Startups – learn the art of negotiation, watch Four Rooms (@C4FourRooms / @CeliaSawyertv)

So you’ve got your technology/product/widget and now you need some customers…..

This is the stage when most folk recoil in horror. It’s easy to say, “I don’t sell”, when in reality we all do in some wave, shape or form. It’s whether we have the confidence to do it. Along the line this will involve some form of haggling or negotiation.  And this is one area that a lot of folk struggle with.

As this subtle art isn’t really taught in schools you either have to watch someone else do it or just have it in your blood. Help is at hand via the avenue of Channel 4 on Friday evenings. My new compelling viewing is Four Rooms, it pretty much teaches you everything.


The concept is simple.  A viewer has a piece that they want to sell, it might be a picture, a sculpture or something that’s just going to be collectable. It’s also been a handy avenue for artists to sell on their original work.  In turn they visit the four rooms each has a dealer who wants to buy. And the negotiations start. If you decline an offer and walk away from the room you can’t go back in. If you accept the offer then all’s good and you then get to find out what the remaining dealers would have paid for your piece. Simple concept, utterly brilliant.

Ceilings and Floors

I suppose the best way you learn negotiation is to basically get your feet wet and do it yourself.  The basic concept is really about “ceilings and floors” (something that Kevin Parker taught me a few years ago).  You have something to sell and you have a top price in your head. My widget is worth £1000 but I’ll go as low as £500 to cover costs (your ceiling and your floor). The buyer already has a price in their head where to start at (their floor) and what they are prepared to go up to (their ceiling).  Now I would say that the majority of the negotiation is edited out as it’s television, I would love to see an uncut version.  Body language is also very important in the opening part of the sale where the seller explains the background to the piece. At that point the buyers are gauging the seller and each other.

And because this is about a direct sale the negotiations are a lot more real than a Dragon’s Den investment deal.  As most of the deals in the Den and Four Rooms illustrate, the top line price that everyone goes in with is rarely the price you come out with. There has to be some give and take in order for everyone to get to the win/win the books gloriously write about.

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