The Soft Skills and Hard Skills Needed For Effective Sales Negotiations


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Your salesperson, Caroline, has done a great job of opening a large opportunity. The sales conversations with the prospect have been thoughtful and insightful. The deal is at recommendation stage and the prospect puts on his professional buying hat and starts lobbing objections and/or requests for additional concessions in order for the deal to move forward.  

Caroline gets triggered by the prospect’s hardnosed buying behavior and takes a defensive stance.  She starts overselling, justifying her price and solutions and sounds something like the lyrics to the old Bee Gee’s hit song, “Staying Alive, Staying Alive.”  Her emotional response creates the same reaction from the prospect resulting in two people are fighting hard for their position.  Not a good scenario for that win-win relationship.      

Sales is a predictable.  Good negotiators negotiate.  So why do salespeople still act so surprised when faced with objections? What’s the reason they respond inappropriately during negotiation discussions? 

Sales managers, this one might be on you.  How much time have you invested in teaching, training and practicing the soft and hard skills of effective negotiations?

Let’s start with the soft skills of negotiation by discussing the importance of emotion management.  William Ury’s classic book, Getting Past No, discusses the five challenges in effective negotiations.  The first challenge is a person ability to control his or her own behavior.  As he shares in his book, human beings are reaction machines and once you react you are hooked.  I call it the trigger-response-regret loop.  This loop generally ends up in unnecessary discounting, concessions without conditions or a stalemate with each party fighting hard to be right.

Emotion management is the first step in effective negotiations because without it, salespeople have a hard time executing the hard skills, consultative selling skills, required for effective negotiations.  One of those hard skills is simply acknowledging with your prospect’s position.  Remember, prospects can’t hear your great advice, solutions or alternatives until they feel you’ve heard them.   

I blew a sales call in my early years of this business by not listening to the real objection and acknowledging my prospects position. 

The reason I couldn’t listen is because I was too busy reacting!

My prospect was the president of a professional environmental consulting firm.  His consultants were brilliant but they weren’t very good at influence and sales.   There was plenty of pain discussed around missed sales opportunities and the need to grow his team’s skills.  I was sure he was going to be my next client.

When we got to the budget step, I shared my fees for coaching and consulting.  His physical expression changed as did his tonality.  “Well, we don’t charge that much to our clients….this investment seems a little high.  Is this the best you can do?”  

Trigger!  I immediately started defending and justifying my existence, my fees.  My reaction, of course, did nothing to acknowledge what my prospect was really thinking or feeling.  The better answer would have been, “I understand.  And in fact, if I were sitting in your chair, I’d probably be wondering why should I pay you, a fellow consultant, more than we charge our clients.”  

His price objection wasn’t about price.  It was about ego.  And it was probably one of disbelief.  His consultants all had advanced degrees.  Who was I to be charging and getting more than his team of “braniac” consultants? 

When you empathetically acknowledge your prospects position, you shift the conversation.  You put your prospect in a position to tell his or her story, the real story of what’s important to your prospect. 

The research is clear.  The best negotiators listen more than they talk.

Teach your team the power of emotion management and acknowledgement.  The combination of soft and hard skills will produce better negotiation outcomes.   

Good Selling!

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Colleen Stanley
Colleen Stanley is president of SalesLeadership, Inc. a business development consulting firm specializing in sales and sales management training. The company provides programs in prospecting, referral strategies, consultative sales training, sales management training, emotional intelligence and hiring/selection. She is the author of two books, Emotional Intelligence For Sales Success, now published in six languages, and author of Growing Great Sales Teams.


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