Friday, 1 July 2011

Haggling over the price

The best jokes are the ones that provide an insight into some real-life problem. It may not be immediately obvious how the one below does that, but bear with me – it makes a really good point about one of the more attractive aspects of business life.

A man approaches a woman at a party.

‘Would you spend the night with me for £10,000?’ he asks.

‘£10,000?’ she says, reflectively, ‘yes, I think I would.’

‘Good,’ he says, ‘and would you spend the night with me for £10?’

‘£10?’ she cries, shocked, ‘what sort of woman do you think I am?’

‘We’ve established that,’ he replies, ‘now we’re just negotiating the price.’

Yes, bells can start ringing when the only thing left is to negotiate the price. This week at work, we took a new order. That is a matter of celebration in itself – I know from depressing personal experience what it’s like to work in a company where it’s a rare event. But I was pleased rather than delighted, because the real celebration came two weeks ago when the customer told us ‘we can’t pay that much.’

That was it. They were negotiating the price. We didn’t have to sell them the product any more, we didn’t have to persuade them of the advantage of taking ours rather than a competitor’s, we didn’t even have to persuade them that they had nothing to gain by putting off the decision for another few months (believe me, in the NHS, that’s not at all unusual). All that was left was to agree a figure. And when you’ve got that far, why, you’re practically home.

And as a postscript, more on humour and insight, the Pratchett way

At his best
Have you read Terry Pratchett’s I shall wear midnight? A real jewel for Pratchett fans. In my opinion one of his best.

(Which reminds me: why do people say ‘in my humble opinion’? Is anyone ever likely to say ‘in my arrogant opinion’? Or is it just that by passing it off as humble, they reckon they can get an arrogant one past their listeners?)

When we get going on an important job but haven't completed it yet, we all sometimes say that we’ve taken a good first step. In this novel, Pratchett asks what comes next – and answers, not a second step but another first step.

That’s so right. If you want to do a job well, make each step on the way a first step. Second steps are about as much use as second chances – and if you need a second chance, you’re in bad shape already.

And I've got the scars to prove that one too.

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