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How to Haggle With Cell Phone Salesmen (6 Money-Saving Tips)

Kate holds a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) degree from Sonoma State University. She has worked as a sales supervisor for 5 years.

These six tips could save you money if you're switching carriers or getting a new phone.

These six tips could save you money if you're switching carriers or getting a new phone.

The pressure to make sales in the cell phone world is every bit as intense as it is in the car dealership world. There are quotas, minimum sales expectations, and bonuses for signing up a certain number of customers. At most companies, salespeople even risk losing their job if they can't sell a predetermined number of phones each month.

With all of this pressure on the sales force, there's more motivation than ever to make deals to close sales. You can benefit immensely from these deals if you know the tricks to getting them. You can easily walk away from your next cell phone purchase having paid hundreds of dollars less than the typical cost of signing up for a new service.

Cell phone carriers know that the market is saturated, so the goal is no longer to sign up new customers who have never had a cell phone before—it's to steal customers from other carriers while keeping theirs from leaving. In the industry, reducing the number of customers lost is referred to as "churn."

As we move further into the 21st century, reducing churn and capitalizing on other company's customers are becoming the deciding factors as to which providers survive and which do not. This fierce competition can benefit you, the consumer, greatly if you know what you can do to exploit it to your advantage.

Below are six methods you can use to walk out of the cell phone store having paid hundreds less than the average customer. Each tip is explained in detail in the following sections.

6 Ways to Negotiate Phone and Plan Prices With Your Cell Carrier

  1. Look to buy at or near the end of the month.
  2. Express a desire to do business with only their store.
  3. Give them the promise of future sales through you.
  4. Bring pamphlets from other cell phone providers with you.
  5. Ask for an activation fee waiver.
  6. Be friendly and personable to the representative.

1. Go to the Store Near the End of the Month

Cell phone sales are generally gauged by the major providers on a monthly basis. Meaning, most quotas and goals that the sales staff need to hit are monthly goals. If you go into the store near the end of the month, more then likely the sales staff will be feeling the pressure to hit their goals. Or if it's a good month and they've already hit their goals, they'll be trying to hit their bonus goals to really increase their pay checks! Either way you'll have the cards stacked in your favor.


2. Inform Them of Your Desire to Buy From Their Specific Store (but at Another Store's Prices)

As a sales supervisor for a major cell phone provider for many years, I know that when a customer expresses that they desire to only buy from my store, it's an excellent opportunity to make a long lasting relationship with the customer. Especially if they feel they've found a better deal at a competitor, but still want to get it from my store.

From a business perspective it's the right thing to do as making lasting relationships with customers is what will keep a store in business through the worst sales seasons. More than likely, if you approach the sales representative with a positive "I really like your store and only wish to do my shopping here" type attitude, they'll bend over backwards to give you what you want. Just remember to be kind as opposed to demanding.

A lot of sales representatives are used to demanding customers but a kind one with potential long term company loyalty will stand out.


3. Act Like a "Big Business" Customer

Tell the sales representative who helps you that you are looking for cell phones for you and the employees at your business (or the rest of your family members). More than likely they will ask you how many lines you are looking to activate, tell them 5 -10 lines. This will be enough to wet their appetite for a big multi-line account but not so much that it sounds unbelievable. Tell him/her you'd like to start with one phone for yourself (the boss) for now, and if you're pleased with the service and value for the money, then you'll be back in to activate the rest of the lines. With the prospect of landing a large multiple line account, they will do just about anything within their power to make sure you get good value for your money.

4. Bring Pamphlets From Other Cell Phone Providers With You

This will let them know that you are serious about buying and serious about getting a good deal. I guarantee that the desire for a cell phone company to beat out its competitors will help you out enormously. The sales representatives will try harder to get you as a customer if they know you've been shopping around.

As a sales supervisor I used to ask my sales force why they would blindly give so many discounts to those customers who've been shopping around rather than any of our other customers and I'd usually get a response like, "I knew it would be so much more of an exciting sale if I was able to close the sale here when other companies couldn't."

I would literally see discounts of $100-$200 regularly when my sales representatives would start to feel that competitive spirit. Running into another cell provider and grabbing pamphlets might be a little out of your way but you'll be amazed at the leverage you'll have just holding those in your hands while talking to the salesman of a competing company. Is running into another cell provider and grabbing two or three pamphlets worth $100-$200 to you? No question that most people would answer "yes!" to that question.

5. Ask Them Politely if They Will Waive Your Activation Fee

Believe it or not, those $35–45 activation fees that you usually pay at the time you purchase a phone or on your first bill aren't there for every customer. Every carrier has some way they can waive that fee. Either by not charging you for it at all, or by reimbursing you for the fee off your first bill. A majority of customers get that fee waived.

There are many reasons a sales representative would want to waive that fee for a customer. Maybe the customers has potential to become a large account customer, maybe that activation fee is the only thing holding them back from buying right now, or maybe they saw "free activation" at another carrier or earlier in the year at this carrier during a promotion.

The reasons these fees being waived are endless. In my opinion the most effective approach is to tell the sales representative that you have no problem paying the activation fee on all the phone lines you sign up for after a few days when you are convinced they are right for your companies' needs, but for the first line you purchase you'd rather not. After all, it's just a trial purchase to make sure their company is the right one to provide cell phone service for your entire company or family.

Update: Recent policy changes at some major providers have taken the option of waiving this fee out of the hands of the sales representatives and sales managers. It is still worth asking for this, but if they tell you they are unable to, they might be telling you the truth!

6. Always Be Respectful and Polite

Remember to always be respectful and polite when asking for discounts. As mentioned earlier, most cell phone carriers are completely used to demanding customers and as a result, have built up a tough skin when it comes to demands. However, friendliness and respect are harder to come by and will very often yield much larger gains.

