Why Did It Work?


Why Did It Work?

That once-upon-a-time story is actually the way I’ve bought almost all of my cars. I think it illustrates some of the hostage negotiation principles in a real-life way with something we’re just about all going to do at some point in our lives. It’s a good model for a basic, real-life negotiation. So let’s run through it quickly, and you can draw your own conclusions about what’ll work for you.

First of all, the key to any deal is knowing what you want. My needs for a vehicle are pretty straightforward, and I’m not into status. That means the vehicles I want to buy are not necessarily the “hottest” models or the luxury ones with sexy markups. It also means that I can move from a Chevy to a Ford to a Toyota pretty easily. Now you may think that makes the negotiations easy, but the fact is, there’s always something you’re not going to budge on, some goal that’s difficult to meet—the price, for example. While it’s true that you may have more choices at a certain price level, those choices only make it emotionally easier for you to walk away from one particular situation. They don’t affect the specific negotiations.

Got that? As long as you have an out—the choice to say no—you are in a strong position. It makes no difference what the out is—two hundred other car models or a pair of in-line skates—the out is the out is the out. If your goal isn’t met, you take your out.

I didn’t start negotiating for a car until I was ready to negotiate—I did all of my intelligence work, set my goals, knew my strategy. The negotiation didn’t begin during a test drive. It happened long afterward; several weeks, in fact.

Assessing the situation and planning my negotiations tactics, I decided there was no call for a lot of back-and-forth. I knew I wanted the car, and I had no problem paying a fair price for it. I wasn’t interested in macho games of winning points during negotiation; I can’t drive ego through the car wash. On the salesman’s side, there wasn’t a lot of cause for back-and-forth either—Brand Y only came with certain options, and I knew precisely what I wanted. He wanted to sell the car. The only question—the only one—was whether he would sell it at that price.

So I went to the salesman, said clearly that I was ready to buy, and made him an offer. I knew it was fair; I didn’t know whether he would take it or not.

What was the fifteen minutes for? It had nothing to do with my needs; the car I was driving would last indefinitely. And it actually wasn’t a real deadline for him either—I could use it to leave, of course, but if we were filling out paperwork at sixteen minutes past the hour I wasn’t going to say, “Sorry, you blew it.”

I was signaling to him that I was serious. I told him I did want to buy the car: “Here’s the money. Let’s not screw around. Let’s do the deal.” It’s a bit of a gimmick to get his attention, but the checkbook I pulled from my pocket probably worked just about as well.

As a one-man negotiator, my team system and feedback was very simple: The commander gave his approval only if the price was met. Anything else would have caused me to walk out and reset my strategy. That was another benefit of the fifteen-minute deadline: I could avoid a drawn-out process that would have just wasted time.

Could I have gotten the car for $300 over invoice instead of $500? For $200? For $400? For $499?

Who knows? Who cares!

I reached my goal and got my car. You don’t second-guess yourself once the hostages are freed and the bad guy is in the jail.