Smart Negotiation – the Bargain Hunt Way

We are increasingly coming to the conclusion that negotiation skills are going to get more important, not less, for many procurement professionals in the future. That is despite the greater use and influence of technology, which will automate many current procurement activities, including some that currently involve negotiation. However, that will increase the focus on these key areas where human interaction and negotiation will still play a key role in determining competitive advantage and business success.

After that very strategic introduction to this post, let's take you to a whole different level - that of the UK TV show Bargain Hunt. I see this occasionally when I am at the gym and it happens to be on one of the screens. Honestly, wouldn't dream of watching it deliberately ... !!

Two teams of two are given some money to spend at an antique fair, then their chosen articles are auctioned, and the team that makes the most profit (or the least loss) wins.  Now on a recent show, there was a gentleman of Iranian origin, who had worked as a chef for many years in the UK. He had clearly been to these fairs before and made his pitch to the sellers of goods he liked in an interesting manner.

When the bartering-type discussion started - and inevitably that is the nature of these discussions given the situation - then before getting drawn into the back and forth of offer and counter offer, he would say this:

“I don’t want you to think I am being rude or cheeky, but do you mind if I make you an offer"?

That is an interesting approach. He has asked for permission to make an offer. It is very hard for the other party to say “no” - who wouldn't want to hear an offer? But by mentioning the “rude” element he has already primed the other person that this may be an offer that is some way away from what they might hope to hear. It is also hard then for the other party to show displeasure at the low offer – because the seller has invited it, and our hero has already excused himself by saying he is not being "rude".

He then offered a price that was very low – but not ridiculous. So if the seller was asking £100 for the piece of jewellery, he offers £50 (not £20, but not £80 either).  And let’s assume he knows enough about what he is buying to understand the right ballpark figure that might be a reasonable settlement.

The seller comes back with maybe £80. Our hero says £60.  £75, says the seller. But instead of bargaining further, our man says “£60 and you have a deal”, extending his hand to the seller and smiling.

I liked two things about that. It certainly looked like he had set his own firm limit - £60 in this case – and once he had got to that, he wasn’t going to be sucked into the standard bartering routine that could easily have seen him slip over that limit. And by offering the “close” to the seller – the handshake and the smile – he offered a clear and positive option to him which again was quite hard to resist.

There was no threat, no “take it or leave it”, or implication that he knew best. He never said “I’m sure that is more than it's really worth” or other aggressive statements you often hear on such programmes, but equally no giving way either. All in all, very impressive negotiation, we felt.

Of course, at the end of the programme, the teams get to see if their choices make a profit at auction. So did these negotiation skills see him through? I’m sorry, we don’t know. I finished my aerobic session and they don’t have TV in the weights room… but whatever happened there, a couple of good ideas to note for negotiators!

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