Make the sales representative feel comfortable with you. Find something off the topic of phones to relate to the representative with. This will build trust and the discounts and deals will come out of nowhere.

I have overheard many of my sales representatives offering unsolicited discounts to a customer just because they felt as if they were friends in the short time of their in-store meeting.

At the end of your transaction, they will either have sold you on why you should buy their product at full price or you will have sold them on why they should give you all the discounts they can.

What to Expect

If you follow these suggestions I would not be surprised at all if you walked away from your next cell phone purchase paying hundreds less than a typical new customer. Make no mistake; those phones with the hefty price tag can be free, or close to it, if the representative has enough reasons to discount it. Give it a try, if you happen to be getting no where with a certain sales representative just leave and come back another day. The worst they can do say is say "no."

Another important factor is you may have to work at some of these discounts as very often, if a sales representative discounts a phone purchase, it comes strait out of their commission. Keep this in mind as you ask for your discount and be sympathetic with the representative. The representative's job is to convince (or "sell") you on the idea of purchasing today.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


Kate Daily (author) from California on November 24, 2012:

As I said, I am an employee of a major carrier in the U.S. I think it's important to realize that every carrier is different and although I believe you are being truthful, in saying that your company cannot waive fees, that may not be true for all carriers. In fact, I don't think any of us can speak for every cell phone company out there (especially when you include the countless in-direct dealers). I can say with full confidence that my company does this all the time. It's a tool we use to close sales quite often, but only when we need to!

kk on October 05, 2012:

Not true at all. Ive worked for over 7 years in the wireless industry (Sprint and Verizon) Activation/upgrade fees are impossible to waive now. Phones are now so subsidized as is that there is no room for discounts either. All this article will do is set people up for unrealistic expectations and keep sales reps from making sales. I would check your facts before posting this.

Kate Daily (author) from California on March 26, 2012:

I've lost multiple co-workers because they couldn't hit their sales numbers. I'm sure every company is different but the places I worked at I saw a lot of people let go for not performing. Yes, I personally have had the company authorize me to discount activation fees and even $200 phones down to free. Maybe things have changes since I was in the business (about 2 years ago now) but I still have many friends and associates in the business and I know they've told me about insane discounts they've had to do to close big sales. Yes there are some reps who don't care and have the attitude "I don't have to deal with her issues once she's out the door." but those aren't the reps you want to work with. They definitely wont be there when you have a problem. Those aren't the caliber of reps I'm referring to.

Sprint on August 26, 2011:

Unless you go to Sprint where the prices are set and there is absolutly no negotiating. My DM always telss us, "Don't let anyone every hold you hostage." Meaning, if they want to leave because of the price, then so be it.

dandwdad on October 28, 2010:

ihatephones: so you're saying you are going to ignore me in favor of some dipstick 18 year old girl who'll be calling you every month because she didn't take the time to understand her bill or what she was even agreeing to? Good Job! You just gained a pain in the &*- that will eat your time and energy up and lost a good sized account (for home sales.)

I'm looking to change providers and I have 3 smartphones and over $5,100 in sales (2 year contract) for you but you were too interested in the fast, 'free' buck. Guess who won't be calling you every week, or even every day? I know what I'm buying, I know why, and I plan on honoring my agreement. I may even add services or even business phones as my personal business grows. I don't want everything free, I just know that $5000 over two years is a pretty good deal, everything else is gravy to the salesman.

And that dipstick? That's my daughter who wouldn't listen to her parents and now has a $200 a month bill she's defaulting on because she only needed a $50 a month plan and regular texting phone. She's changed phones and numbers so many times, I don't know what number to call her on. And her payment plan? Maybe I need make-up more than cell phone needs paid. So please, ignore people like me who want to know we are getting a deal and not the shaft ....

ihatephones on October 06, 2010:

reps do not get paid on the device cost,only the rate plan and features. Main line upgrades , smartphone plans and activations pay better. But if your an experienced salesman you don't haggle because you are just wasting time with some one who won't give you a good commission anyway. In the meantime a good smartphone or internet sale will come in and someone else will get it.

John B on September 18, 2010:

I sold my business in 2007, semi-retired, going nuts and want a new challenge with a different career path. I have a good 'contact' for hopefully being introduced into Verizon Retail and if possible, later B2B. In my job description and salary average range research (10+ different opinions that usually base it on overall sales salaries total that includes the sales manager)what is, in your opinion, of what to expect based on the average retail sales associate salary/commission break-down if you learn all you can and do what is expected? Great article by the way!

Cell phone sales rep on June 03, 2010:

Being in the cell phone sales rep business I do agree with a lot of what you said. One thing you are off on, is that we cannot make a deal. Phone prices and plan prices have to stay the same. We cannot change these prices.

Cell phone trick on May 04, 2010:

Man, you are fantastic, you must be a great salesman.

Vik Sidhu on March 27, 2010:

This is actually the best written article on this subject I have ever come upon. I've been selling cell phones for 7 years now. My favorite aspect of this article, "As mentioned earlier, most cell phone carriers are completely used to demanding customers and as a result, have built up a tough skin when it comes to demands." It's dead on. When the customer is demanding their requests get ignored. Don't pull the "I've been with you for x amount of years", "I pay you hundreds of dollars a month" or "I'm just going to cancel my lines then" routine. We hear this 20 times a day and honestly, we don't care. None of these threats directly effect our commission and I'd rather you leave so I can move onto an "easy" customer.

Richard Skinbeck on January 23, 2010:

good advice...I work in the business and the article is dead on.