How to Negotiate When the Other Person Tells You That They Don't Have the Authority to Decide
By: Roger Dawson
|Roger Dawson is a professional speaker and the author of two of best selling books on negotiating: Secrets of Power Negotiating and Secrets of Power Negotiating for Salespeople, both published by Career Press. He was inducted into the Speaker Hall of Fame in 1991. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His website address is: www.rdawson.com
This article is excerpted in part from Roger Dawson's new book-Secrets of Power Negotiating, published by Career Press and on sale in bookstores.
One of the most frustrating situations you can run into is trying to negotiate
with the person who claims that he or she doesn't have the authority to
make a final decision. Unless you realize that this is simply a negotiating
tactic that's being used on you, you have the feeling that you'll never
get to talk to the real decision-maker.
When I was president of the real estate company in California, I used to
have salespeople coming in to sell me things all the time: advertising,
photocopy machines, computer equipment, and so on. I would always negotiate
the very lowest price that I could, and then I would say to them, "This
looks fine. I do just have to run it by my board of directors, but I'll
get back to you tomorrow with the final okay."
The next day I could get back to them and say, "Boy, are they tough
to deal with right now. I felt sure I could sell it to them, but they just
won't go along with it unless you can shave another couple of hundred dollars
off the price." And I would get it. There was no approval needed by
the board of directors, and it never occurred to me that this deception
was underhanded. I and the people with whom you deal see it as well within
the rules by which one plays the game of negotiating.
So when the other person says to you that they have to take it to the committee,
or the legal department, it's probably not true, but it is a very effective
negotiating tactic that they're using on you. Fortunately, Power Negotiators
know how to handle this challenge smoothly and effectively.
Your first approach should be trying to remove the other person's resort
to higher authority before the negotiations even start, by getting him
to admit that he could make a decision if the proposal was irresistible.
This is exactly the same thing that I taught my real estate agents to say
to the buyers before putting them in the car, "Let me be sure I understand,
if we find exactly the right property for you today, is there any reason
why you wouldn't make a decision today?" It's exactly the same thing
that the car dealer will do to you when, before he lets you take it for
a test drive, he says, "Let me be sure I understand, if you like this
car as much as I know you're going to like it, is there any reason why
you wouldn't make a decision today?" Because they know that if they
don't remove the resort to higher authority up front, then there's a danger
that under the pressure of asking for a decision, the other person will
invent a higher authority as a delaying tactic. Such as, "Look, I'd
love to give you a decision today, but I can't because my father-in-law
has to look at the property (or the car), or Uncle Joe is helping us with
the down payment and we need to talk to him first."
One of the most frustrating things that you encounter is taking your proposal
to the other person and having her say to you, "Well, that's fine.
Thanks for bringing me the proposal. I'll talk to our committee (or our
attorney or the owners) about it and if it interests us we'll get back
to you." Where do you go from there? If you're smart enough to counter
the Higher Authority Gambit before you start, you can remove yourself from
that dangerous situation.
So before you present your proposal to the other person, before you even
get it out of your briefcase, you should casually say, "Let me be
sure I understand. If this proposal meets all of your needs (That's as
broad as any statement can be, isn't it?), is there any reason why you
wouldn't give me a decision today?"
It's a harmless thing for the other person to agree to because the other
person is thinking, "If it meets all of my needs? No problem, there's
loads of wriggle room there." However, look at what you've accomplished
if you can get them to respond with, "Well, sure if it meets all of
my needs, I'll give you an okay right now." Look at what you've accomplished:
What if you're not able to remove their resort to higher authority? I'm
sure that many times you'll say, "If this proposal meets all of your
needs is there any reason why you wouldn't give me a decision today?"
and the other person will reply, "I'm sorry, but on a project of this
size, everything has to get approved by the specifications committee. I'll
have to refer it to them for a final decision."
- You've eliminated their right to tell you that they want to want to think
it over. If they say that, you say, "Well, let me go over it one more
time. There must be something I didn't cover clearly enough because you
did indicate to me earlier that you were willing to make a decision today."
- You've eliminated their right to refer it to a higher authority. You've
eliminated their right to say, "I want our legal department to see
it, or the purchasing committee to take a look at it."
Here are the three steps that Power Negotiators take when they're not able
to remove the other side's resort to higher authority:
Step number one - appeal to their ego. With a smile on your face you say, "But they always follow your recommendations,
don't they?" With some personality styles that's enough of an appeal
to his ego, that he'll say, "Well, I guess you're right. If I like
it, then you can count on it." But often they'll still say, "Yes,
they usually follow my recommendations but I can't give you a decision
until I've taken it to the committee."
