Lessons In Sales Negotiation

I built the confidence to never get rattled and to always ask for what I want. The worst thing that could happen is that a buyer walks away without putting money in my pocket. And that is not necessarily always a bad thing.

The Art and Skill: How To Negotiate Confidently

“How much for the toaster?” asked the buyer.

“Five dollars,” said the seller.
“I’ll give you three,” the buyer replied.
“It’s five,” the seller repeated.
“How about four?” the buyer persisted.
The seller stood his ground and for the third time repeated, “It’s five.”
Ten minutes later the buyer returned and said “Fine. I’ll give you five.”
And the seller calmly said, “It’s ten.”

The buyer walked away AGAIN in a huff. The seller’s child, who was present, stood there in disbelief – mortified, embarrassed, and confused about why her father wouldn’t take money offered to him by a stranger for a used toaster.

This is a true story. The story of my Carmie Trimarco, a dogged salesman. And I was the child who uncomfortably witnessed it at the age of eleven or twelve. It was my first lesson in sales negotiation that I can recall. It was that moment in time that selling became my birthright, and it all started in a flea market in Chicago at the corner of Division & Cicero.

This wasn’t the first flea market I worked in, nor was it my first lesson in sales, but it was the tipping point for understanding the art and skill of sales negotiation. It was also where I learned confidence.

More Than Just a Toaster

I’ve told the “toaster story” so many times that some people who have seen me for a second or third time at an event have asked me to repeat it. It’s such a simple story with such a powerful lesson.

And then while “reading”  Jeb Blount’s INKED (listening on Audible), I heard him talking about learning and practicing sales negotiation skills in flea markets. Yes!!! It all made sense now why negotiating has never made me uncomfortable. I’ve been doing it since I was ten, if not younger.

Eventually, as I grew into adulthood, I appreciated my father’s motives for making me work every weekend with him. He wanted to teach me about work ethic, self-reliance, responsibility, punctuality, and building rapport. But I never really thought about the sales lessons I learned in those experiences until a few years ago.

The horrifying toaster sale moment for me as a child ended up laying the foundation for becoming an emotionally controlled negotiator. My father didn’t flinch during this toaster sale. He stuck to his price. He showed no emotion and was confident. He could care less if it sold. This was his side hustle. His pipeline (day job as a truck driver) was full.

More importantly, Carmie loved the game of it. He had fun with the haggling. My dad modeled it so well for me that I was able to build the confidence to never get rattled and to always ask for what I want. The worst thing that could happen is that a buyer walks away without putting money in my pocket. And that is not necessarily always a bad thing.

People Want What They Cannot Have

In INKED, Jeb says, “What humans want most is the thing they can’t have. When buyers find out that an item is non-negotiable, they want it more.”

The other learning lesson about the toaster has to do with value proposition and supply and demand. When the buyer returned, he did so because he realized that this infamous toaster was either the only toaster available or was the best one for the price. Or he simply wanted what he could not have. My father may or may not have known this.

Value Perception, Price, and Emotional Control

Every morning, before buyers flooded into the flea market, Carmie would walk the entire place and talk to the other vendors. But what he was really doing was researching his potential competition. The buyer being ready to buy the toaster for the original five dollars triggered a price change and value perception. My dad knew the toaster’s value had increased.

My reaction (my emotions), along with the emotions of the buyer, got in the way of clear thinking. The buyer did nothing to leverage the purchase. He showed his desire and frustration but didn’t play the game with my dad. He lacked emotional control. Nor did my dad try to get the sale. He knew someone else would come around and pay ten dollars. Sure enough, the right buyer showed up later that day.

Overcome Objections With Confidence

As I mentioned earlier, working in a flea market as a child built up my confidence because I practiced objections and negotiation for hours a day. Besides selling the random array of “products”, my father was also known as the “key man”. He took a correspondence course to become a locksmith and we were the proud owners of key machines. Of course, he then taught me how to cut keys. Imagine bringing your keys to a child. This happened often as Carmine left me in charge of our “booth” while he wandered around doing other deals.

All day long, I would hear, “Where’s the key man?” and I would arrogantly and confidently say, “I’m his daughter. I know how to make keys.” And then I would get that look of fear from the buyer, who would often say, “What if it doesn’t work?” My reply always was, “There’s a chance it won’t work. Then you’ll bring it back and I’ll re-cut it.” My father was perceived as the authority. I was the underling. I couldn’t let that prevent my success, especially because of the pressure to do what was expected of me.

One Last Negotiation

For years, I’ve practiced negotiating in every aspect of my life without realizing it. It became second nature. I’ll leave you with this final story about the flea market. Eventually, I was offered a job by another vendor across the way to sell furniture.

It was a cushy job to sit in a nicer booth for way more money than Carmie was paying. I approached my dad to give him my notice. He took it well and I couldn’t quit him without one last negotiation – “I’ll still need you to drive me to the flea market every weekend.” And so he did.

About the author

Gina Trimarco

Gina Trimarco is a Master Trainer and leadership strategist who helps organizations re-humanize relationships…

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