In fifth grade, I was tasked with selling rugs and flooring to farmers who came to sell their produce at the local farmer’s market in a small town by the Black Sea. I like to think that my boss hired me because I was an extra cute kid, but it probably had to do with the fact that by that time I was already on my third job, so I actually had enough work experience.
My boss — a family friend and a superb salesman in the tradition of the great Turkish rug dealers of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar — gave me some sales (read: haggling) training and then left me to run his shop. I still retain those thousand-year-old lessons to this day.
Lessons like these four:
1. Know who the decision maker is.
I remember on more than a few occasions haggling with a farmer over a rug and getting to the point where the deal was almost official — only to have the farmer’s wife come along and tell him to stop fooling around in the rug shop and go buy some flour instead.
Haggling (or negotiating for you modern business types) with the wrong person is an exercise in futility. Even the person who controls the checkbook might not be the one who has ultimate say in a decision, so clarify that you’re talking to the right person.
Ask questions like: “Who do you need to speak with about this before you make your decision?” or “Is there someone that we need to include in our discussion?”
2. Know your mission.
The farmers I was selling to rarely had a lot of money to spend. If they were buying a new rug or some new flooring, there was a reason for it. It was my job to find out that reason and adjust my haggling accordingly. There’s a big difference between wanting to buy flooring that is easy to clean versus flooring that goes with the drapes.
Whether it’s a partnership, a promotion or a merger opportunity, you must know your counterpart’s needs. Start by asking: “If money was not an issue, what would you like to accomplish with this deal?”
3. Make people feel something.
When haggling, I almost never talked about the rugs. They were fine quality, beautifully crafted and reasonably priced, but a vital lesson my old boss taught me was to focus on the person and connect with them.
If they’re haggling with you, that means they already see value in your product. To get the price you want, you have to connect emotionally with them.
Negotiation expert and author of Start With No Jim Camp argues that people make decisions with their emotions and then justify those decisions with their analytical mind. So, when negotiating with people, try to establish an environment where they feel like you genuinely care about their needs. If you don’t connect with them on an emotional level, it automatically makes them approach the negotiation from a more analytical mindset, taking away an edge for you.
4. Focus on your behavior and actions.
When I first started selling rugs, I had many a potential customer walk away shaking their heads and calling me “impossible” (and various other things). I would set a price in my head and absolutely not budge from it — until my old boss budged me.
“Pala,” he would say, “don’t be a donkey. Be nice and be a little bit flexible and people will give you a fair price.”
Camp backs up my old boss on this one. Rather than zeroing in on the absolute outcome of the negotiation, he says, control what you can, like your behavior and actions, and your negotiations will go a lot smoother.
More importantly, you’ll consistently get better outcomes. You may not be able to hit a home run every time, but you can focus on your swing and it will increase your chances of hitting one.
From the bazaar to the boardroom, having sound negotiating skills will help you in nearly every facet of business, even if you’re a fifth grader.