#819 How I learned about negotiation

One of my two hard ad fast rules of negotiation is that every giveback needs to be a blood letting.  This is the story of how I first learned this philosophy:

When I was a kid my dad was a beer and soda man.  This was back in the nineteen sixties when the milkman climbed the steps to your porch and put glass bottles of milk into a metal box,  and “The Sharpie” rode slowing up and down residential streets ringing a bell so folks would know to come out with their cutlery to get it sharpened.  The fruit man took that same slow route with an open truck filed with fresh fruits and vegetables and my dad’s job was to drive his truck filled with cases of beer and soda and carry them in to all of the homes on his route. In addition to the regular deliveries, Dad would sometimes have to deliver kegs of beer to homeowners who were having a big backyard bash.  

In 1965 tapping a keg of beer took a skilled hand.  If you broke the seal at the top of the keg without the tap being seated properly and firmly in place, the keg would lose it’s pressure and go flat.  The tapping mechanism was a complicated handful of metal with a threaded end, bulky hand wheel and pump. When we kids were off from school Dad would sometimes take one of us to work with him. 

It was late June and there must have been a bunch of graduation parties and backyard weddings because on the day I rode along my  Dad had to deliver about a half dozen kegs. When we got to the first stop Dad hoisted the keg on to his shoulder and I carry the heavy, complicated tapping device.  Dad’s job was to deliver the keg, not to set it up and tap it. I imagine his boss didn’t want the liability if the tapping went poorly and the keg got skunked.

Dad set the keg down in a washtub filled with ice, took the tapping gear from me, handed it to the customer and presented the bill.  The guy looked at the weighty tap in his hand, then at the top of the keg and said to Dad, “Do you know how this works? Would you start the tap for me?”  Dad replied, “I’ve seen it done and I have done a few but I’m not too sure of it.” The guy said, “Well I have no idea how it works. Would you give it a try?  Dad looked very unsure of himself as he took the tap from the customer. He turned it over in his hands a few times looking at the handle and the thread. He held it to the top of the keg seating it this way and that for a few seconds and then looked at the customer and said, “I could give it a shot if you’d like.” The customer gave Dad the green light and he focused like he was doing microsurgery. He hesitated for a moment, checking that all was lined up and then he pressed it down and turned the handle. We heard the hollow “thunk” as the seal broke. There was no hissing and no beer spraying about and that coupled with the “thunk” let me know Dad had tapped the keg perfectly.  Dad wiped his brow in relief, as the customer let out his breath, and dug in his pocket, smiled and tipped Dad a dollar.

During the next two keg deliveries a similar scene played out.  The customer would look at the complicated tapping gear and turn to my Dad with a helpless look asking him to tap the keg for him.  Again dad would put out the disclaimer that he was no expert but had seen it done and even done it a few times himself. Then he would turn the tapping mechanism around in his hands again, studying it and gingerly place it on top of the keg.  Again he focused like he was doing microsurgery and again we heard that hollow “thunk” as he expertly tapped another keg. When we got back in to the truck after about the fourth such tapping my brain was spinning. Is my Dad OK? Is he losing his memory?  Why is it so hard to do each time? I felt like I could even do it now after having seen him do it four times. I turned to him with concern on my face. I said “Dad, how come you don’t know how to do the tap yet? How come you keep forgetting and struggling to figure it out every time?”  He put the truck back in neutral and turned to face me with a wry smile. He said, “Frankie I’ve tapped dozens of kegs and I could do it in two seconds if I wanted to but if I do the guy is going to tip me fifty cents or maybe not at all. If I struggle a bit and take my time I usually get a buck; sometimes even two bucks  because it looked harder to do.  Remember this Frankie, People don’t pay for easy; people don’t pay for easy.”

Own your sales gene

Brian WrensenComment