Nothing is, indeed, for free

Leverage » Tips & tricks » Nothing is, indeed, for free

A short anecdote from the supermarket: in a queue at the charcuterie, an old lady asks in a trembling voice, “Fifty grams of salami, please.” A young man standing behind her is visibly touched. “Please make it 300 grams. I’ll cover the difference.” The old lady turns to him and smiles, “Thank you, but my cat only eats it while fresh.”

This is the exact value of anything offered for free: zero!


The same rule applies to negotiation. Unskilled negotiators try to bring their partners to the negotiation table with a series of concessions. “I’m giving up this or that to bring them to the negotiation table. I’ll make it up during the discussions later.” Really? Why would I offer anything in exchange during a negotiation once I got what I was after?

In this case, you may fall into two traps:

1. Conceding without knowing when to stop. To be carried away because “this little thing doesn’t matter anyway.”

2. To have nothing more to offer once you have brought your partner to the negotiation table. Because “these are the things you have already offered me. I appreciate that. However, what can I get in return if I’m offering something as well?”

In sales, many times, there is this temptation to concede to get to the shortlist. Professional buyers know that this is precisely what they should push their partners toward: “You might be one of the shortlisted ones, but for that, I need you to improve your offer.” Counteracting such a request by the seller is simple: “This is our best offer based on your request (what did you expect; that I offered you this to fool you?). Let’s talk about how this offer can be improved according to your full needs, too.”

So, that’s how the discussion moves from negotiation to sales—from offering something for free to finding out what I should provide in exchange. What is the trade we can make?

Skilled negotiators bring their partners to the negotiation table by selling themselves, by increasing their needs before having to give up. They know that success, instead of making concessions, means the ability to trade.

Sell first and then negotiate—and only if you have to! Otherwise, the 250 grams of salami offered for free might cost you too much—later!

Takeaway points:

  • Do not offer for free issues that are unimportant to you; you never know how important they are to the other.
  • Never concede, always trade; ask for something in return.

Excerpt from the book WIN-WIN Is Not Fifty-Fifty: Leverage Your Business Negotiations.

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