Sales negotiations don’t have to be about competition and conflict.
There’s just no need for that.
Sales negotiations can – and should – be about collaboration and satisfaction.
In fact, kindness and understanding can work better than pushiness and bullheadedness.
Of course, salespeople want to be successful negotiators. But you don’t have – or want – to be an a$$ to win at negotiations.
Here are 15 ways to play nice in negotiations and how the strategies will help salespeople come out ahead.
1. Know you don’t know it all
In The Art of Negotiation: How to Improvise Agreement in a Chaotic World, Donald Dell, a sports agent marketer and master negotiator, claimed there is one over-riding factor to successful, kindhearted negotiations: “Assume there is something you don’t know.”
Things almost never go according to the plan. When something comes up that upsets or changes the plan, salespeople might be inclined to get upset, too, and turn to more aggressive negotiation tactics.
But with an “I don’t know something” attitude, you’re more likely to focus on learning and adapting when the unknown rears its head. It “will not only keep your mind up to speed with the deal and force you to consider other parties’ motivations, but it will also keep your ego in check,” Dell explained.
2. Build a plan
Unplanned negotiations are more likely to get nasty than meetings that are prepared.
Of course, you can’t plan exactly what’s going to happen – prospects will have their own plans of how things will play out. But you want to write down the outcome you anticipate, plus objections you expect from buyers, the concessions you’re willing to make and respectful responses you want to give in case tension rises.
3. Think big, talk small
Never underestimate the value of small talk in negotiations. In a legendary Stanford University study, researchers found negotiators who made small talk were significantly more likely to come to an agreement than those who didn’t bother with the chitchat.
More interestingly, the small talk didn’t have to be personal to be effective. Talking about the process you’re about to take on – like how long the meeting will take or the agenda you’d like to cover – can be just as effective as asking about the kids’ soccer league or a recent vacation, researchers said.
4. Make everyone comfortable
Renowned sports and entertainment agent Bob Woolf learned his most effective negotiation tactic while he was an attorney. Make everyone comfortable by treating others as you want to be treated. He realized that most people think an attorney’s job is to argue to win. But quite the contrary, and almost always, attorneys try to find a way for everyone to get along and accomplish a goal.
So Woolf found the first step to successful, goodhearted negotiations is to create the right atmosphere: Be polite. Acknowledge and appreciate differences. Remain positive. Be fair, Be gracious. Work in good faith.
And your buyers will do the same.
5. Be organized
This is an often overlooked strategy to successful, pleasant negotiation. Organization can put everyone involved at immediate ease. Conversely, salespeople who dump information, lose track of goals and talk in circles frustrate buyers. Then buyers get angry and are more likely to push back.
Have an agenda that allows for flexibility. Provide relevant, sequential information ahead of time. Keep notes and offer to recap when things feel like they’re spiraling away from organization.
6. Avoid one word
“Concession” isn’t a great thought or spoken word when it comes to negotiating nicely, Harvard Business School researchers found. It can create a confrontational and antagonistic mindset – regardless the side of the bargaining table.
A better, more effective thought and spoken word: Options. In negotiations, think about solving problems. Questions to start with and go back to throughout negotiations:
- What are the most critical issues at hand?
- What are the client’s interests?
- How do those align with my company’s and my interests?
- What are different options to satisfy the various interests?
Constantly considering and weighing options helps build trust and maintain positive negotiations.
7. Emphasize another word
Throughout negotiations, highlight what you have in common. Focus on areas where you agree and the future you’re building together.
The best way: Use “we” rather than “I” as much as possible, emphasizing the high-level of collaboration.
At crossroads, during stalls or in rising tension, pause to sum up what you’ve accomplished and/or agreed to so far. Harvard Business School researchers suggest something like this: “Let’s take a minute to review where we are. We agreed to A and B. C is on the table and D is settled. We’re having trouble with E. We’ve made great progress, and it’d be a shame if we got stuck on this.”
8. Ask the second question
In negotiations, salespeople need to know what prospects want. More importantly, though, is knowing why they want it.
When discussing wants, demands, specifications and options, salespeople can keep negotiations friendly by digging deeper and asking questions like these:
- Why is that important?
- Can you explain why you prefer A over B?
- Why does this interest you most?
- Why do you feel strongly about that?
9. Neutralize your tone
An even, calm tone of voice and rate of speech can help maintain the same mood for negotiations. Obviously, salespeople don’t want to go in with – or take on – a negative or angry tone.
But it’s equally important to tone down an overly friendly, eager tone, which could make buyers see you as a less-than-serious businessperson, or worse, a pushover.
Make a joke. Laugh at buyers’ jokes. Pursue small talk. But remain calm, even and professional.
10. Be quiet
Silence has many virtues in negotiations. On one hand, remaining silent allows you to hear and understand what buyers really want and need. As Peter Drucker said, “The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.”
On the other hand, “Silence is so accurate,” according to Mark Rothko. You aren’t right or wrong with silence. It gives you time to figure out what to say or do next – and ensures you’ll step forward with the right foot.
Whether it’s an objection, a demand or a reasonable question, sit tight for a moment. Your silence will help you formulate the right thing to say – or encourage the buyer to share more relevant information.
11. Hold your tongue
Sometimes buyers aren’t interested in negotiating nicely – and consciously or subconsciously, they walk into negotiations on edge and ready for a fight.
So be aware: When buyers make bold, loud and emotional statements, they’re often trying to bully their way to a win.
That’s when you want to ignore their tone. If you feel intimidated or emotionally charged, you might even want to walk away.
And if you decide to stay involved when you deal with a bully buyer, here are more strategies to help:
12. Don’t take it personally
Bullying in negotiations can feel very personal. Buyer demands might come across like threats. Or cries for concessions can sound like fist-pounding edicts.
Remember: You’re negotiating. It’s business, not personal. Remain professional and keep hard feelings at bay.
13. Recognize and empathize with constraints
Some prospects give salespeople a hard time because they’re getting a hard time behind the scenes – from a boss, CFO or buyer. They’re under pressure to get the best deal. If they don’t get it, their job, reputation or potential advancement could be on the line.
Recognize that their pressures – from budget constraints and damage control to supply-chain issues and new leadership – are real. Empathize with them rather than just rationalize your side.
14. Politely disrupt
Bully buyers often repeat themselves, sometimes getting more emphatic with each mention of the same point. That’s a kind negotiators cue to use Linda Bridge’s Polite Disruption Tactic.
Say something like this: “Yes, you mentioned that point already, and it’s important. We can agree that it’s something we need to work on.”
This tells buyers you respect their position, validates their point as “important” and pushes you past the issue and toward a solution.
15. Pair options
Bridges also used this tactic when negotiating in the Texas legislature. She “paired” options. This strategy can help salespeople turn bullying negotiators’ demands into assets for the deal.
You can pair by saying something like this: “Well, that’ s one option, and we could also consider ….” The two options need to be linked in some way to what the buyer wants and what you’re willing to do.
You aren’t disagreeing, conceding or overriding. You’re collaborating.