Alpha Female in the Making: Shannon Negotiates

Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Curves.

Today I taught my daughter a valuable skill that she will take with her throughout her life. I taught her how to negotiate. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen her happier or more power-filled  than when she thanked  the  I’ve-Got- You-For-Certain car salesman for the four hours of his time and walked out with a plethora of offers and counteroffers on his desk.

The Long-Awaited Honest-to-God Secret to Being Happy

She’s been working extra hard and saving her money, and I’m so proud of how focused she’s been on doing a good day’s work and asking for even more work and how to get the most car and education for her dollar. Instead of blowing money on movies and shoes all summer, she’s been saving every penny. She starts college in a few weeks and must have a way to get to high school for Latin III, then to the college, then back to  high school for forensics, then back home. So her funds are limited and time is drawing nigh.

She did all her research, just as she was supposed to. She familiarized herself with all the cars in her price range that have the required  safety features, learned their gas mileage and read up on performance and technical issues on online forums. Memorized Consumer Reports. Knew the blue book by rote. Yes, totally prepared…and not.

No matter  how  many  times  I  tried  to  explain  the process and what negotiation strategies to watch for, it all happened very fast and confusing and took a little time to settle into place to see the dirty negotiation tricks that can be used. I have to admit, sometimes I myself forget, be- cause when I negotiate  a contract of the Department  of Defense, we try to do it ethically and whenever required, in accordance with 10 USC 2306a, the Truth in Negotiations Act. I forget sometimes when I’m working with car salesmen, furniture salesmen, roofers, that truth in negotiations is a Government thing and not something I should expect from non-Government contractors.

Still, it was almost entertaining  to watch how today played out.  From their point of view, they saw a stupid female and her stupid teen spawn who obviously needs a car now before school starts drive up and look over some of their cheaper  vehicles,  meaning  not the ones in the 20K range. They were probably a bit flummoxed on the 2 occasions they tried to get Shannon to commit to telling how high she could go in price, something I’d warned her would be their first question to her after “Are you looking for a car for you?”

For as much as I’d prepped her, she was still nervous but did great, took notes on various small trucks and a couple of cars, wrote down the VINs, prices, and various info on warranties. We were  both quite taken with one particular car that was a paragon of safety features. Then we  non-chalantly  went  home  and  did  more  research based on our numbers, and determined  that price-wise, one  particular  car  looked  to  be  a  good  deal…but  of course, we needed to drive it to make sure my little shorty could see over the headrests.

After a lengthy test drive, we were ready to declare our technical evaluation of the car a success and move on to the price negotiation. I’d already told Shannon all the negotiation tactics to expect,  which were  typical in any ethical negotiation, and sure enough, we saw every one of them—and then some.

As a  professional  negotiator,  I  saw  at  least  a  few dozen things their salesman and the manager did wrong, including some too-quick concessions where concessions didn’t make sense, like dropping arbitrarily  about $1500 to accommodate Shannon’s refusal to pay an overstated service fee ($350) for cleaning the car and sending in her tag information, and some refusals that should have been no-brainers, like running a Car-Fax report before we tentatively agreed  on price  because  “those  are  really expensive.” Huh? At $19.99 for an individual VIN check and $24.99 for multiples?  That’s an extremely  important  re- port given that,  as my ex-the-banker pointed out, many used cars out there now were underwater after Hurricane Katrina and were written off as total losses.

And there’s also the fact that the manager winked at my jail-bait daughter, something I didn’t see and hence he still lives.

But of all the mistakes made in this negotiation, their biggest was that they got cocky.

One thing I’ve mentioned to Shannon before but had forgotten to remind her of is how quiet I get in negotiations, though I admit, I did  accidentally  let a raspberry sound escape my lips when he mentioned how  he’d get sued by other customers if he didn’t charge the same ser- vice fee  to everyone.  We watched  him play out all the usual negotiation  tactics, most of them in the play book and some more than at once, including

1. Good cop, bad cop

2. I’d love to accept this offer but let me take it to my boss whom you’ll never see in the next room and get his permission (I’d warned Shannon about this one, complete with the back of the hand over the brow drama gestures)

3. Let’s agree on the price and then I’ll throw in all these hidden  service fees that add will add 30% to the bottom line

4. How ‘bout that extended warranty that’ll be another

30% to the bottom line

5. Doncha wanna finance it through us at some astronomical rate that would be illegal from anyone but us?

6. I don’t wanna tell you the bottom line until I’ve already gotten all your personal information written on this proposal form because then you’ll feel more committed

7. We’ll split the difference in this

8. Six other people are looking at this car today and it’ll be gone by dark (it wasn’t)

9. See this photocopy of a man’s driver’s license? I’m leaving to give him the key so he can test drive your car while you’re in here discussing your next offer with your mom (this one is always my pet peeve in negotiations and seriously pissed me off when he did that  and  even more so when we left and the car hadn’t been moved from the place where Shannon had parked it.)

10. Raising  his  voice  to  my  daughter  because  she asked the bottom line on the car when he was delaying giving it to her

11. Scolding Shannon for making a counter-offer that was too low (she was done at this point, I believe)

12. Finding out he wasn’t authorize to make the counteroffer that  Shannon was strongly considering and had initially  agreed  was  fair  (which,  to  me,  destroyed  any shred of integrity left to this negotiation)

13. Going up substantially on the price after an initial low counteroffer  from them (apparently “unauthorized”) (I was definitely done at this point)

14. The sudden intercom call from the boss to check on a new customer who might want the car we’re looking

at and some odd fooling around with the intercom before leaving us alone to talk

15. the lecture to Shannon about how she wouldn’t find another car of this “caliber” on another lot at a lower price (by this time, she understood the game and lectured him back on what her research  showed  and that there were definitely other cars of the same caliber)

16. Finally, as we were walking out, quoting  us the number that  Shannon had said was the max she would ever do for a car, and with  tag, title, taxes, and various hidden fees, it would come out to the unauthorized number he’d quoted us earlier.

I’m positive  I  left  out  a  few  things,  but  Shannon learned how  the process works, what I do for a living, and what it means when I talk about people “negotiating in bad faith.” And, too, she learned what she’s willing to spend on a car to get her to college and back for the next few years.

And she learned that even though she could be made to feel stupid, be scolded for an offer that wasn’t the retail price, be  pressured  into making an immediate decision…she still had the ultimate power.

She wasn’t emotionally attached to the car. She kept the negotiation at bottom line and didn’t get caught up in whether  the car had a lighted  mirror for her makeup or what color it was or any of the stupid  things  that  car salesmen think matter to a woman. She had the ultimate power because if she didn’t get the deal she wanted, she could walk away.

And that’s what she did.

Tonight, she doesn’t have a car, but she’s got some- thing a whole lot better.