Should I really pay that much to watch five channels? Many of us wonder with each cable bill, or at least when our contract comes up for renewal. Although few of us probably act on that thought, many of us probably should.
If we’re truly paying too much, the cable bill is negotiable!
Let’s focus on what happens when the cable contract comes up for renewal, and let’s imagine that you’re currently with Comcast. When that happens, you have a basic choice. It’s not: should I negotiate or accept it? It is: should I stay with Comcast or go with another option (Verizon, Netflix, rabbit ears)? Even if you don’t really want to go with another option, Comcast doesn’t know that. All they know is that you can. In short, and in the terminology of the post on car dealers, you have a BATNA (alternative). And Comcast knows it.
Suppose you realize you don’t really want to switch (too much of a pain), but you’re willing to switch if Comcast plays hardball. With that decision in hand, now’s a good time to determine your reservation price (bottom line; see the post on job negotiations) for the upcoming negotiations with Comcast. But it’s also a good time to determine your target: the best possible outcome you could realistically hope to achieve with Comcast. Note that this number is very different than your reservation price—it’s what you really want, not the minimum you’re willing to accept.
How do you come up with a target? One way is to identify your BATNA and “mark it up.” So try exploring what an alternative company has to offer. Oftentimes what they’re offering is a great deal! Switch to Verizon, and pay $19.99 per month for the first year! Take that number and ignore the part about the first year; make your target with Comcast $19.99 per month for the whole two-year contract.
Note again that this is not your bottom line; you’re probably willing to pay more. Also note that this perfectly ethical. You’re not misrepresenting the Verizon deal to Comcast (they already know what it is); you’re simply focusing on the Verizon deal and trying to do even better with Comcast.
Targets are stretch goals, but they’re not pipe dreams. They’re also critically important because they focus our attention on what we really want, instead of what is kind of / maybe / possibly ok. Finally, they motivate us to keep trying when the inevitable stumbling blocks arise.
So take that $19.99 target into your negotiation with Comcast, and just ask for it! Of course, they will say no, but here’s the most critical point about a target: keep thinking about it, and keep asking for it until you’re absolutely sure you can’t get it, or at least until Comcast gives you a counteroffer that’s better than your bottom line. What if they don’t? You can switch to Verizon—and you should if they haven’t done better than your reservation price. What if they clear your reservation price but don’t meet your target? You’ve already done better for yourself, and if you don’t think you’ve done well enough, you can end the call by politely indicating that you’ll “think about it.”
So next time you’re fed up with the “deals” being offered by cable companies (cell phone companies, insurance companies, car dealers), try to define an aggressive but realistic target, even while you understand your bottom line. When negotiating, forget your bottom line and focus on your target. At the end of the negotiation, recall your bottom line to determine whether the new deal is acceptable, and to bask in the glory of how much better you’ve done.