Pretexting: How to Nail Your Negotiation Approach

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Chris Hadnagy is brilliant. He is a master of the tactics and strategies required to persuade and influence. He shared a hypothetical in a recent episode of Negotiations Ninja.

Base your pretext on the end goal

Let’s say you’re about to enter a negotiation for a contract with a vendor. You know you’re up against other great vendors. The other problem? You know the other vendors are priced a little cheaper than you. Your initial thought may be to lower your price to compete. The pretext is based on his end goal—to win the business. But what if there’s another less obvious end goal? Perhaps you want every person to believe you’re their best choice.

In the negotiation, Chris’s approach needs to get them to believe he’s the best choice for the service they need. So what do those people value? What’s important to them? You can’t convince someone that you’re the best choice if you don’t know their value set. If it’s just price, you can’t say, “I’m the best because I’m the cheapest,” because it’s a lie. So what do you do? Get to the root cause of why they want the cheapest vendor. Then you plan your approach.

Get to the root of the negotiation

You’ve done some research, and you know they’re concerned about money because they had a security event, and the CEO wants things fixed before audits come. You also know they’ve been given a specific budget to work with. So you made it less about the best price and more about convincing them you have the best value for their dollar. So Chris would shift his approach to being understanding about working with companies that have had security incidents. He’d tell stories about that or approach it as a topic.

What if it’s the same scenario with your family? If Chris’s daughter does something bad and breaks the family rules, he can take two different approaches. He can be “angry dad” and demand to know why she broke the rules. Or, he can be “empathetic dad” that wants to understand why she broke the rules.

With his family, he has some intimate knowledge. With the negotiation, he doesn’t. But either way, he has two ways to approach each scenario. Then he must choose one approach and stick to it—even if things don’t go the way he wants them to. When you come in with that thought process, you can’t waiver. You must stick to your pretext. Don’t match a competitor’s price. Instead, ask what you can do to help them see that you’re a better value. Find somewhere to meet in the middle.

If his daughter just rolls her eyes and doesn’t want to talk—instead of shifting to angry dad—he can give her time to rest and process and set a time to talk about it the next day. In both scenarios, he set his baseline. He allows the pretext to decide how he will move forward in the discussion.

Why you need to maintain your pretext

Chris can say to his daughter, “I asked you not to go to that chat room. Now you understand why I didn’t want you to. Can you tell me why you did?” If she doesn’t respond the way he wants, he could slam his fist down on the desk and say, “You’re gonna answer me because I’m your father, and I’m telling you.” She’ll see that his empathy and emotion weren’t genuine, and he will lose her trust.

Likewise, what if Chris came into the negotiation and said that he’s the highest quality and the best person for the job and won’t match the other vendor’s prices? But then shifts and says, “Okay, I’ll match them.” What does it do? It says he’s willing to lower his standards. It shows that he isn’t confident that he’s the best, and his pricing reflects that. It lowers his value, and he will lose their trust.

What should he do instead? He will find an approach where he can meet them in the middle. He can ask them what it would take to meet in the middle to get their business. Perhaps they’ll come down $2,000, which puts his services within their budget. He can emphasize that once they see the quality of his work, they have to agree they won’t have a back-and-forth on the price the next time.

He did come down in the end and allowed them to win the negotiation. How? They can tell their boss that they got the best option within their budget. He won the work and didn’t have to change his pretext and lower his standards to win the job.

To learn more of Chris’s negotiation tactics, check out episode #250 of the Negotiations Ninja podcast. He talks about how to make someone want to help you, sympathy and assistance requests, and much more!