Thursday, September 29, 2011

The art of negotiation.

I just bought a new car (finally traded in my 10 year old Civic: rest in peace, old friend) and the entire process was quite eye-opening.

After test-driving a new car at a dealership last weekend, I returned to the waiting area, glowing with excitement. "I LOVE this car," I stage-whispered to my husband. And so the negotiation process began. Or perhaps, more accurately the "strong-arm and struggle" began. I felt pressured and stressed, and as the pressure to make a deal increased, my excitement went right down the tubes. I thanked the salesman, said I needed to think, and walked out of the dealership. Once home, I called my dad: he loves buying cars the same way that I love buying shoes, and I thought he might have some good insights. He immediately began calling dealerships, including the same one I'd visited, and was able to get a lower price over the phone within minutes. Fascinated (and frustrated), I shook my head in awe...and then he offered to meet me at a dealership during the week to help make the buying process easier. I eagerly agreed.

A few days later, I arrived at the dealership before my dad, and was immediately set upon by an eager salesman. I explained that I was there to look at a particular car, and that my dad had made the appointment after some preliminary discussion, so I wanted to wait until he arrived before we started to get too deep into the conversation. When Dad walked in, we immediately got down to business. The salesman asked, "What do I need to do to make this sale happen?" As I opened my mouth to speak, my dad said, "Give her a good deal on the trade, and we're done."

What?! Where was the fancy negotiating? The back and forth? The white-knuckled anticipation of wondering whether the offer was acceptable? You know what? None of that is necessarily relevant to a positive negotiation. Case in point: a few hours later, I drove off the lot in my new car—and yes, I got a great deal, including a fair and reasonable amount for my trade-in.

Here's what I learned: negotiation doesn't have to be rocket science, and it doesn't have to be stressful. If you use some common sense, it can be pretty simple, in fact...but I've realized that when I get stressed, sometimes common sense loses out to nerves. And so, for those like-minded folk, I offer the below quick list of tips:

  • Do your homework. You don't have to know everything, but you should be prepared to talk shop. In my case, that meant knowing what the competition was offering in terms of available stock, financing, and promotions. It also meant understanding what my ten-year-old car was really worth as a trade-in. Having these kinds of facts provides you (and the person on the other side of the table) with a legit starting point for discussion.
  • If you know what you want, ask for it. Put it out on the table. Plain and simple: What's the best deal you can get me on this car?
  • If someone asks what you want, be honest. Don't hem and haw, just say what you want. The exchange between the salesman and my dad was shockingly simple and straightforward.
  • If you get what you want, be ready to commit. Don't put people through the wringer if you're not ready to move. It's unfair, and bad business.
  • If you don't get what you want, be willing to walk away. Chances are good that if your conditions are reasonable, they can be met elsewhere.

Are you a skilled negotiator? If so, what would you add to this list? If you're more of a "negotiating novice," can you picture yourself asking for what you want, and then envision all parties feeling like they won out in the end? Negotiating can be intimidating if you let it psych you out, but now that I've been through a positive transaction once, I feel confident that I'll be better equipped to deal with similar situations moving forward.

In the meantime, if you see a cute silver SUV zipping around Greater Boston, look for me behind the wheel. Cheers!