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ATD Blog

3 Ways to Be a Great Sales Negotiator

Friday, July 9, 2021
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The mission of sales enablement and sales management is simple: help improve sellers’ performance. To accomplish this goal, the most common targets are efficiency and effectiveness, which look at measurements such as shorter deal cycles, increasing revenues, better margins, deeper and wider customer relationships, and more satisfied and loyal clients. These objectives rely on negotiation skills.

These negotiation tactics and strategies—preparation, probing and listening, and proposing—will maximize the performance of your organization’s sales team.

Preparation: Make Sales Collateral Easy to Access and Use

Sales enablement is charged with developing tools to assist sellers. The best practice is to have a single portal for all sales resources that provides salespeople with resources that will aid them when communicating with customers, giving them what they need when they need it. This includes sales presentations, an ROI calculator, explainer videos, case studies, and other similar tools.

We often recommend that sales reps use a preparation checklist to organize information into categories such as precedents, alternatives, interests, and timelines in advance of their critical interactions with clients. It’s unlikely to convince sales reps to spend more time preparing, but if you can increase their efficiency through a process or tool, they will use it and reap the effects of the results. You can also have your sales reps list a few key questions they planned to ask, brief scripts for key objections, and their list of “tradeables” to remind them that there were other parts of the deal they could and should adjust before lowering the price.

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Probing and Listening: Collaborative Communication

We often hear the expression “we talked them into it;” however, the best sellers and negotiators are those who ask great questions and have advanced listening skills. These two skills lead to deeper discovery and help develop relationships. It takes asking great questions and genuinely listening to the responses.

How do you improve these skills within your sales organization? Consider implementing a tool that ensures sales reps go into all key meetings with a few questions in hand. Having a question ready makes a rep more likely to ask it and, in turn, do more listening than speaking, which correlates well with sales performance. The other tip to teach your sales team is to play back the key elements of what the other party said after they said it and include those in any communication they share later. For example, “Just to make sure I understand, you are looking for competitive pricing, but the priority is a partner who can consistently deliver a high-quality product within 24 hours. Did I understand that correctly?” And then, following the phone call or meeting, an email describing that objective and how your rep will address it goes a long way. Why is this simple technique so powerful? It shows the other party you are listening, makes it more likely they will continue to share information, and acts as a basic mirroring technique (your sales team is using the same phrases as their customers).

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Proposing: The Right Mindset Makes All the Difference

Sales pros must approach the end of a sales opportunity with confidence rather than fall into the trap of accommodating last-minute requests to “do the best they can” and lower a price.

To understand why this is not always the case, we need to understand the psychology of sellers. Most salespeople are subject to a form of Stockholm Syndrome, a situation where a captive becomes sympathetic to their captor after hearing them repeat the same message over time. Your sales team is not quite being held captive, but they do hear from their customers every day that “Your price is too high,” “A competitor just offered me a lower price,” or “There are quite a few other similar offerings.” As a result, they begin to sympathize with these comments. Sales enablement and management must remind sellers of the value they bring to the table, core differentiators from the competition, the importance of maintaining margins, and so forth. To do this on a consistent basis, the first suggestion in this post does an excellent job—a robust portal with compelling sales resources remind the seller and persuade the customer.

Here are three more tips for your sales team when making proposals:

  • Never overestimate the customer’s strengths or your weaknesses. Often, the customer is as invested as you are in having the deal done so they can move on. They may not share this with you as part of their negotiation strategy, but if you offer a great product or service and have communicated the value proposition well, they will want it nearly as much as you want to sell it to them. Remember that it’s important to be flexible, but don’t give things away unless you need to, and when you do, always get something in return.
  • If they ask for something, force them to be specific. Customers frequently ask salespeople if they can do any better on price, and they’ll then lower their price. Arm your people with questions such as, “What would get this deal done?” or “Tell me more about the price reduction you are asking for,” to put some pressure on the other side. Get them on the defensive and explaining why their request is reasonable and important. This also makes the seller better equipped to decide if they should drop the price, and if so, by how much.
  • Offer three options. A powerful influencing skill when trying to motivate a buyer to act is to offer three options. People want to feel in control, and three options give them enough of an opportunity to feel independent. One is no choice at all and two feels like an ultimatum. Counter-intuitively, however, more options can start to lead to paralysis by analysis. Essentially, too many options can feel overwhelming and, as a result, the customer would prefer to choose no decision rather than decide among too many options. To best do this, consider two different methods for providing three options. The first is a Best, Better, Good/Value, where the first is the best, the third is the least expensive, and the second option then becomes relatively the most attractive. The other method is to make three options that are all equal for your organization. This is often referred to as Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers, or MESO, within the negotiation space. This allows a seller to learn what is most important to a customer based on their response as it forces them to choose between the various offers that prioritize different factors.
About the Author

Andres is the managing partner at SNI, where he previously served the role of chief innovation officer. His multi-disciplinary and lingual skills broaden SNI’s ability to effectively teach and consult in a wide range of industries, languages, and cultures.

Andres’ expertise is in deal coaching live negotiations for sports clients such as the San Antonio Spurs, Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns, Milwaukee Brewers, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Brooklyn Nets. He also works in several capacities with clients across a wide range of industries, from developing online content to facilitating programs in Real Estate (Ryland, Heritage Properties), Advisory (PWC), Media (ESPN, Hearst), Banking (M&T Bank), and Pharmaceutical (Novo Nordisk, Roche).

Andres managed the development of SNI’s Advanced Negotiations Program, which includes video-taped role play of customized simulations and real-time coaching, available both in the classroom and online. He also managed the development of SNI’s negotiation mobile application and its implementation within client’s organizations. Finally, he recently completed the development of SNI’s new interactive online negotiation training program.

Andres has guest lectured on negotiation at various universities and conferences including Ohio University, Johns Hopkins University, University of Baltimore, Endicott College, York College, Queen’s University, and the National Sports Forum. He annually teaches a highly sought after course on Sports Negotiation at Johns Hopkins University.

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