Turning Adversarial Negotiations Collaborative

Turning Adversarial Negotiations Collaborative

In B2B sales, negotiations are a crucial component of the sales process. Often, it’s the final step that can make or break a deal. Traditionally, with so much on the line, negotiations were adversarial, which is not to say antagonistic. It was just that one side sought to “win” more than the other.

Of course, the very nature of negotiation pits two sides against each other. Sellers seek to maximize profits while buyers want all they can get at the lowest price. It’s easy to see how this breeds conflict.

However, in the long run, a zero-sum game of winners and losers is counterproductive. It’s far more advantageous for buyers and sellers to work together. This creates value, builds stronger relationships, and results in long-term success. But this isn’t always easy. Here, we will explore how sellers can turn adversarial negotiations collaborative to achieve win-win outcomes.

The Rise of Value-Driven Negotiations

The internet changed the laws of supply and demand. Today’s buyers do their own research, often contacting select sellers later in the process. This means sellers must compete for buyers based on value. Hence negotiations, in which the best overall value can seal the deal.   

Adversarial Negotiations

As buyers gained leverage, they could be more discerning and demanding. Adversarial negotiations, a byproduct of this changed dynamic, are characterized by:

  • Distrust
  • Limited sharing
  • Competition
  • Defensiveness
  • Short-term focus

Today, research cited by Frontiers in Psychology shows 60% of adversarial negotiations are considered ineffective. This contrasts with “problem-solver negotiators,” considered 75% effective. But to effectively solve problems, buyers and sellers must work together.

Collaborative Negotiations

Through collaboration, buyers and sellers achieve more. They respect each other’s position and help reach each other’s goals. Of course, there are issues they must work through—hence the negotiation. But these are characterized by:

  • Communication
  • Respect
  • Trust
  • Collaboration
  • Long-term focus

In addition, Frontiers in Psychology lists several key negotiation styles:

  • Integrating (high interest in oneself and others)
  • Obliging (low interest in self, high interest in others)
  • Dominating (high interest in oneself, low interest in others)
  • Avoiding (low interest in one’s own interests and those of others)
  • Compromising (intermediate between self-interest and the interests of others)

While compromising might seem the most effective, research shows otherwise. In fact, Frontiers in Psychology shows a combination of compromising, integrating, and dominating works best. This suggests top negotiators do not only value the buyer’s interests. They also place a high emphasis on their own. This balance is key to collaborative negotiations.

Overcoming Common Impediments

Transitioning to a collaborative approach can be challenging, especially if there is a history of adversarial interactions. Most sellers have dealt with difficult buyers. And most buyers have dealt with “typical” salespeople—those who only look out for themselves. Here, we’ll examine several challenges and how to overcome them:

Personal & Negative Experiences

According to TrustRadius, 61% of buyers named personal experience as their most commonly used resource. Further, 72% list it as a top-three influencer. Therefore, buyers and sellers must move beyond their negative experiences. They must establish clear expectations for future partnerships. This includes:

  • Creating an open dialogue
  • Identifying past issues
  • Building on personal connections
  • Presenting a plan of action

Sharing experiences can go a long way toward collaborating. Here, buyers and sellers learn from each other what worked and did not work in past negotiations.

As personal connections are the key to sales, they are also central to negotiations. A healthy rapport establishes trust and builds relationships. This forms the basis of collaborative negotiations and partnerships. Use your shared experiences and personal connections to set boundaries and establish a plan for your negotiation.

Lack of Preparation

Without proper preparation, neither side can fully appreciate the other’s wants, let alone work together to achieve them.

Yet, according to negotiation specialists Scotwork, most sales negotiators are woefully unprepared. In fact, 41% say they occasionally have no time for preparation. This puts them at a serious disadvantage. Before negotiating terms and conditions, know the following:

  • Key players
  • Essential questions
  • The buyer’s needs and objectives
  • Your own needs, objectives, and concessions
  • BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement)

Always know gatekeepers, influencers, advocates, and, of course, decision makers. Throughout the negotiation, continually seek key decision makers.

Target specific questions to your main players. Surprisingly, Scotwork notes only 26% of sales negotiators know their questions in advance.

Shockingly, 85% of sales negotiators do not establish what the other side wants. Without this, collaborative negotiations are far less likely.   

Further, sellers should know their own needs, wants, and must-haves. This is vital to making concessions and adding value to proposals. However, only 51% of salespeople consider what’s important to them before negotiating.