So the three steps to take if you're not able to get the other person to
waive his or her resort to higher authority are:
If you realize that you're dealing with egotistical people, try preempting
their resort to higher authority early in your presentation, by saying,
"Do you think that if you took this to your supervisor, she'd approve
it?" Often an ego-driven person will make the mistake of proudly telling
you that he doesn't have to get any body's approval.
The second step is to get their commitment that they'll take it to the
committee with a positive recommendation. So you say, "But you will recommend it to them-won't you?" There
are only two things that can happen at this point. Either she'll say, yes,
she will recommend it to them, or she'll say, no she won't-because . .
. Either way you've won. Hopefully, you'll get a response similar to, "Yes,
it looks good to me, I'll go to bat for you with them." But if that
doesn't happen, and instead they tell you that they won't recommend it
because, you're still ahead, because any time you can draw out an objection
you should say, "Hallelujah" because objections are buying signals.
For example, nobody will object to your price unless buying from you interests
them. If buying from you doesn't interest them, they don't care how high
you price your product or service.
For a while I dated a woman who was really into interior decorating. One
day she excitedly dragged me down to the Orange County Design Center to
show me a couch covered in kidskin. The leather was as soft and as supple
as anything I'd ever felt. As I sat there, she said, "Isn't that a
I said, "No question about it, this is a wonderful couch."
She said, "And it's only $12,000."
I said, "Isn't that amazing? How can they do it for only $12,000?"
She said, "You don't have a problem with the price?"
"I don't have a problem with the price at all." Why didn't I
have a problem with the price? Right. Because I had absolutely no intention
of paying $12,000 for a couch, regardless of what they covered it with.
Let me ask you this: If buying the couch interested me, would I have a
problem with the price? Oh, you had better believe I'd have a problem with
Objections are buying signals. We knew in real estate that if we were showing
property, and the people were "Ooooing and aaahing" all over
the place, if they loved everything about the property, they weren't going
to buy. The serious buyers were the ones who were saying, "Well the
kitchen's not as big as we like. Hate that wallpaper. We'd probably end
up knocking out that wall." Those were the ones who would buy.
If you're in sales, think about it. Have you ever in your life made a big
sale where the person loved your price up front? Of course not. All serious
buyers complain about the price.
Your biggest problem is not an objection, it's indifference. I would rather
they said to you, "I wouldn't buy widgets from your company, if you
were the last widget vendor in the world, because . . ." than have
them say to you, "I've been using the same source on widgets for 10
years, and he does fine. I'm just not interested in taking the time to
talk about making a change." Indifference is your problem, not objections.
Let me prove this to you. Give me the opposite of the word love. If you
said hate, think again. As long as they're throwing plates at you, you
have something there you can work with. It's indifference that's the opposite
of love. When they're saying to you, like Rhett Butler in Gone With the
Wind, "Quite frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn." -that's
when you know the movie is about over. Indifference is your problem, not
objections. Objections are buying signals.
So when you say to them, "You will recommend it to them, won't you?"
they can either say, yes they will, or no they won't. Either way you've
won. Then you can move to step three:
Step Three: The qualified "subject to" close. The "subject to" close is the same one that your life insurance
agent uses on you when he or she says, "Quite frankly, I don't know
if we can get this much insurance on someone your age. It would be "subject
to" you passing the physical anyway, so why don't we just write up
the paper work "subject to" you passing the physical?" The
life insurance agent knows that if you can fog a mirror during that physical,
he or she can get you that insurance. But it doesn't sound as though you're
making as important a decision as you really are.
The qualified "subject to" close in this instance would be: "Let's
just write up the paper work 'subject to' the right of your specifications
committee to reject the proposal within a 24-hour period for any specifications
reason." Or, "Let's just write up the paper work 'subject to'
the right of your legal department to reject the proposal within a 24-hour
period for any legal reason."
Notice that you're not saying subject to their acceptance. You're saying
subject to their right to decline it for a specific reason. If they were
going to refer it to an attorney, it would be a legal reason. If they were
going to refer it to their CPA, it would be a tax reason and so on. But
try to get it nailed down to a specific reason.
Being able to use and handle the resort to higher authority is critical
to you when you're Power Negotiating. Always maintain your own resort to
higher authority. Always try to remove the other person's resort to a higher
- Appeal to the other person's ego.
- Get the other person's commitment that he'll recommend it to the higher
- Use the qualified subject-to close.
Key points to remember:
- Attempt to get the other person to admit that he could approve your proposal
if it meets all of his needs. If that fails, go through the three counter
- Appeal to his ego.
- Get his commitment that he'll recommend to his higher authority.
- Go to a qualified subject-to close.
- If they are forcing you to make a decision before you're ready to do so,
offer to decide but let them know that the answer will be no, unless they
give you time to check with your people.
- If they're using escalating authority on you, revert to your opening position
at each level and introduce your own levels of escalating authority.