As an ex-professional buyer, negotiation is always a fascinating topic for me. Whenever I’m working with salespeople or business owners, they often fail to get the price for their products or services that they wanted — and often get even less than they deserve.
And the pressure is even greater in today’s market conditions — where savvy buyers are looking to get the best value when they’re purchasing. Therefore to get good results, the salesperson or business owner has to be able to stand their ground in a negotiation in order to get the price they deserve. Sadly, this often doesn’t happen.
So why is it that the buyer often has the upper hand when it comes to negotiation?
One simple reason is that the buyer is often better prepared to negotiate than the salesperson is. Often a salesperson gets caught up in a negotiation when they aren’t ready for it.
So if you think that a meeting or phone call could result in a negotiation, make sure you prepare for it beforehand. If a negotiation starts before you’re ready, don’t be afraid to postpone it and re-schedule it for another time when you’ve had chance to prepare.
Another typical reason that salespeople struggle to get better results from their negotiation is that on most occasions, they’re so desperate to win the deal that this comes across to clients, and they use that as leverage to swing the negotiation in their favour.
Prospects and clients can smell desperation and it certainly isn’t attractive. Once a client knows the salesperson is more desperate to do the deal than they are, that just gives them the green light to get the best deal they can.
It’s about time that we realised that prospects and clients often want to do the deal as much (or sometimes even more) than we do — but often we don’t know it.
Any buyer or decision maker worth their salt will attempt to play tricks during a negotiation. If you can spot these and deal with them, then you’re usually fine. However, most salespeople aren’t even aware what the other party is doing and end up falling for them.
You need to learn how buyers and decision makers operate so that you can deal with their tricks and handle their objections.
Another reason salespeople often come off worst in a negotiation is that they fail to find out enough about the other party before the negotiation starts. The decision-maker may well have strong reasons to purchase now. Very often there are pressing issues that mean they want a quick deal. But if the salesperson doesn’t know this, then they lose the advantage.
Think for a moment: When was the last time you went (or sent a member of your team) on a professional negotiation skills course, lasting for, say, one to three days? Possibly never.
Think about the other side: If they’re a professional buyer, you can guarantee that they will have been on such a course. If they’re a key decision-maker in a business, they’re also likely to have been on a similar course. At the very least, they’re far more experienced at negotiation than you!
One of the major advantages of an economic downturn (even a landslide like the current one is shaping up to be) is that there are great deals to be had. The challenge is that many of us are very bad at negotiating.
There is clearly an element of nature vs. nurture here; some of us are clearly genetically more inclined to haggle, while for others the process is more unpleasant and degrading than having teeth pulled.
This is especially true for salespeople who are typically outgoing and persistent, with a hide as thick as a rhinoceros. But when it comes to negotiating the detail of a deal, many experienced sales people crumble, especially under pressure from a well-trained negotiator or purchasing director.
Negotiation is a basic skill we use every day of our lives, whether it is making sure we get a cup of tea in the morning at home or in buying a car, when we are up against an expertly trained and highly motivated individual. Negotiation is not a black art: it can be studied and learned, and I have had advice from a true expert: Derek Arden.
Arden started his working career in a bank, in training and development; but soon found himself in major account management, negotiating with hard-nosed senior buyers at a large supermarket chain. He says he often left meetings with a strong feeling that he had come a distant second in the negotiation, if only because he was operating solo against a team of four people who were clearly expert in identifying and exploiting any of his personal or business weaknesses.
He resolved to read all the books available and go on courses to develop his own best practice for negotiation. He has since spent more than eight years passing on this knowledge to everyone from teams of salespeople to a high-profile individual in the Middle East who needed one-on-one coaching for family as well as business negotiations.
Arden explains that developing negotiation skills is a constant process; you always learn new techniques. Where most people fall down is in understanding the timing of a deal. This is aptly illustrated in his first major personal negotiating challenge, which was to arrange a favourable exit from the bank where he was working.
Arden's advice is that the secret to making a graceful departure from your current employer is to understand the timing: there will be a perfect time to leave, and forcing your own schedule on their internal processes is likely to be very counter-productive.
This leads us naturally into the key element of negotiation: preparation. Arden believes strongly that the most important work is done well in advance. The better prepared you are, the more likely you are to secure a good deal for yourself and for the other party. Successful deal-makers always ensure a win for both sides as they are always looking for a long-term relationship with the buyer.
The hardest part of negotiation is always the price, especially if the buyer gives no clue about what they want to pay. Arden suggests having three prices always to hand. First you should always have a high-value dream price, which buyers will accept more often than you might suspect, for example if they need your products or services in a hurry or are looking to empty a budget before the end of the financial year or risk losing it for the following year.
Then you should have a target price which represents what you feel the customer should pay, based on both value for money for them and a sensible profit for you. Finally, you have a walk away price, below which you cannot go, based on hard evidence developed internally from your delivery and finance people.
In a friendly negotiation you can even share this information, and a fair buyer should appreciate your openness and respond favourably. It is important to remember that very rarely do people buy the cheapest offer; what is more important, especially in these hard times, is your providing proof of value for money and return on investment.
Arden also trains people in advanced techniques including influencing and body language, all based around asking good questions, prepared in advance. As Rudyard Kipling aptly put it, "I keep six honest serving-men; they taught me all I knew. Their names are What and Why and When, And How and Where and Who.”
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2012. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced without permission in writing. Mike Southon is the co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur and a business speaker.