Monday, August 8, 2011

Dear Diary: The low ball offer

For the past 600 years of horological history, there was not a single instance when a watchmaker insulted a real-estate agent. Verbally or physically - or both.

A couple weeks ago, an e-mail hit my inbox: “Nick – there is an Omega watch I like. You’ve listed it for $2,399. Would you take $1,700?”

My reply was prompt and factual: “Sorry, no room to move on the price. It is a beauty – worn twice – and almost half price of the new one.”

Five minutes later: “Nick, I am a real-estate agent from the Eastern suburbs. I know how business works and I know you have plenty of room to move on the price. Never mind, obviously you don’t want my cash - I’ll get the same watch from a Melbourne dealer. Have a nice day. Marc”

I thought that was the end of the story so I did not bother replying.

Later that afternoon, yet another e-mail from Marc came in: “Nick, I still prefer to do business with you. What is your absolute best deal on the Omega? Would you take $1,750?”

Dealers call this type of customer a pit bull. Once they locks their jaws on you, you’re dead meat.

“Sorry Marc, $2,399. However I’ll throw in 2 years guarantee. N.”.

Finally, thirty minutes before closing time all hell broke lose. I will spare you the details of Marc’s 3-page long email but in a nutshell – I was accused of all committed and yet-to-be-committed crimes under the sun.

Here is the punch line:
“… what upsets me the most is your inability to handle my LOW BALL OFFER. Actually I intend to use your rude replies in my upcoming real-estate training seminar to show trainees how NOT to conduct sales process…”

I felt like I was hit by a shinkansen. I was guilty of … what? Not knowing how to handle a low ball offer? No kidding?!

Of course I know what a low ball offer is. It is the name for a past-time game played by Israelites and Ishmaelites in year 1200 - 775 BC. It goes like this:

Dude 1: I’ll give you half a shekel for that black ram!
Dude 2: Are you mad my brother? 2 shekels in silver, no agora less!
Dude 1: This is way too much--- I’ve sacrificed a better one last year and it only cost me a shekel!
Dude 2: A shekel and a half, and that’s it!
Dude 1: One…
Dude 2: One and a half…
Dude 1: One…
…and the game goes on for a solid 10 minutes.

Eventually, they've settled for a shekel and a quarter – the very exact price every single ram has been sold on that very dusty market since the walls of Jericho fell down.

Yes, a low ball offer was just a game. And they’ve played it not because they had nothing better to do, but because they had no Twitter, no Facebook, no iPhones, no Mario Brothers, no YouTube, no Wii or Xbox. THAT’S WHY!

But since my only connection to modern Judaism is being a fan of Woody Allen, and Marc probably arrives at his flashy Eastern suburbs office in an even flashier black Porsche – NOT on a camel’s back – I just can’t see how the low ball offer reference is relevant to either of us? But then again what if Marc is really right? Could it be possible that real businessmen actually still play that ancient game? And if this is the case, and the new generation of young professionals are now trained in the game, will I be losing sales thanks to my ignorance? So I’ve decided to go out, in the real world, to learn how the game is now played – by making low ball offers to business people I bump into. Nothing beats hands-on experience!

… --- …

It was the time for quick lunch break so I went down to a cozy take-away place called “Taste of Maharaja.”

“A small serve of lamb rogan josh, a plain naan and a can of coke please.”
“$10” said the onyx-eyes Kali, the goddess of time.
“Would you take $7?”
“I have cash here, in my hand. SEVEN dollars”
“So which one don’t you want- the naan or the drink?”
“Oh, you don’t understand me. I want the lot! I am just making you a low ball offer and you are supposed to play along…”
“Move away or I’ll hit you with a spoon” yelled Indra the cook. “Can’t you see the queue behind you?”

I handed the $10 note and swiftly moved away. Even if I take our cultural and linguistic differences, it was obvious that these guys did not know how to play the low ball game and I was clearly wasting my time. As Peter Surname would say: "If I have to rate their customer service, I would struggle to give it more than 3 out of five”.

