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Arguing About Prices

What Buddhists call your “monkey mind” goes into its antics when someone tries to bargain with you. Whatever their wording, when they ask for a lower price, it doesn’t mean they can’t or won’t pay what you originally asked. It does not mean they don’t have the money. It doesn’t mean you’ll lose the sale if you stand your ground and do not bargain. It certainly doesn’t mean they’re angry with you, insulted by what you are charging, contemptuous about your value, or skeptical about your integrity.

Do not take this move personally, and do not assume that it requires any shift in your fee in response.

Asking for a lower price is a cultural or subculture custom, a personal habit on their part or a stray impulse that popped up. You can bargain with them if you truly want to, but you do not have to play their game. Don’t get sucked into any insinuations they make about you if you stand firm. Don’t let them push your buttons.

In my experience, customers who pay what you ask without argument are the best customers to have. Not only are they sparing you the hassle of haggling, but also they are showing you respect. Quite likely, they not only respect your fees but also will also adhere to other boundaries and expectations you set up in the running of your business.

Bargain hunters are less likely to turn into long-term clients or raving fans. By their behavior, they show that they’re out for a “me first” or “one up” advantage rather than a balanced transaction. In my vacation rental business, I offer special deals for slower times of the year, but I am very wary when someone aggressively pushes to pay less than what I am asking. They’re likely to be complainers by nature, who will leave our condo wrecked or who will post a negative review that gripes about our place not living up to the five-star standards that they wanted for a two-star price.

Not sure how to stand firm? Keep emotion out of your replies and calmly stick to your position. Here, for example, is a string of texts between me and a bargain hunter who kept on trying and trying:

“Are you available for July 24-29? What would be the rate for 7 people, including all taxes and fees?”

“Yes, we are available. For 5 nights, 7 people, it would be $1,287 including everything.”

“Can you do $1,100 total? If so, I will book right now.”

“It’s $1,287 for 5 nights, 7 people. If you give me your email address, I’ll send you a booking invoice.”

“I can pay the $1,287 but we need a late checkout, at 6 pm. OK?”

“A late checkout means you’re renting our place for another night, so that would be $1,554.”

“I’m talking to some other owners who are offering their property for $1,100. I do like your place but it is $1,287.”

“Actually, with the late checkout, it is $1,554.”

“For $1,150 with a late checkout, we’ll book your place.”

“For 7 people in summer with late checkout, we can’t drop the price. Let me know if you have any other questions.”

“$1,200 even and it’s a deal?”

“Sorry, no.”

“OK, let me talk to the other owners and I’ll get back to you.”

“No problem. I know you’ll make the decision that’s right for you.”

“You seem like a nice person. I’ll just pay the extra and go with you. Send me the invoice and I’ll pay within 4 hours.”

His “You seem like a nice person” cracked me up. I was pretty sure he didn’t have another option for $1,100, but I let the gameplay out. He didn’t book us for those dates after all. This man had the energy of a pesky mosquito, and I did not view the lost booking (if indeed he did go on the vacation at all) as a loss for us.

If you keep getting hit with bargain hunters, take a clear-eyed look at your marketing materials. You may have inadvertently given off misleading signals about the value of your offerings or your positioning vis-à-vis other companies. For example, a marketing consultant came to me wondering why she got so many inquiries from people who couldn’t afford to pay her rates or who didn’t want to spend that kind of money. The answer lay in the wording she used on her home page. She talked about “small businesses,” “low-cost marketing tactics” and “free tactics.” When she eliminated such phrases and instead wrote, “I advise businesses earning $2 million or more in sales on how to reach and secure more customers,” the problem was solved.

For good customer relations, it’s important that customers understand whether you’re in general offering cut-rate, middle-of-the-road, or high-end options. I once had a conversation related to this with a guy who was renting our condo unit in Maui. He asked me, in a complaining tone of voice, “Why is your place so expensive?” I told him it was actually way below the going rate on the island, which surprised him. I realized that he was expecting the level of luxury he would get on the mainland for that price. Soon afterward, I revised my marketing copy for the rental to make clear that our place was a good deal relative to prices generally on the island. This set renters’ expectations appropriately, and we had happier customers from then on.

Do not be afraid to stick to your guns. Recently at the post office, I couldn’t help objecting when the clerk told me how much it would cost to send my package. “What? It’s not that heavy,” I said. “That’s the price,” he said back to me, and that was the perfect rejoinder. I laughed and I paid.

In the next lesson, we’ll explore whether prices need to be “fair.”

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Written by

Marcia Yudkin