How to Negotiate like a pro: Part I

Let’s not forget that negotiation is something that everyone of us does every single day of our lives in some form or another.

It’s not just about financial negotiations. There’s negotiation in love, there’s negotiations with our children, there’s even negotiation at high street shops where you might be surprised that there would be any room for negotiation whatsoever!

I was with a friend a few years back in a well-known department store in Oxford Street and on his behalf I offered the camera department £300 less than the ticket price for an expensive camera or we would go elsewhere. Deal done!

Negotiation knows no bounds!

Good negotiation is as much about putting a nonchalant face on and suggesting to the other party that you couldn’t give a jot whether or not you do or don’t do the deal when, of course, anything else than that sentiment is the reality.

And be mindful, it’s not always the highest offer that wins the day. So many times on Channel 4’s art negotiation program,”Four Rooms” I had offers accepted by the vendors when they had already received higher offers from the other dealers. And why? I promise you that it has nothing to do with the fact that I am, of course, far better looking than the other dealers. It’s because I am able to put a deal together. moreover, i make it sound far sexier than just offering a lot of dosh.

For example, if I can see that an up and coming artist needs far more than a good price for his painting and that he needs a great dealer to market his works, then he has to accept that opportunity by accepting less for his painting. It works nearly every time and the only people that it doesn’t work with are those artists that will in any event, however good they are, be consigned to the scrap heap of history. I don’t want to only deal with artists that can do art. I want an artist who understands what business is about. An artist who appreciates that having a good dealer/behind him/her will infinitely increase the chances of his getting big. That sentiment hasn’t hurt Damien Hirst’s marketability!

Hirst will be the first one to confirm that he’s not the greatest artist in the world but, by far, he’s the greatest businessman in the art world. And remember, he had an amazing manager in the form of Jay Joplin of White Cube to get him ahead. He listened… He acted, He was successful. So many artists feel that they can manage themselves. They can’t. They should be concentrating on their creativity and leaving the business creativity to someone far more qualified.

In every walk of life negotiation is king. Indeed, I’ve made more than a good living being a great negotiator.

It started at the age of 29 when I had my first “awakening” that there was a decent living to be made from being a keen negotiator and helping others.

At the time I was five years into my art dealing career when I sent a large consignment of Oriental works of art to an auction house in New York. I decided to go to the auction and to my amazement all of the goods were displayed in a badly damaged condition and the auction house didn’t even give me the courtesy of letting me know that they had arrived in bad condition. I put in an insurance claim and the insurance company tried every which way to wriggle out of paying the claim.

My insurers instructed their own loss adjuster to represent their interests on in the guise that they were helping me! That loss adjuster tried to talk me into suggesting that the only reason I sent the goods to the USA for auction rather than selling them in the United Kingdom was in order that I could fraudulently blame the shippers or the auction house for goods that had been previously damaged in the United Kingdom. In short, I found myself in negotiations with a “bent” loss adjuster who wanted to impress his Lords and Masters, that he could get an honest claim repudiated…..

I had to think fast… very fast, as to how I could do battle with this cheating bastard of a loss adjuster parading himself as honesty personified.

Coincidentally, a sheet of his handwritten notes from his file accidentally became attached to another piece of correspondence that he sent me. I noticed that his handwriting was like no other handwriting I had ever seen. It was close together and at a very strange angle and, indeed, it could only be read if one held the edge of the paper at eye level. It was virtually impossible to read at any ordinary angle.

I decided to send the sheet of handwriting to a well known graphologist at what seemed massive cost in those far off days in order that I could get a professional opinion of the personality of the loss adjuster. It has to be said that 20 or 30 years ago far more reliance was placed on the opinion of a graphologist when deciding whether to employ someone or not. Certainly I am not suggesting that a graphologists report is the be all and end all of deciding someone’s state of mind….but it can help in some circumstances. Certainly, if a graphologist tried to decipher my handwriting my family would have me sectioned very quickly!

When the graphologists report came back I knew that I had hit the negotiation motherload. The report suggested that I was dealing with a delusional character with slight psychopathic tendencies and someone who felt the need to constantly impress others.

At that point the negotiations certainly took a interesting turn…..

