again, it is a question of putting pressure on your opponent who finds himself in a dilemma: should he try to win you back or run the risk of losing the deal entirely? It is amusing to note that it’s you that takes the initiative of breaking off the discussions, but the other party that carries the can if the negotiations break down. Walking out of the negotiating room is also part of the game of bluff. Besides, this type of maneuver really does work in most cases.


10. Play “Good Cop, Bad Cop”

This is a technique familiar to connoisseurs of police interrogation techniques and which you can usefully apply in negotiation. All you have to do is decide who plays which role, then stick to it. The “bad cop” may in fact not even exist, or be aware that he is cast in the role. For a young negotiator, the best solution is to adopt the role of the “nice guy” who understands the concerns and problems of the other side. Unfortunately, he has a boss (see tactic No. 7), a real dragon of a department head, a blinkered fossil who persists in remaining totally unconvinced. This tactic offers two advantages. It creates a sense of complicity between the negotiator and his adversaries. It also paves the way for much to-ing and fro-ing which can produce fruitful concessions. If anyone tries this tactic on you, your riposte is to deal directly with the “bad guy”.


11. Use false pretexts

Here is one example. You are on the point of selling a machine to another firm but when you make your final offer they come back with: “Your proposal is very interesting, except for one point. You are offering delivery on 1. August, but we need it on 1. June”. Back you go to your office, downcast, disconsolate, knowing there’s no way you can meet that deadline. The next day, you pick up the phone and offer an extra 2% reduction to make up for the delay. Congratulations! You’ve just become the latest victim of a false pretext. In reality, the deadline was of minor importance and what your adversary really wanted was to get you to drop your price. Never lose sight of the real aim of any negotiation, and never let yourself get sidetracked by spurious arguments. ON the other hand, you could try using the tactic yourself.


12. Apply the Pareto Principle

In a negotiation, 80% of the concessions are made in the final stages (the last 20% of the total negotiating period). So any demands made at the beginning are unlikely to be accepted. On the contrary, you would be advised to put in for concessions just before the end of the discussions. Similarly, you should start off by avoiding the problems inherent in any negotiation, saving them for the end. Watch carefully for the moment when discussions are drawing to a close, then start to introduce questions, put forward problems that could jeopardize the agreement. There is a good chance the other party will be willing to make concessions at this point.


13. Never get locked into a dead end

Negotiations often get bogged down on a single point, whether major or minor. In such circumstances, the parties have a tendency to resort to vehemence, arguments, even insults, at the risk of blowing the whole deal. If you find yourself in this kind of situation, have no hesitation in avoiding the obstacle and suggest shifting the discussion to other points. Once a consensus has been found on these other points, there will always be time to come back to the problems, only this time in a much more positive atmosphere. You could say, for example: “I think that’s about as far as we can advance, at this stage. Why don’t we go back to that other point?” Another variant of this tactic involves steering the discussion onto another tack as soon as you feel attitudes beginning to harden. Each of these tactics is designed to give you an edge in negotiations that you didn’t necessarily have at the outset. Remember, though, that the best negotiations are those where each of the parties comes out with what he wants. The line between simply defending your interests and manipulation is often fuzzy. It’s up to you not to cross it, except if you yourself are the victim of manipulation