… --- …

Then it all become painfully obvious. As Marc said, the low ball offer is played between professionals, not just any business! That pain in my lower jaw and was obviously God-given after all! So I quickly booked an appointment with Dr. Nathan, the dentist on the 5th floor.

Dr. Nathan was not only a professional, but a very skillful and reputable dentist well known for his ability to charge just the right amount for his services. A clear testimony to that is his waiting room: always packed! Obviously, patients don't gather there just for the latest news, as a copy of the Times on his coffee table would suggest: "Wedding of Charles, Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, Wednesday, July 29, 1981." No way!

If anyone knew how to play the game, it was the Dr. Nathan.

With only one thing on my mind, I couldn’t even feel the pain of the drill.

“All done Nick, don’t chew for the next 2 hours and take it easy” said the doc.
“Thank you, doctor. Now, how much do I owe you for today?”
“Usual charge, $320. Judy will take care of it.”
“Very good. So would you take $200 – in cash?”
Doctor Nathan gave me that worried ‘something is wrong’ look:
“Nick, are you still in pain? Are you allergic to penicillin..?”
“No doc, I am perfectly fine. I am just making you a low ball offer.”
“Ha! That is a good one, Nick – you almost got me worried for a second,”
said the doc, laughing. “Now get lost mate, the waiting room is fool and
I’ll miss the last bus home!” ...“and cut down on cherry strudels,
they are not doing you any good….”

I could not hear the rest because I was already on my way out. Again, the low ball offer did not work and I was experiencing both physical and emotional pain. What the hell is wrong with this world?

… ---…

After a long sleepless night, I’ve decided to give the low ball offer one final go. This time I didn’t rush. I knew why I failed: I was dealing with self-employed people who are obviously good at what they do but have a very limited understanding of how the real corporate world operates.

At exactly 10 o’clock, I was standing in front of the bank teller. This was the bank I visit every week. While the bank manager still doesn’t know my name, nor who I am, nor what I do, I feel appreciated. Who wouldn’t? After all, their advertising slogan is “Come and talk to the listening bank - together we make a great team.

“Good morning, I would like to make a small deposit”.
“Sure! How is your day?” (I’ve told you they are nice people! I love my bank!)
Topaz-eyed Jennet took my five $100 notes and smiled again.
Then she disappeared.
And then she re-appeared again with the bank manager... And two security guards.

“I hope this is a mistake,” said the manager. “Unless you have a better explanation for
an attempt to defraud the Bank?” (No one was smiling anymore, and one of the security guys started to act strangely.”)

“Defraud? What are you talking about? I am a customer, not a thief!”
“Let me rephrase that question – said the fuming manager – what exactly did you have in mind when you handed us $500 while $1,500 was written out on the deposit slip?”
“Oh, that... well cant’ you see it? I am making you a LOW BALL OFFER! I am surprised that you don’t know what that means – you are supposed to make me a counter offer until we agree on an amount of deposit which will be a win-win figure for both parties!”

The bank manager’s rant went on for an hour. I can’t remember the details but he concluded that this time they will treat the incident as an internal matter (they won’t call cops). I am banned to enter any of their branches for 10 years and yes, they have closed all my accounts, but I should still consider myself lucky.

But I am anything but lucky. Neither have I learned a thing. I am still completely clueless – so PLEASE if you are one of the low ball offer players, or you run a business which knows how to handle low ball offers, put me out of my misery and reveal the secret to me.

I am all ears!


MrCyberdude said...

After noticing that you used a "Life of brian" example if I'm not mistaken to describe your realestate agent dealings.
I just had to sign up to your Blog as I know how u feel.


lisa said...

love this blog

well said!!!

Crispin said...

Real estate agents - nothing surprises.

boxerdad said...

I'm seriously enjoying your stories. A lot of fun!!!