The Apprentice and some deep lessons about negotiation (well, maybe…)

It was the negotiation task on the UK Apprentice series last week, our annual chance to laugh at people who think they are great negotiators, hard bargainers, or in this case, someone who thought he had  "got a lot of good local knowledge".  Relevant this time because the teams have been shipped off to Dubai for a day to source various products for a new luxury hotel.  OK, this is not really procurement as we know it but this episode does highlight a few points of interest even to us supposed professionals...!

The guy with local knowledge is Zee, quickly elected a team leader."I know Dubai like the back of my hand" he says. You just know this is going to go wrong... The other team leader is the older, rather suave Miles.

But Zee does know what a Kandura is - the traditional Emirates garment. And Oud, which is a perfume apparently. He thinks. Zee wants to source stuff in the souk, that will be cheaper than the Mall he says. Sounds sensible...maybe.

The other team are in the Mall, they offer 100 for a Kandura priced at 125, and as soon as the guy resists they go up to 110 - a lack of persistence there in the negotiation.  Their next purchase is a plant - Miles doesn't want to talk to the boss (who might be able to be more flexible) and accepts the 15% discount offered on a palm in a pot. Should he have gone to the next level and looked for a bigger discount? Probably, yes.

Then we get the flag discussion.  Zee's team are ordering a large flag from the supplier. "There's 12 centimetres in a foot" says Kurt. "Yes," agrees Natalie.  Zee seems happy with that.  Oh my goodness. Let's hope Michael Gove (Education Minister for the UK) isn't watching. They've ordered the wrong size of flag.

Miles' team aren't pushing very hard with suppliers, immediately offering 175 Dirhams when the merchant suggests 200 for the flag. He can't believe his luck and hesitates for a microsecond before agreeing... then they pay him up front! The flag will take an hour to produce.

Oh my goodness (part 2). Jason is doing an embarrassing "middle-east" accent when he talks to the locals in the Mall. Does he really think this will help understanding? I so much want the chap to turn round and say, "terribly sorry old man, can't understand a word you're saying".

Zee's other team are in the souk. Neil does a strong bit of bargaining - he does actually use his BATNA -  "if you can do it at 60 I will buy it from you, but otherwise I will buy it from somebody else". OK, he may have been bluffing, but at least he introduced that concept of going elsewhere.

Ah, so maybe Oud isn't a perfume. There's a surprise.

Finally Miles gets his flag, more like two hours than one. They ask for a discount for the delay but of course because they paid up front, there's no leverage. Zee does get a 50% discount on his pot plant though, by asking the boss. Zee also introduces the concept that there may be more business to come if he gets his good deal now, which has some effect in the flag shop. A decent tactic there, and Zee does seem to have some negotiation sense, even if his organisational and management talents appear limited to say the least.

An Oud is actually a rather nice looking musical instrument - Neil's other team get it for half the initial price quoted. Back in the hotel, then the boardroom, and both teams have failed to get all the items.  Zee's team fail to get an Oud, three other items, and it is the wrong sort of Kandura, so they lose because of the penalties.

Zee's team savage him in the Boardroom. Why on earth has he brought Natalie back in rather than the guy who thought there were 12 centimetres in a foot? A sexist decision as far as we can see. Leah is an attractive but vicious blond assassin, and his fate is sealed.

What did we learn? Well, having a BATNA, or at least claiming to have one does help. Using the prospect of further business can be a useful tactic. Escalating the discussion to someone who has more power to negotiate is sensible. Don't pay for stuff before you get it delivered unless you absolutely have to. Finally, if you are in a pure bargaining mode, then at least go for it seriously - offering 10% off the first offer is not very aggressive if you're in that mode of negotiating.

And above all, whatever you do, don't volunteer to be a participant on the Apprentice.

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