In our recent white paper The Ultimate Guide to Sales Negotiations, we discuss how negotiations improve with consultative selling. By stressing long-term relationships over short-term sales, sellers should form partnerships and work with buyers to achieve the best outcomes. However, while both sides have their wants, and one side’s needs should not supersede the other’s, it is still essential that sellers control the tone, tenor, and timing of the negotiation. After all, it is the seller’s job to guide the buyer through the sales process and present solutions that meet their needs. If buyers could do this on their own, they would not be negotiating. Here are 10 tips to help sellers maintain control of a sales negotiation to achieve win-win outcomes:
The more you know, the stronger your position. Before negotiating, sellers must understand the buyer’s business. They must show how solutions impact immediate concerns while also looking long term, anticipating changes to the buyer’s industry that offer opportunities for growth. In addition, sellers must be familiar with their own competition. This includes their products, prices, warranties, and support. These days, buyers are more knowledgeable; they have already done their own research. You must be ready to contrast your products and highlight how they offer the best value, mainly when it comes to price.
- Deal With Decision Makers
When negotiating, it’s essential sellers know all the decision makers, especially those with final authority. Without this, you can win over everyone, your contact, their boss, and their boss’s boss, but you may still need to renegotiate everything. In addition to business directories and social media searches, ask every contact you make who else you need to engage. The more names you get beforehand, the less chance a last-minute boss of bosses wipes out your work. In addition, be alert to casually dropped names. Penelope could be the sweetest-sounding name, until you learn she’s in procurement and drives a hard bargain.
- Set the Agenda
As part of your preparation, set a specific agenda. Put some thought into it and consider things like the timing of the sections, as well as possible breaks. You want to make sure all the players are familiar with each other, so leave room for introductions. If the meeting is virtual or features virtual participants, consider extra time for intros. In addition, practice the pace beforehand, so you can gauge which sections can be sped up and which require additional time. Remember, an agenda helps ensure maximum attention and prevents people from checking out. Also, consider engagement, such as frequent check-ins and using people’s names like “That’s a great question, Melanie.”
- Let the Buyer Lead
In The Ultimate Guide to Sales Negotiations, we note how, in chess, the white pieces always make the first move. This gives them a competitive advantage. While letting the buyer lead can seem counterintuitive to maintaining control, it presents you as personable and amenable. It shows you are willing to listen, hear their concerns, and are prepared to work with them. However, do not be a passive participant. As buyers speak, evaluate body language for clues into the alignment of the players and actively listen for hidden or new concerns that have arisen. Also, express warmth and empathy, and invite them to share. Gauge your own body language and maintain eye contact to create rapport.
- Give to Get
As negotiations are give and take, sellers must know their must-haves, their concessions, and what they are willing to trade. Remember, these lines can blur as a deal gets closer. Sellers can be tempted to give more than they intended. Of course, it’s best not to present your must-haves as must-haves. This will result in a very short negotiation. When making concessions, be sure you receive something in return. After all, it’s a negotiation, not a fire sale. As noted in The Ultimate Guide to Sales Negotiations, trades should be assessed for their value. When a chess player trades a knight for a bishop, the value is comparable. Never trade a major piece for a lesser one, like a rook for a knight.
- Move Beyond Money
Whether haggling over garden gnomes at a garage sale or negotiating a raise, talking about money can be awkward if not downright stressful. In a sales negotiation, price is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be uncomfortable. Always lead with empathy, “I understand price is a concern,” but move past dollars and cents into value. The more value you can build into a product, the easier it is for buyers to understand the price. Though it can be tempting to offer discounts, especially if a deal seems imminent, this can be a trap. Sellers who readily discount send the wrong message, and buyers then expect it throughout. Instead, include an extended warranty or the gold-package customer service plan.
- Keep Conversation Amicable
Negotiations can be stressful, but sellers should keep their composure and maintain control. If a buyer is being difficult, show them you understand their concern, and work to find a solution. It can be easy to lose patience, especially when a buyer is stubborn. Resist the urge to dismiss them or see past their needs to your own. Express empathy, lean in when speaking, and maintain eye contact. Keep the discussion pleasant. Remember, this is a potential future partner, and their needs are paramount. What seems a minor issue to you can be a deal breaker for them, and you may need to rethink your solution.
- Reinforce Agreements
Throughout a negotiation, sellers should highlight and reinforce agreements that have been reached. Before moving on to the next point, remind them of the agreement, “I’m glad we’re on the same page with shipping, and this leads into receiving.” Doing this consistently shows your willingness to work with them and your appreciation for their buy-in. It reminds them that your positions are not far apart and illustrates the ease with which you work together. It is also an opportunity for any last questions or concerns and lets sellers know if they need to reiterate, reassure, or reemphasize the agreement prior to addressing the next item.
- Know When to Walk
Although this sounds negative, it’s a vital part of controlling the negotiation. If all avenues have been exhausted and an agreement is no longer beneficial or profitable, buyers need to know you are willing to walk. Of course, you must show this without stating ultimatums, “This is my final offer.” That may make for dramatic movie moments, but in actual practice, you may kill any possibility of working with this client, now and in the future. Remember, people do not respond well to ultimatums. Even at this critical juncture, keep your composure. A seller’s willingness to walk can restart a stalled negotiation and get you back to a level playing field.
- Set the Next Steps
Just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, a sales negotiation is not a one-off event. Additional meetings may be requited. To maintain the process, sellers should outline the steps going forward and assign tasks. This could include creating a team, choosing the best people, and organizing the equipment needed to implement the agreed-upon solutions. In this, it’s important to maintain momentum. Keep in close contact with the buyers and their team members. Perhaps visit their facilities and offer you expertise to make the process smoother. This is a great opportunity to reimagine the solutions you provide and find ways to do more for the client and their business.
As illustrated in our white paper, negotiations are a lot like the game of chess. It can be intimidating at first, but once you learn the pieces, how they move and their relative value, you’re soon off and running, making offers and trades. Another key to chess is gaining control of the board. Players often open from the center, with king or queen pawns, and then move their knights and bishops into centered positions as well. Heavy artillery, such as rooks and queens, come later. In the same way, negotiations are a process. Usually, like chess, the longer they go, the better, and it all starts with taking and maintaining control. Sellers who do this put themselves in the best position to form relationships and achieve win-win outcomes. For more information, check out The Ultimate Guide to Sales Negotiations.