As bottom man on the totem pole at work, I had the distinct pleasure of being in charge of creating name tags for an event. The first step in this process was to wander down the street to Staples and procure name tags — the clip on kind because we’re classy like that and no one wants to poke holes in their clothing.
I strolled into Staples, boss’s credit card in hand, and gasped in horror when I saw the specific name tags I needed cost upwards of $85 for 100 name tags. This seemed outrageous! Even for clip-on name tags with card stock paper you can feed into the printer with ease.
Keeping my disbelief in check, I kindly asked the Staples sales clerk if they perhaps had a box of 50 name tags instead of 100 (I only needed to make 30). She ushered me over to a computer and proceeded to look up the item in the Staples online store.
The sales lady’s original intent was simply to see if the larger Staples store a few avenues over offered the 50 box count. Instead, she ended up revealing that Staples online sells the exact same box of 100 name tags for $30 less than in the store.
In a friendly manner, I inquired why this box of name tags was offered for $30 less online? The response: Ummm, things are just cheaper online.
A friend who was with me sighed as though she knew what was about to happen. “Erin, this isn’t even your money. It’s the company’s money and they can spend $85 on name tags. The leftovers will get used.” [I glared at her for potentially diminishing my negotiating power]
The rationale that it wasn’t my money wasn’t enough. At this point I’d become entrenched in a situation about principles. I simply couldn’t pay $85 for an item with the $55 option taunting me.
I put my game face on and started negotiations, like the
black markets totally legitimate markets of Shanghai had taught me to do. One of my key tactics is the “walk away.” Granted, there will be other times you simply don’t have the luxury to walk away from the table, but I try to ensure my foe doesn’t know that for as long as possible.
After hearing the the online price was cheaper, I set the box down and told the friendly lady I would love to buy this box of name tags, but simply couldn’t justify spending $30 more in the store.
In the easiest negotiation ever, her manager turned around and said, “it’s okay — we’ll just give you the online price here in the store.”
I returned to work, name tags in hand, and proudly told my boss that I’d saved $30. Sure, $30 isn’t even a blip on the radar to my company, but I still couldn’t handle over-spending when a cheaper option was so blatantly obvious.
There are plenty of other times in life to negotiate: cable bills, cell phone plans, even with your debt! Learning how to negotiate is important, but knowing isn’t the same as doing. Know how to negotiate and be sure you actually utilize the skill set!
Those who need some tips should listen to this NPR Planet Money podcast featuring what happened when an FBI hostage negotiator bought a car.
When have you negotiated for something you wanted or needed?