Knowing what you want before you go in to negotiate

Don’t you love when things work out as you planned?  What about when things work even better than you planned? Just this morning, earlier than I really wanted to be awake, I found myself with a negotiating opportunity. Before we get there, let’s rewind to the situation that created this great opportunity.

Two weeks ago, I was working with our corporate travel agent to arrange for a trip to Cedar Rapids and Des Moines, where I would be meeting with my contacts at the US General Services Administration and the federal agency for which we are seeking office space. Since I had to be in both cities and needed the flexibility of a car to travel between the two, we booked an open jaw ticket from Chicago to Cedar Rapids, drive to Des Moines and fly out of Des Moines the next day. Since I made this trip once before, I was hesitant to use Avis, which was charging me $.30 per mile, unlike the unlimited mileage offered by Hertz. Unlike Avis, with a $30-40/day charge, however, Hertz was charging upwards of $90/day. Because of this, I decided to go with Avis and face the “mileage penalty”.

Fast forward, skipping past my harrowing experience attempting to rely on an unreliable cab company – with the same three initials, that shall remain nameless – which failed to show up even 20 minutes after my arranged booking. Nevertheless, I made it to O’Hare just in time for my flight at an ungodly hour of the morning, dozed off and landed 40 minutes later in Cedar Rapids. As I approached the desk, I saw the now familiar “We do not have any one-way cars available.” I immediately thought of that mileage charge. I gave my name to the clerk and she asked me something I never heard before, even from Avis – “Would you mind taking a small pickup truck?” [As an aside, that “small pickup truck” comfortably seats 5 in the 4-door cab, so I would hate to see the monster truck that they rent as the “large pickup truck”.] Those who have traveled with me before know that I am a steadfast Intermediate car renter, turning back SUVs, Jeeps and even PT Cruisers because they are too large and unwieldy for my driving preferences. At the offer of a pickup truck, I almost broke into laughter. Then I remembered the mileage charge. I told the clerk that I really didn’t want a truck, but if she would give me unlimited mileage, I would take it off her hands and get it returned to Des Moines for her. She immediately obliged and I was on my way.

This is the same approach that I like to use when I go in to negotiate with landlords on behalf of clients. Knowing what you want from a negotiation – unlimited mileage could just as easily be 6 months of rent abatement or $10/SF more in tenant improvement allowance – allows you to approach the situation creatively and achieve win-win, like the clerk at Avis and I were able to accomplish. To give you a little something extra from my days serving as a TA for the Negotiation class at Washington University’s business school, those of you looking to understand how to achieve more win-win negotiations should check out Fisher and Ury’s Getting to Yes.

The “small” pickup truck

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