Leave Something on the Table

August 21, 2015
Eric Postal, MD

Don’t nickel and dime your radiology negotiations.

Stopped by a Chili’s for dinner yesterday evening. Not usually one for fast food, or even such restaurant chains which seem one step above, but the hour was rather late and after the day’s numerous tasks, we were just looking for cheapo, convenient comfort food. Specifically, nachos.

Neither of us had been to this chain, we guesstimated, since college or so. Thus, it was no surprise that there had been some changes. The one that was first thrown in our faces was some sort of customer loyalty rewards program. “Sign up,” the hostess cheerfully told us before we even sat down, “and you get a free appetizer or dessert right away!”

I’m on enough lists for junk mail and robocalls (I guess the government’s “do not call” list has as many loopholes in it as the Stark laws) that I pretty much never sign up for anything if I have a choice in the matter, but my lovely dinner companion had fewer such reservations, and signed up on a convenient portable console that had been left on our table.[[{"type":"media","view_mode":"media_crop","fid":"40673","attributes":{"alt":"","class":"media-image media-image-right","id":"media_crop_8836345760848","media_crop_h":"0","media_crop_image_style":"-1","media_crop_instance":"4204","media_crop_rotate":"0","media_crop_scale_h":"0","media_crop_scale_w":"0","media_crop_w":"0","media_crop_x":"0","media_crop_y":"0","style":"height: 200px; width: 200px; border-width: 0px; border-style: solid; margin: 1px; float: right;","title":"©Kalinin Ilya/Shutterstock.com","typeof":"foaf:Image"}}]]

Shortly after, we learned that, no, we weren’t getting our appetizer on the house “right away,” but rather the loyalty program would kick in the next day, at which time we would be started with enough points to get our freebie. In other words, we’d have to come back another time.

Shrewd move on Chili’s part? Maybe. They got a customer’s contact info to spam mail or sell to business partners, and they avoided giving away anything free for the time being. Meanwhile, if we were bound and determined to collect our loot, we’d be coming back and providing repeat business.

Or maybe not. Both of us immediately got a negative impression of the place, and other franchises like it. By grasping for the last red cent (holding back the sign up incentive for another day rather than coughing it up on the spot), they made themselves look more about the nickels and dimes than anything else, and perhaps even desperate to get customers in the door by ploys and shenanigans rather than good food and service.

It put me in mind of a colleague from residency, who years later established his own teleradiology enterprise. Meeting with him prior to my current gig with vRad, I was trying to understand this fascinating new world of medical imaging, and how one went about carving a niche in it successfully.

As he described his business model, I inquired about some aspect where it seemed to me there was potential for greater revenue (or diminished overhead, I forget which) by doing something slightly differently. His response was to introduce me to the business philosophy: Always leave something on the table.

In other words, don’t be so preoccupied with getting the absolute best deal for yourself that the other guy is left, now or after some reflection, feeling negative about his interaction with you.

Maybe he’ll wind up feeling like you had him over a barrel and took advantage of it, or you swindled him. Maybe he’ll acknowledge that you simply bargained harder. Whatever the case, if you come across as being more about a slight bump in your profit margin than a mutually beneficial arrangement, that’s going to darken your future dealings with him. He might be harder to deal with when it’s time to renew your contract. Or less than 100% invested in working with you even before that time comes.

By contrast, giving a little more ground than you absolutely have to can make you look like you’re coming from a position of strength and stability. If you’re worrying and hassling about fractions of percentage points instead of the bigger picture, one might wonder whether your business is in danger of going under, and how reliable a partner you’ll be.

It also gives the other side a chance to start seeing you in a different light. During negotiation, it’s easy to seem like opponents to one other, each trying to get a leg up on the other. If the process can transition to a tone of mutual benefit, a stronger bond of allegiance can result…perhaps even making future renegotiation easier.

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