Triple Priced (Issue 506)

In which we are reminded that good negotiating outcomes begin with and depend on value-oriented discovery and selling.

Last Saturday, I felt the urge to cook some salmon for dinner.   Since I was at the office Saturday afternoon, I thought I’d go across the street to the fish market to buy a pound to take home.  At about 5:15, mouth watering with anticipation,  I closed up shop  and walked over.  There before me in their cases lay the pinkish-orangeish filleted object of my desire.  No prices marked.

“I’d like to buy some salmon for dinner,” I piped up.

“Sure,” says the man behind the cases. “And how much would you like?”

“A pound,” says I.

He cut the fish. “That’ll be …”  And he quoted a price that was, literally, three times the price per pound  of salmon at the supermarket about a ten minute drive away.

I gasped a little. “What makes your salmon worth so much more than what I’d pay at [the supermarket]?”

He gazed at me for a moment. “Well, for a start,” he said, “we cut ours fresh every morning. Get it at the dock – the whole fish – and we cut it here.  Theirs is likely previously frozen, even what they call ‘fresh.’   Have you eaten same day fresh fish before?”

I nodded. “Liked it?” he asked.  I nodded again.

“And look at the color – do you see a difference in color between ours and theirs?”

“Yes,” I replied, “Yours is much pinker. It’s beautiful! Theirs has a little bit more reddish-brown color in it. And that’s still a lot of money for a pound of fish.”

“How do you cook your fish?” he asked.  “Broiled or baked,” I replied.

“I pan fry  all my fish,” he said. “Piece like you’re buying? Skin side down, a little kosher salt on top, four minutes, flip it over, peel  off the skin, a little kosher salt on top, cover it, and cook it for another eight minutes.  It’ll be sweet, flakey,  soft, and v e r y  juicy. Maybe something you’re not used to.”

I compared his description  to the routinely dry outcomes from previous efforts to cook the grocery store fish. Sounded pretty good. Plus faster than baking or grilling.  He had a point.

I hesitated.  “Live around here?”  he asked.  “Yes, and I pointed in the direction. “About five minutes from here.” “What time did you want to eat?”  he asked.  “I was thinking 6:00 pm,” I replied.  “I promised salmon for dinner and my wife is waiting for me.”

He looked at this watch. “Well, it’s 5:25 now.  Let’s see, 15 minutes to drive to [grocery store] and park, 5 – 10  minutes to get served at the fish counter at this time of night, 5 – 10 minutes check out, 10 minutes home,  15 minutes to get the fish on the table if you do it my way.”  He shook his head, indicating “your wife may not be too thrilled with the wait, champ.”

His salmon was every bit as exquisitely delicious as he promised it would be.  Perhaps the best I’ve ever eaten, at any time, anywhere.  Almost beyond words to describe.

However, if you had told me at noon that I would be willing to pay TRIPLE THE PRICE for a piece of fish at 5:20, I’d have laughed at you.

As it turns out, I didn’t pay “triple price” for the fish. I paid “market price” for the fish and then about two times the fish price as protection money.

The man was a master of positioning value and negotiating.  He asked some questions and offered some ‘trial balloons.’ He built up the value or appeal of his fish (color, texture), he offered some additional value (cooking tip), and then with two deft questions (“You live around here?” and “What time did you want to eat?” ) maneuvered me into a classic negotiating trap, “the deadline” and the worries about what might happen if I did not have the promised dinner on the table at the promised hour.

When it came to the negotiation, had I had my wits about me, I called my wife and said, I’m running about a half hour late.” Or, I could have countered with a deadline ploy myself, like, “Well, you close at 6:00, so how about a price of [double] rather than [triple]. If you keep this over night, it won’t be ‘fresh’ by your standards and you’ll have to reduce the price tomorrow.”  Or I could have chosen a different fish than the salmon I’d promised for dinner. But I had no wits at that point.  I was hungry, I’d promised  salmon at 6:00, and I needed fish.  The balance of power was definitely in his court.  My best alternative to the negotiated agreement was NOT very good.

So… was he selling to me or negotiating with me? Too often we view sales and negotiation as separate functions.  They can be and, frequently, they are not.  Selling is about assessing and building value, negotiation is about dividing the value, and they happen together.  To increase our negotiating results, we need to ask more questions, understand our customers’ perceptions and priorities around value, and then…. negotiate for the best outcome… rather than concede on price at a customer’s first objection.

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