6 Ways to Trick Salespeople


You have to deal with a salesperson to make a big purchase.

It might be a refrigerator, a car, or even a house. Very often, you feel dissatisfied with the way a negotiation went. You may walk away feeling like you got taken for a ride, and that you had no defense for the wiles of the salesperson. (See also: The 7 Laws of Negotiation)

Well, it's time to stop thinking about defense. It's time to turn the tables and start owning the outcome of your big purchases. To jumpstart your negotiations, learn these six ways to "trick" salespeople.

1. Buy Them a Cup of Coffee

Apply the rule of reciprocation on salespeople.

When you first encounter a salesperson, greet her with a small gift (something as small as a piece of gum) or do a small favor for her (open the door). The idea is that you are binding the person to return the favor.

No matter where in the world you are, this is a trick that works in negotiation. No matter how cheap your gift is, it will dramatically improve your chances of getting what you want. For example, in a study restaurant servers who presented the check with a mint and then paused to give the customer a second mint and tell them that this one is just for them got a 20% increase in their normal tips.

Ideally, buy them a mug of coffee, a cup of strong tea, or a can of Coke. Turns out that consumption of caffeine makes people much easier to persuade. Just don't use the drinks from the waiting room; instead bring one from outside that "is just for them."

2. Talk Fast at the Beginning

Right after you hand that free cup of coffee, get the talking going… fast!

Fast talkers are perceived to be more persuasive. The sweet point is about 195 words per minute, fast enough to force salespeople to focus, yet slow enough for them to still understand you. If you talk beyond 195 words, people start judging if you really know your stuff.

If you keep a fast pace, people don't have enough time to come up with counter arguments. So, channel your inner John Moschitta and start practicing that fast talk.

3. Slow Down Once They Agree

However, once you have the salesperson agreeing with you, start slowing down. If you talk too fast to somebody that agrees with your message, then you have the reverse effect as talking fast.

Even when somebody welcomes your ideas, you need to give them time to evaluate your speech and agree with you more.

This is when you slow down from 196 words per minute to about 144. If you talk slower than that, people start perceiving you not as persuasive again.

4. Curse Smartly

If you think that good negotiation skills and cursing don't go together, let me tell you that's some BS.

This doesn't mean that you're going to open a can of potty mouth and spread it all over the place. The key is to use the word "damn" towards the beginning or end of your speech. The tactical use of this word significantly increases not only the persuasiveness of your speech, but also the perceived intensity of your words in the mind of the listener.

Researchers theorize that the smart use of curse words gives the impression that you are being candid and not following somebody else's agenda.

5. Look "Eye-to-Eye"

Take a cue from waiters and waitresses on how to get what you want.

A study from Cornell's School of Hotel Administration found several techniques employed by servers to increase their tips. One that stands out for our purposes is "seeing eye-to-eye."

This means to:

  • Establish eye contact throughout your conversation;
  • Bring your face closer to that of the salesperson;
  • Position yourself so that your eyes are at the same height;
  • Mimic the salesperson's body language and posture.

6. Learn the Four Square System

Think of good salespeople and you're likely to think of car salespeople.

You might not like some of their techniques, but in the end they do a decent job at getting you to buy a car. A cornerstone of their technique is the four square system.

The main idea of this worksheet is to take the attention from the total price and focus the entire conversation on the monthly payment. Any good car salesperson knows that you can wiggle the monthly payment without lowering the total price. For example, you can:

  • Increase the number of payments;
  • Provide a bigger down payment;
  • Accept a bigger value for a trade-in.

Read this confessional from a car salesman on how to work the four square worksheet so that you can use it towards your advantage, or simply "flip the table" by demanding that it is not used in your negotiation at all.

What is your favorite way to "trick" salespeople?

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Guest's picture

Know what you want, as long as it's reasonably obtainable (i.e. do some homework and don't try to "negotiate" and item to $0), and truly be willing to walk away if your want can't be satisfied. If you're educated on the matter, or at least appear to be, and are willing to go elsewhere, you'll "win" quite a bit.

Damian Davila's picture

Hi Guest, I wouldn't recommend trying to negotiate something down to zero all the time. The key to a good negotiation is to negotiate around the BATNA of the other party. The Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement or BATNA is the course of action that will be taken by a party if the current negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached. BATNA is the key focus and the driving force behind a successful negotiator. A party should generally not accept a worse resolution than its BATNA, and I bet that a value of $0 is often not a good option for any salesperson.

Guest's picture

Mmm, I daresay that I precisely what the previous guest said: "don't try to negotiate things down to 0$"...

Damian Davila's picture

You're absolutely right Guest #2! I forgot to add an "either" to my first sentence. Thanks for catching my mistake.

Guest's picture
James Everhart

I have used a number of these tricks and it helped me not put as much money down on a car, as well as in another instance, get the monthly payment I wanted on another car. I found that speaking quickly, but also a good amount of acting agitated, or that I was really pushing my limits in terms of a down payment from the start, worked to my advantage. Specifically, I was willing to go up to $3K down, but due to some great acting, I only put $700 down, and I got the payment I wanted.

Damian Davila's picture

Awesome job James!

Guest's picture
William Freeman

A good course on "Public Speaking" is a very good pre-requisite for any potential negotiator. It develops self-confidence as well an ability to understand "the other guy."

Damian Davila's picture

That's a great tip, William. Thank your for sharing. Effective communicators are often great negotiators as well.