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How to negotiate a good deal


The art of persuasion

Getting the best deal possible is an important part of keeping overheads low and profit margins high. Darren A Smith, owner of Making Business Matter ( and an FSB member reveals a few trade secrets

Back in the 1980s, beer company Heineken aired a television advert showing a guy waiting for a job offer. The phone rang, he said “hello”, and then went to the fridge for a beer, leaving the phone on the table. Meanwhile, the man on the other end of the phone was making the offer but had heard no reply, so he kept talking and eventually doubled the offer. The guy drinking the beer then came back to the phone, blissfully unaware, heard the last part – the second deal – and just said “OK”.

Small business owners are often working on tight margins with big companies on our left, suppliers behind us, customers to the right, and the bank manager in front. The difference between a successful and a very successful business can be how effectively we negotiate. Here are some tips that should help.

Use silence

We find silence awkward, particularly in British culture, but it is an effective negotiating tool. Next time you are discussing an agreement, deal or price, don’t reply too quickly. Take a moment to listen to what the other person has said, and then smile. The other person will continue to speak. Eventually, they’ll give you something else, help you find out how you could get a better deal, or decrease the price.

Listen for the small words

It is the small words that give us away. Often you’ll hear people saying things such as “It’s a bit expensive”. In this example, ‘bit’ is the key. The person is saying that he needs only a bit more, not a lot more. Listening out for the small words – ‘bit’, ‘little’ or ‘small’ – will help you to understand what the other person really thinks.

“If you…, then I…”

This tool is taught on every negotiation training course. The phrase “If you…, then I…” is simple and effective, and helps you to propose the deal effectively. For example, “If you can let me have that for £100, then I’ll pay you in cash now.” The reason the proposal is structured in this way, and why this tool helps, is because the piece that the person wants is in the second half of the sentence, so they have to listen to the whole sentence.

Use a veiled threat

No one likes to be threatened with something such as “If you don’t, I’ll take my business elsewhere”. When we are presented with a threat such as this, we’ll often use fight or flight, which doesn’t help us to get the best deal from that person and isn’t conducive to a long-term relationship. By using a veiled threat, we keep the person onboard. For example, “I’d hate to go anywhere else to buy this, because it seems like you want to work together”.

Always drink an espresso

After a couple return home from work, one partner says that they need to visit relatives that evening. The other explains that they’ve had a long day, the kids are always bored there, and the car has no petrol. The first partner responds: “I’ll take the car to the garage now”. Whenever you are making an argument, make it short and strong like an espresso, not long and weak like a cappuccino. If you offer three, four or five reasons, one of them will always be weaker, and it will be this one that loses the entire negotiation.