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Good Guy/Bad Guy Negotiating

We see the good guy/bad guy routine on T.V. all the time. It’s always some detective drama or movie where the two cops come in and run the routine and within minutes they’re getting the suspect to spill their guts in a dimly lit room with a metal table and metal chairs. But is the good guy/bad guy routine BS or does it actually work?

The scene is always the same in the movies, isn’t it? They cops bring a suspect in for questioning, put the suspect into this weird Guantanamo-like interrogation facility and the bad cop always starts. She comes in raging saying things like, “Listen you snot nosed punk! I’ve got news for you! If you don’t give us what we need here you’re going to be put away forever! We know you did it!…..”. Then she slams the table a few times with her fists and does the intimidating death stare. Strangely, she’s then called away for a ‘phone call’. Then, her partner comes in. He’s a mild mannered nice guy who says something like, “Listen, friend. Don’t let her get under your skin, she’s just had a rough day. Look, I know the drill here. Look, I like you and I want to help you out. All she really want to know is where you dumped the gun.” Then all of a sudden, the suspect breaks down, spills his guts and tells the detective everything.

Does this ever happen in business and does it get results?

Yes to both. In my experience there’s no hard and fast rule to the technique or good guy/bad guy sequencing. In business it usually starts out as a 2 on 1 negotiation (not very sporting, but then no one said that negotiation was all sunshine and rainbows). I used to run this play all the time. Often, when I had a salesperson come into the office to ‘discuss’ a proposal or close a deal after a few rounds of negotiation I’d run this play. I’d ensure that I had back to back discussions with two parties going after the same work. Then, I’d make sure that my meeting with the previous party (who I wasn’t really interested in) would run 5-10 minutes over the next party’s start time so I could ensure that the next party was in the reception area when I said goodbye to the last party. This immediately creates anxiety in the mind of the party that you actually want to deal with and so you gain control of the negotiation even before you step into the room. I’m always the good guy (I don’t like being the bad guy, but I know a lot of people that love it!). I would then graciously welcome my guest into the building and apologize profusely for being late. Usually that line goes something like this, “I am so sorry for being late. We’ve been so busy and we have a few interested parties who are very keen to get in front of us.” Then the small talk routine, asking questions like, “How was your drive in?”, “Family doing well?”, “How about that local sports team?”, “Can I offer you a coffee?”.

Finally after a slow walk and some idle chit chat, we’d get into a separate room (not my office) and I’d fill the party in on a few things. Usually the line goes something like this, “Look I really appreciate you coming in, and again, sorry for getting you in late. I’d like to review a few areas of your proposal. I’m quite intrigued by it, but my boss is a little concerned about a number of items in it and she’ll be joining us.” Generally speaking, they will have had no idea that my boss was going to come in, so this again creates anxiety and as we go along, you’ll see that we’re continually building doubt and fear in the mind of the party we’re negotiating with.

After going through first part of the proposal, my boss would show up 10 minutes later with a scowl on her face (looking as though this is really screwing up her day). She would stay silent for 15 minutes and thumb through the proposal, looking surprised every time the salesperson said anything. After 15 minutes, she would push away from the table and say something like, “Look, I don’t have time for this. It’s very apparent that [insert name of supplier company] has no intention of coming to the table with a serious proposal. I have to go take care of other work.” Then she’d leave.

That right there sends atomic shock waves through the heart of sales people.

If you don’t see the stress on the salesperson’s face after this you’ve either done something wrong or they’re a pro.

Then, just like in the movies, I’d say something like, “Look, don’t worry about her. She’s had a rough few weeks. You see, we’ve been so busy. She’s been stretched out and her time is at a premium. I know the ropes here and I really like you. Why don’t I see what I can do to help you out. All she really wants to know is,….[insert biggest 3 needs here].” Generally speaking, the salesperson will falling all over themselves to tell you everything they can do for your company to ‘save’ this deal.

The good guy/bad guy routine is cheesy, I get it. But if you execute it well, it works.