(The following article was written and posted by Laura Rowley in Yahoo! Finance.)
When Melia Lyerly, 52, decided to have gastric bypass surgery last year, she was looking at a potential cost of $36,000 — $28,000 for hospitalization and $8,000 for the surgeon’s bill, none of it covered by her health insurance. So she asked for the discount given to insurance companies.
“I went in with hat in hand and told them it was really important to me to have the surgery for my health and longevity, that anything they could do to help would really be appreciated,” says Lyerly, co-owner of a Charlotte, N.C.-based marketing and advertising firm.
At the end of the day, Lyerly paid just half the bill — $11,000 for the hospital and $7,000 for the surgeon. “It was incredible,” she says.
Play It Cool
In a rocky economy, it pays to negotiate. “You can negotiate anything, and people have begun to realize it now that we’re in tough times,” says Herb Cohen, a professional negotiator for three decades and author of “You Can Negotiate Anything,” which has sold 3 million copies and been translated into 30 languages, and “Negotiate This!”
Step one: Don’t walk into the situation looking for a fight. “The key thing is to approach the salesperson at any store in a friendly, cooperative, congenial manner with a low-key pose of calculated incompetence,” says Cohen, who has instructed the FBI’s hostage negotiators in his techniques. (See this video for his unique approach.)
“If you show up dressed for success, they get defensive,” he adds. “In negotiation, dumb is better than smart, and inarticulate is better than articulate. Act a little slow, make them feel superior to give them a sense of control. Say, ‘I don’t know, I don’t understand’ and they will help you with the transaction.”
The longer you linger with a salesperson, he adds, the more invested he or she is in closing the sale — and the greater the motivation to give you a deal.
Being Nice Pays Off
Simma Lieberman, a San Francisco consultant, says the amiable approach worked for her when her teenager’s mobile phone broke and he tried to fix it himself, leaving a pile of electronic detritus. T-Mobile initially said it couldn’t provide a discount because the family hadn’t had the phone for a year.
“I said, ‘I really like T-Mobile, I don’t want to go anywhere else, but his phone is broken and I really need you to do something for me’ — I was really nice about it,” says Lieberman. “They offered me a $180 phone for $29.99.” A few weeks later, her son left his phone in his pants pocket on the floor of his mom’s bedroom. “I got out of bed and stepped on his phone. There was no negotiation for that one — T-Mobile said that it was too soon.”
Step two: Negotiate with the decision-maker. “Always ask for the manager when you get a no,” says Sally Greenberg, executive director of the National Consumers League. “I’m a staunch consumer advocate, and too often we consumers don’t exercise our rights. Every price you’re given has some padding in it, and you can still allow the merchant to get a very nice profit while also giving you a good deal.”
Cohen says people who are uncomfortable going up the chain of command should take a lesson from kids. “Children are wonderful negotiators; they are people without authority and power and yet they get what they want,” he says. “If they ask their mother and she says ‘No, you can’t have that,’ they go ask their father — and if the two are united against them, they go over their heads to the grandparents. Kids are persistent, they wear you down. If an adult does those things they would also be very successful.”
Step three: Be crystal clear on the result you want when the deal is done, says Michael C. Donaldson, Los Angeles attorney and author of “Fearless Negotiating” and “Negotiating for Dummies.”
“Nothing is more important than walking in with a goal and a limit, and stating it clearly,” says Donaldson, adding that you can comparison-shop on the Internet for most goods (just search the phrase “compare prices” to find dozens of sites). “In an ideal world, how do you want it to come out? Plant the flag, define the negotiating field, and establish a rapport by listening.”
Eager to Bargain
On one occasion, Donaldson recalls, he was entranced by a large pillar candle in a boutique window. “It was dynamite for my bedroom — but I was stunned at the price; it was $200,” he says. “When I was turning to walk out, the shop owner came up. I was apologetic, I said I came in because I thought I would pay $25 to $50 and told her how much I liked it. She said, ‘I’ve had that darn thing for years and it won’t sell.’ I ended up buying it for under $100.”
But don’t limit your negotiating tactics to small boutiques, says Greenberg. “Always ask, ‘Can you do better? Did you just have a sale, or are you having a sale in the future?’ Department stores always have coupons around, but if you don’t ask they don’t tell you about it,” she says. “If I ask, the staff will run around to cash registers on the other side of the store to get me coupons. Be polite — use your charm.”
Multiple purchases always represent a discount opportunity, she says (citing the 10 percent off she recently received at a liquor store for buying several bottles at a time).
Meanwhile, if you can’t reach your price goal, think about other ways to save — whether it’s free delivery or a bonus item (always ask for a free tie with the purchase of a new suit, says Cohen).
It’s a Game
Step four: Know what your time is worth. Cohen suggests saving your firepower for big-ticket items like automobiles and furniture. “Could I negotiate for a quarter-pound of butter? Sure, but if I spend two hours to save 11 cents it’s not worth it,” he laughs. On the other hand, I started asking for discounts as I was researching this story and found the little stuff pays off big.
For her part, Lyerly is delighted with her negotiations. She’s dropped six sizes in the last year and no longer suffers from diabetes. Some of the money she saved has been invested in nutrition counseling and a gym membership. “Don’t be afraid to ask,” she advises.
Cohen agrees. “Don’t feel sorry for the vendor or seller — if it’s not a good deal for them, they are not going to allow you to buy. View it as a game — you want to care, but not that much, because if you fall in love with something you’re going to be manipulated. Fall in ‘like’ with material things — save love for people.”