How to haggle like a pro

Our fixed-price fanaticism is firmly rooted in the demure politeness of traditional Britishness - and it all too often morphs into an acute awkwardness over money and bargain-hunting that debilitates the pushing for low prices needed in business.

Not so in Morocco, where I've just been on holiday. There you're expected to haggle for everything - and I mean everything, from souveneirs to car park rates to lunch. But if you're running a business, you absolutely have to make like a Moroccan and haggle on every price you're presented with. Shed off any embarrassment and go for that ideal purchase price. Worst case scenario, you get a no. But chances are, if you try to haggle, you'll save yourself a good few bob.

So here's our step-by-step guide to haggling like a pro, learnt direct from one of the best nations in the trade:

The homework

  • Know how much the product you want is really worth before you go in for the haggle. Check out competitors' prices and wherever possible ask other business owners what they've paid (networking events and online forums are fertile research ground).
  • Have your ideal price, lowest price and highest price absolutely certain in your head before you go in for the buy. Never, ever go below your lowest price! You can always shop elsewhere.
  • Learn the seller's lingo. While in Morocco that means getting to grips with French or Arabic to endear yourself, in business situations it can mean understanding any jargon that might get hurled your way in an attempt to befuddle you into a purchase.
  • Have some good reasons ready for why you warrant the discount. You might well get away with good bargaining skills alone, but if you can back them up by saying you'll refer others to the seller's business, or by promising you can pay on the spot or in cash, you've added to your armoury.

The opening

  • The desperation or disinterest of the salesperson will quickly tell you how much they need your business: do they rush up to greet you warmly and lurk around preaching the benefits of every item you look at (in which case you have the upper hand), or sit complacently while you try to get their attention (which probably means it's going to be a hard bargain).
  • Come across only mildly interested in buying when you open price talks, as if you could take or leave the purchase. As soon as the seller sees you're desperate for one specific product, you don't stand a chance of getting a bargain.
  • Be friendly, but keep an air of professionalism that shows you won't be messed with on price. Try to come across as authoritative - fake it to make it!
  • Know how to properly quality-check the product in question, or how to question the service you want discerningly. If you find faults, you have an instant reason to get the seller to drop the price.

The haggle

The traditional haggle (meet you in the middle): This is the backbone strategy to any good haggle. Ask for their opening price, then go as far below your ideal price as they have gone above it. Only go up in price when they come down, so you meet in the middle. Make sure you present each increase you offer as a compromise that's really costing and paining you, rather than sliding easily up. If they start at a price you know is ludicrously high, try asking them repeatedly for their best price before going up at all - it shows you know what you should be paying so they don't take advantage of you. Walk away if they don't come down within the first few minutes - they might just call after you with the 'real' best price.

The strategic haggle: Go in asking for a product or service cheaper than the one you actually want, then gradually let them upsell you to the one you actually want (ask leading questions that point the seller that way). Then leverage the fact you still only have your original budget for the first item you enquired about - and only go up on it marginally, so you squeeze a better price on the final product you really wanted while the seller smugly thinks they've cajoled you into an upsell.

The no-haggle haggle: Go straight in knowing the product you want and be upfront about the money you have. This is a great time-saver if you're calling lots of places to get something you need in a hurry. Don't faff about with chat - go straight in to: "I need X, I've only got £X to pay for it, can you do it or not? I don't want to waste your time so please just tell me if it's possible at that price." This is surprisingly effective and very fast. If they can't do your price, walk away immediately.

The target-the-struggling-seller haggle: Target sellers in more off-the-beaten-track locations, or who seem a little sleepy or run-down, or who don't advertise in all the same places as the others (look on pages four or five rather than one or two of Google listings, and go for smaller Yellow Pages ads). These businesses are likely to need your custom more than shinier, buzzier business, so you're more likely to nab a better deal.

The charming haggle: Smile and befriend your way in to the deal you want. This is harder than it looks, but if you're a natural rapport-builder it can be a real winner.

The good cop bad cop haggle: If you're struggling to hold your own in the bargaining stakes, defer to an imaginary bad cop. Explain you really want to do business with the seller, but you need to call your business partner or accountant as they hold the purse strings. Come back after your pretend phonecall and say there's no way you can go any higher in price than what you've just convinced your imaginary bad cop to agree on.

Finishing the haggle

  • Don't spend forever agonising over the last couple of pounds. Better to sacrifice a tenner than lose 30 minutes of your day.
  • Once you've agreed a price, stick to it. Don't take the mickey by trying to go down on what you said you'd pay.
  • Either pay or sign on the deal immediately so the seller can't creep the price up should you need to come back at a later date.
  • If the seller tries to levy any sneaky VAT or other fine print charges on you after you've agreed the price, refuse to pay them.
  • If the seller simply won't come down to the price range you set in your head before going in, walk away. It's not worth bankrupting yourself for, and there will always be somewhere else you can buy from at the price that works for you.

Happy haggling!

Get more sales strategies in our feature: The 10 insider tricks of sales professionals.

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