I invited the loss adjuster out for lunch on the pretext that I need to get something off of my mind and very quickly. Quite naturally, he had assumed that I needed to “come clean” on my “fraudulent insurance claim”. I suggested that lunch might be inappropriate and that it might be more professional to meet at his offices. I suggested that it might be better if the conversation were recorded rather than him having to write everything down……..I had him in my lair!

I pulled out the graphologists report and read what he had assumed was a report on my own handwriting and he asked me if I wanted to withdraw my claim against his principals. It was at this point that I passed him the sheet of his own handwriting and his face went ashen. His whole demeanour quickly changed and all of a sudden he wanted to be my best friend! He begged me not to show the report to his employers. ,I never suggested I was going to!) What I do know was that within the space of seven days I got paid out every last penny of my claim and he was a free man!

This of course is a classic instance where sometimes you have to fight fire with fire in particularly difficult negotiations.

On the back of those negotiations I thought that if I can do it for me I can do it for anybody. It was then that I opened the doors for the first time of Salmon Assessors in 1984 ostensibly to fight the good fight and helping art and antique dealers with their insurance claims. Whilst a few art dealers did come to us, we were very soon inundated with other business and domestic claims and Salmon Assessors was born big-time!

Within 12 months of trading, I was invited by LBC (London Broadcasting) to be a pundit with veteran DJ Pete Murray when people telephoned the station telling me about their insurance claim problems and their tales of woe and my giving them advice as to how to get the claim paid. The programme lasted for some 20 years.

30 years on, perhaps 60% of our clients are commercial whilst the remainder are domestic claims. Of interest is that when the business first started the vast majority of our customers were Anglo-Saxon. The pattern has now drastically changed and 70% of our customers come from ethnic backgrounds.

I have no problem shouting out from the rooftops that, in my opinion, claimants from ethnic backgrounds where skin colour is apparent are treated with infinitely less respect and scepticism by loss adjusters acting for insurers than those claimants from an Anglo Saxon background. That is something that insurers simply must address here and now. Ethic claimants face a massive disadvantage when making a claim.

Even now, insurance assessing is still a little known profession and many claimants prefer not to pay a 10% free to a loss assessor to negotiate their claim and decide to go it alone. As Lord Hailsham eloquently put it all those years ago, the man who represents himself in a Court of Law has a fool for a client!

You are considered very unlucky if you make a couple of very large insurance claims in your lifetime. How can you effectively negotiate your claim with such little insurance claim experience?Any worthwhile firm of insurance loss. assessors take on 2 to 3 claims weekly and are experts at negotiating insurance claims through and through.

Many potential claimants suggest that their insurance brokers themselves will negotiate the claim at no cost on their behalf. Indeed they might. Undoubtedly your insurance broker will make the best effort to negotiate your insurance claim on your behalf in the limited time that they have available for a non-profit making activity. What’s more, your broker is not a trained insurance claim negotiator. The insurance brokers job is to find the best possible policy at the lowest price….not to negotiate your claim. Let’s not forget that even the insurance companies themselves understand that they are not negotiators when they employ third-party help in the form of loss adjusters to negotiate the claims. It’s only a pity that claimants are not as prudent as the insurance companies in this regard. Perhaps a good analogy is the very fact that you will not go to your doctor to have a tooth pulled out. You would go to an expert in tooth pulling…..not your doctor!

Loss assessors don’t sell insurance policies even though there’s a great argument that they are in a fantastic position to do so insofar that they know which insurance companies are easier to deal with in the event of a claim and would be able to recommend on that basis.

Finally, when you are negotiating your insurance claim, be mindful that in the old days of 20 or 30 years ago the insurance companies were staffed by gentleman who just wanted to earn an honest profit for their shareholders. In today’s economy driven society, insurers will do everything possible to repudiate claims for the flimsiest of reasons to satisfy their shareholders and earn themselves bigger bonus’s.

Jeff Salmon is founder and chairman of insurance claim assessors Salmon Assessors (www.insuranceclaims.co.uk)

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About Jeff Salmon

Jeff Salmon, is a consummate deal maker, negotiator and entrepreneur. Whilst coming to prominence as a gallery owner and dealer on Channel 4's 4 Rooms he also has a diverse mixture of companies which include the UK's best known air conditioning company, an Insurance Loss Adjusting/Assessing company, a Complementary Health Practice and a company selling wheelchair ramps.