By STEVE BARRY
“Just give me my goals and get out of my way.”
Does that sound like any salespeople you know? Many salespeople, by nature or necessity, are action oriented. Instant action, particularly when action equals sales, compensation and personal gratification, is glorified.
But this action orientation inadvertently leads to a perennial weakness for many sales organizations: negotiation. Taking action without preparing for a variety of negotiation scenarios often leads to missed opportunity, whether in the form of blown deals or closed deals that leave money on the table.
To be effective negotiators, salespeople need to invest significant time in preparation. To paraphrase Louis Pasteur, “Opportunity favors the prepared mind.” Negotiation is much like remodeling a kitchen: the prep work takes the most time. It’s painfully tedious. It can feel like you’re not making progress. But, if you skip steps, it can cost time, aggravation and money in the long run.
It’s not that salespeople don’t conceptually understand this. They do. But their bias for action often trumps their desire to be prepared. The trick for successful sales managers is to broaden the definition of “action” so that it includes preparation for negotiation.
For example, if you asked salespeople to define negotiation, most would say that it’s the process in which they and their customers engage to resolve differences and arrive at a satisfactory agreement. It’s the end game. But what if the definition of negotiation from the salesperson’s perspective also included the actions of pre-defining their opening strategy and concession strategy? In that context, challenging issues such as price and the role of purchasing are deliberately woven into initial conversations.
This sort of “negotiation selling” requires customer insight, preparation and a degree of flexible choreography or “process negotiation” – thinking about how, where and when to introduce possible points of negotiation into the conversation. The stress of intense end-stage negotiations, in which the customer has the leverage, is greatly reduced and successful negotiations result.
But where do you begin? For starters, it’s important to avoid classic mistakes by asking yourself four questions that will go a long way toward being fully prepared for successful negotiations.
There are other important considerations, of course. You must know your own negotiating style and the implications that style has on cutting a deal. You must be intimately aware of your individual customer’s situation and his or her organization’s current state. You must be able to develop rapport with the client, provide and obtain information, and recognize opportunities to gain leverage. And, ultimately, you must be able to close the deal.
All of these considerations will be made easier by taking a more expansive view of what negotiation entails. Salespeople who thoroughly prepare in advance for the challenges they will face during negotiations can achieve greater success at the bargaining table.
Steve Barry is senior manager of strategic marketing at The Forum Corp., a global professional services firm and strategic learning solutions provider that helps develop the skills of many of the world’s most effective sales forces. For more information, visit www.forum.com.