Critical to all sales negotiations is your BATNA. These are the most advantageous alternatives if your original proposals fail. Knowing these in advance maintains momentum and can recharge stalled negotiations.


Trust is the cornerstone of collaborative negotiation. It starts with a buyer’s initial interactions and is built over time, through the following:

  • Personal interests
  • Consistency
  • Transparency

Share stories with your counterparts. Often, buyers and sellers form bonds that are as personal as they are professional. This smooths negotiations and forms lasting partnerships.    

From initial proposals to signed contracts, display a consistent customer-centric approach. Show buyers you value their needs and want to work with them.

Maintain transparency in motivation, wants, needs, and price. When all interactions have been open and honest, there are no last-minute surprises.  

Personality Clashes

Whether it’s a boss, a colleague, or a customer, personality clashes are part of doing business. However, you can still work together. This starts with:     

  • Adapting communication
  • Sharing objectives
  • Aligning outcomes
  • Reframing issues

Adapting communication preferences, whether text, email, or video, ensures a smoother process.

Regardless of personalities, both sides should seek a successful close. True, they might define success differently. But when both work together, they can achieve most of their wants.

Often, buyers and sellers have much in common. With patience, they can align their outcomes to achieve what’s essential.

View objections as opportunities to clarify and reinforce agreements. Instead of “your” goals and “my” goals, build on your collective goals.

Resistance to Change

Many buyers fear the unknown—and change is always the biggest unknown. Before talking up the benefits of your solution, address their fear. UserGerms lists the following as fear drivers:

  • 43% need more information
  • 27% take longer to purchase
  • 27% have more decision makers
  • 14% have more C-level decision makers

Knowing this, sellers should:

  • Address concerns
  • Clarify benefits
  • Provide pilot programs and trials
  • Incentivize and reward

Arm buyers with data to make informed decisions and target key decision makers. Also, sellers should remember Prospect Theory, which shows risk aversion often supersedes reward desire.  

When clarifying benefits, use risk/reward statements. For example, “Your team’s downtime during implementation will be minimal. It will also result in a 10-15% increase in productivity.”

For many buyers, a central aspect of fear is time. This can be the time it takes to see a benefit or the time it takes to undue a change. Pilot programs and trials can help mitigate this fear.

Incentives should motivate action. For the fear of change, highlight “If/then” scenarios. For example, “If we get this rolling now, you will save 10-15% in the first quarter alone.”   

Unrealistic Expectations

Buyers and sellers should limit their expectations to what’s tangible and achievable. This starts with:

  • Clarifying scope
  • Leveraging objective data
  • Sharing case studies

Be upfront about your needs and limit negotiations to what’s essential. You can always branch out from there.

Objective data goes beyond the sellable features of your products and services. For example, performance metrics, such as how your product fares against competitors, keeps expectations realistic and drives engagement.     

Research cited by LinkedIn shows 73% of B2B buyers list case studies as a key decision maker. And 29% say they are one of their most valuable sources.

Misaligned Interests

Accenture notes increasing dissatisfaction between buyers and sellers, In fact, their research shows 80% of buyers have switched suppliers within the last two years.

Don’t wait for the negotiation to align needs. Instead, be proactive. Throughout the sales process, sellers should consistently:

  • Note the buyer’s changing needs
  • Highlight agreement
  • Provide a range of solutions

Pressure Tactics

We often think of high-pressure tactics as a trait of typical salespeople. But experienced negotiators know buyers can give as well as they get. These tactics include:

  • Listing competitors they’ve contacted
  • Forcing early price discussions
  • Claiming limited influence
  • Meeting in the middle
  • Springing last-minute asks
  • Threatening to walk away

Know your competition’s products and prices. These are essential to differentiate your own and highlight your unique value.

Price is always contingent on value. Respectfully, hold off on price discussions until establishing what the buyer receives and the benefits provided.

Throughout the sales process, know who you’re talking to and their influence. Always ask for key decision makers.

Meeting in the middle is a congenial way to force a lower price. Explain how price is based on several factors, including the cost of materials, manufacturing, and marketing.

Often, the threat to walk away is a bluff. But even if it’s not, respectfully explain your position and maintain the relationship. Better to let them go than make a hasty decision you’ll regret.


As we’ve seen, collaborative negotiations require a shift in how buyers and sellers interact. And this starts with a willingness to partner instead of competing for mutual success. We hope this helps you turn adversarial negotiations collaborative. For more, download our white paper The Ultimate Guide to Sales Negotiations at Janek.com.   

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