Talent Acquisition

Low-Balling and How to Avoid It

In 1978, Messieurs Cialdini, Capcioppo, Bassett and Miller performed a classic experiment.

Their aim was to investigate the technique of low-balling – the practice of making an initial offer attractive enough to gain agreement and then changing the terms of the agreement (usually a higher price) in the expectation that the buy-in will be strong enough to keep the other party in the deal.

In the experiment students were asked to take part in an experiment, to which a high number agreed, and only afterwards were they informed that it would start at 7:00 am (more painful for most students than any electric shock techniques!). Although they were allowed to drop out, none did and 95% turned up at the agreed time (which must have been a new experience for them!).

When the control group were asked to attend a similar experiment but informed immediately that it would mean an early start only 24% agreed to be involved (even that figure surprises me – must have had a high number of those pesky dutiful mature students on the course).

Now, I always thought low-balling was one of those sales techniques that had died out in the 1980s like Adam Ant’s hair, Scarecrow & Mrs King and acid-wash jeans – but it seems I was wrong.

Just this month we lost a tender to a more “competitive” price offering the same level of service only to be told at a later date (mid-way through the search project and too late to turn back) that in fact with the add-on costs such as travel expenses (they weren’t local to our client), hire of remote office space to conduct local interviews, assessment tools and other sundry that the total price was in fact above what we had proposed as an overall price.

I have faith that such behaviour won’t lead to repeat business or long-term relationships and subsequently we will be able to work with this client again when the next opportunity arrives.

But it does gall me that this stuff goes on and quite frankly when I read another discussion from recruiters bemoaning how our reputation is often besmirched then I’ll point out that sometimes, as an industry, we only have ourselves to blame.

Have you noticed more low-balling going on? If so, what was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.

By Robert Wright

Robert Wright is a Man of Kent now living in York with two kids and with another in the oven. He lives in a bombsite and is working the NHS Leadership Academy to support Trusts recruiting at board level. You can find him on Linkedin, Twitter - @robmwright or in the kitchen at parties.