How to Avoid Arriving Naked to the Negotiating Table


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Ever left a client meeting feeling like a bus ran over you? You might want to thank negotiation expert Ed Brodow, who sells advice to purchasing agents in a seminar titled Don’t Pay List. One helpful tidbit: “The more assertive you are in pursuing a better deal, the more [the vendor] will be inclined to cave in and offer concessions. Remember that the seller is under pressure to make the sale.” Mr. Brodow also offers negotiation seminars for salespeople. Smart.

Spend a day or two learning what buyers are taught, and you’ll improve your selling skills. It’s eye opening, to say the least: “. . . having relevant information and a detailed plan for the negotiations increases the buyer’s ability to elicit concessions from the seller, which argues for greater use of aggressive bargaining by buyers who are better prepared . . .” (The Journal of Marketing Research, 1991, Volume 28, No. 2) O-M-G! That was written before anyone coined the term customer information power! Now that buyers have progressed twenty-one years down the experience curve, ask yourself, “Are my negotiating skills as good as theirs?”

Your prospects aren’t waiting around for you to answer. The IT Procurement Summit, held this year in San Antonio, touted useful outcomes for attendees, including building professional confidence, learning best practices, improving negotiation techniques, gaining leverage with suppliers, reducing risk, learning how to streamline processes, sharpening skills, and improving proficiency. That list could have been cut and pasted from the agenda for your annual sales kickoff. Maybe it was. After all, buyers demand the same skills that salespeople have—or need to have. Who can blame them? So tighten your chin strap when sitting down at the negotiating table. But before you do, here are some common mistakes to avoid so that you don’t arrive wearing only a helmet:

1. Solving the wrong problem. Also known as failing to define the problem. “If you sell IT architecture services, everything looks like an infrastructure problem”—the modern day version of the adage, “if you sell hammers, every problem looks like a nail.” Techno-buzzwords don’t mask the fact that the further you deviate from solving a customer’s core issue, the lower their perception of your product’s value.

2. Assuming the importance of the prospect’s pain or problem. “The problem you described happens to be exactly what I solve! Here’s my proposal . . .” Straight line, straight for the jugular. You’ve done it. I’ve done it. We all have. But failing to discover motivation—or assuming it exists—will haunt you when you offer a proposal.

3. Not encouraging the buyer to sell you on the benefits and outcomes your product provides, and why they are meaningful. Practice saying this statement three times: “You know, I’m not sure my company’s product can help you. It would be great if you could convince me that this will work for what you need.” You get the idea. The concept isn’t new. Bring your favorite flavor of the statement to your next sales call, and before you launch into your standard pitch, make sure to ask it.

4. Assuming the influence of your influencers. You found a contact at your target account who will be your inside “coach.” Congratulations, that’s fantastic! But did you know—how do I break this gently?—that your prospect has assigned “coaches” for each of your competitors. “Hey Boss, did you hear? Jamil told me that we’re ‘very much in the hunt!'” But when there are four Jamil’s, your position isn’t what you think it is.

5. Failing to attach strings before sending your proposal or quote. Repeat after me, “If send my prospect a proposal without his or her commitment to discuss it with me before deciding what to buy, my proposal is naked.” Especially important if your habit is to say “Sure! I can get a proposal to you. How about this afternoon? Is email OK?”

6. Telling the sales team to bring in “all possible revenue by the end of the [incredibly short time period].” You might as well just say to your prospect, “Management is exerting extraordinary time pressure on me, so I want to assure you that we’re highly motivated to accept any terms you specify.” Give your prospect time to get back to you. Remember, end-of-quarter is a busy time for bargain hunting buyers, too.

7. Deciding “we’re not in a position to lose this deal.” If you come to the contract negotiation lacking the option to push your chair away from the table, your prospect will figure that out, and you will be played.

A properly-trained chimp can be conditioned to offer a concession, to provide a discount, to reliably produce a desired behavior. Pull a lever, get a consistent result. But building the perception of value and improving a vendor’s negotiating position is much more complicated. A chimp can’t do it. Not only that, the basis for contract negotiation is built throughout the sales process, not just at the final meeting. “Plan for the end at the beginning.” Makes sense to me.

Arriving at the table with negotiating parity remains the unique domain of the sales professional. Help them out by making sure that when they go toe-to-toe with buyers, they’re at least wearing shoes, and their clothes aren’t hanging out to dry.

Many thanks to Steve Kraner, who provided me unorthodox views, and the inspiration for this blog.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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