Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Great Lollypop Strategy

After a stressful day, I was at a toy shop waiting for my wife and son to arrive.

The stress was work related, arising out of fear of losing something after trying very hard. We were working with a client for past few months to develop the requirements, help them define KPIs and optimum action plan in the hope that we would bag a consulting project soon. We were quite close to winning it as we were way ahead of our competitors. But there are no fairy tales in corporate. Because there are purchase departments, there is no 'they lived happily, thereafter'.  They have their own ideas and in the tough economic environment, they were asking for their pound of flesh.  It was a long drawn negotiation, initially my management showed the flexibility but soon we hit the wall and the purchase department didn't want to give up.  On that stressful day, they had put forth their next unreasonable demand which they assured me was the last one. The management had made their position clear that they won't relent. And here I was staring down the barrel, unable to decide whether I should walk out of negotiation table or fall at my management's feet for one last favor to ensure happy ending of last few months tireless efforts.

Soon my wife and son arrived and we started shopping. My wife had to purchase some toys for a stream of unending birthday parties, some planned, some in anticipation.  Purchasing birthday gifts is not as easy as it seems. You need to know the age, gender, the kid's general liking, their parents' likes and dislikes.. And more importantly, you need to pick a gift that seems unique, knowing fully well that all invitees are going to visit the same toy shop. I didn't have bandwidth for this process but my wife had it all worked out. She was navigating through the maze of shelves and picking things with amazing efficiency.

My son's face told me that he has a different agenda. He had spotted a toy and was inspecting, under pretence of making a purchase for his friend. But I knew he is going ask this toy for himself at the check out. I didn't have appetite to deal with another negotiation so I pretended that I wasn't there and buried myself in my thoughts and my emails.

As we drifted to the checkout counter, my hunch came true. My wife had picked up all the toys from her list and found one extra, expensive toy in the basket. My son sheepishly said he wanted it. My wife was furious. An argument broke out between the mother and the son, the temper rose and tears started making their way. I had to intervene. As usual, I heard both sides and concluded that like in most other cases my wife was right. My son's demand was unreasonable.

'Well, today seems a day to deal with unreasonable negotiators', I thought to myself. I found myself caught between similar situation, one party was right in every conceivable way but the other party could not be ignored. I was totally in a fix. If I did what was most logical, I would end up offend my client or my son. But I could not do what they wanted and set a bad precedent.

'What do I do now?' I stood there scratching my head. Just then, a middle aged saleswoman from that Toyshop walked up to me with a broad smile. Perhaps, she had observed everything that transpired and I am sure she would be watching such scenes everyday. She whispered, 'Just buy him a lollypop and he would be OK.'  'What? Really?' I thought to myself as I looked at her in disbelief.  She just smiled again and said, 'Trust me!' And left.

I didn't have any other solution on hand. So I decided to do what she said. I went up to the cash counter picked up my son's favourite flavour and thrusted in his hand. His eyes lit up. He was very glad to receive this unexpected albeit insignificant gift. I asked my wife to bill her purchases sans that expensive toy and took my son out of the shop. Rest of the evening went smooth. My son was in a cheerful mood and never even asked about the toy. Lollypop strategy suggested by that unknown saleswoman worked! I don't know the child psychology behind this phenomenon but it just worked.
Next day, when I reached office, I decided to use the same strategy to negotiate with my client. I had to figure out what could be positioned as a lollypop. My analytical mind began the processing. The lollypop was a nicely wrapped gift that was very attractive and appealed to heart. The perceived value of the gift was much higher than monetary value and when offered at the right time it was an offer too good to deny. I did some research and figured out that my company was about to host an exclusive black tie event which provided an excellent networking opportunity for my client. The event would attract quite a few officials well sought after by the client. It wouldn't cost my company anything significant but the perceived value for the client was very high. This fitted the exact description of the lollypop.
I wrote to the client that their latest demand was beyond our ability to fulfil but we could invite them for this exclusive event instead. To our surprise, The Lollypop strategy worked. The client accepted the offer. We won the deal.
I have no idea how it worked. How did my son or my client decide to settle for something that was insignificant as compared to their original demand? Did they give up? Or they were asking for something knowing fully well that they won't get it? Or they wanted just the lollypop in first place and asking for something outrageous was a negotiation ploy?
I may never know. But now I know that if I am caught in difficult negotiation, The Lollypop strategy is worth a try!