Even though I deal with investments and business developments a lot, deep down, I’m a salesperson. Having spent more than a decade participating in and observing the sales negotiation process, I’ve come to realize that key rules of sales negotiation are tied to what makes a good salesperson, to a large extent.
It all comes down to this:
understanding who you are talking to.
Solve the problem in advance
Every time you are doing a sales call or a sales pitch or you are involved in a sales process in some way, the first thing you need to do is to be prepared beforehand. The aim is to get to know the relevant details as much as you can (in other words: come loaded with preknown information) so you can guide the negotiation towards what you want.
It’s a lot like playing chess. A bad chess player improvises most of the time. If you are a good chess player (I’d like to think I am), you make certain moves according to your adversary’s moves but also leave some room for improvisation in case you want to get more creative.
Hence, preparation is everything.
You have to know who is the person you’re talking to inside the company, and what will be their incentive. That way, you can solve their problem first, craft a principal agreement, and negotiate the finer points.
Appeal to personal benefits
The ugly side of sales from a salesperson’s point of view is that it’s predictable in most cases. If I’m talking to a salesperson in a specific company, their main objective will most likely be to reach their monthly or yearly goals. It’s a reasonable assumption seeing as almost half of the salespeople missed their quota in 2018. They are under a lot of pressure to hit their goals, whether they are realistic or not.
As a result, they don’t necessarily think about what would be beneficial for their organization, most of the time. They think about their own salary and their own personal gain. However, personal gain has two sides to the same coin. As a sales rep, you play into it while highlighting what’s important for the organization.
I say this because there needs to be a personal benefit tucked somewhere in your offer so the person you’re pitching to has a reason to “push” your offer inside the organization. It’s just how we as species work: we like to take care of ourselves first. Try to cover as many areas of value as possible (financial value, user value, product/service value, business-wide value, etc.) so that there’s something for everyone. By doing so, you can give up something in order to get something of equal (maybe even greater) value in return.
Be inquisitive (and patient) to gain value
The tricky part is sticking to your pitch without some information (because you never have all you need) and not hurrying to finish it. Some salespeople just want to end the pitch, read from the script and get it over with. Everybody has some amazing technology to offer or can bring better users, reduce costs, increase retention, and whatnot. Businesses are used to it. They hear hundreds of sales pitches each year, up to the point where most of the conversation they register is blah, blah, blah.
Such an approach doesn’t do any favors to either side. A smart salesperson asks questions about various aspects of the business to put himself/herself in a better position. Something like:
- Who are you working with right now?
- How long have you been working with this company?
- Have you been trying to do everything by yourself?
- What are you missing?
- What would you want to improve?
- How do you think you can improve?
- Do you have any incentive for changing what you have right now?
- What is the ultimate partnership you aim for?
- What can I offer you to make my product/service suitable for you?
From the resulting answers, I can decide what attributes of my product or service I want to pitch. Trust me – you don’t want to use all your ammunition at once. You want to prioritize interests as some will be more important than others. Prioritizing allows you to create a deal that benefits both parties so the inevitable trade-offs don’t feel like losses.
How I developed my inner negotiator
Quick story: when I was 20, I got a job at a call center after I finished my mandatory military service. For the first month, I just listened to senior sales reps giving their pitch. Two things stood out: they were very aggressive and 90% of them had a script they followed rigorously.
The central part was a six/seven-minute pitch where you kind of just throw out the information. As expected, most people failed. I talked to my supervisor and he told me something very interesting: on average, I have eight minutes to talk to a person. The company’s data showed all the clients reached a point of sale after eight minutes, meaning you have limited time at your disposal.
Most of my fellow colleagues wanted to do the pitch in order to fill up those eight minutes and then ask for a decision. What I did was play a version of ‘Twenty Questions’ as I understood that in every sales proposition, I have ammunition: my product/service and its attributes.
You can talk for hours about how great your solution is but you only need to find one point, one attribute the other side will hook on to. You need to make your counterpart feel respected and appreciated so asking about their issues and challenges, and absorbing it all shows just that
Besides asking questions, I also found it’s important to determine if further negotiation will be relevant because I don’t want to waste my time. My time in a sales negotiation is the most expensive commodity. I’m more focused on not wasting my time rather than succeeding.
Evaluate how to get a win-win scenario
Sales is an art. It’s using different tactics to gain a comprehensive understanding of what and whom you’re selling. Regardless if it’s B2B or B2C, it’s about understanding the other side has a problem or a pain point they want to eliminate or improve. Your job is to convince them that what you offer is the solution for it. It’s easy to think sales negotiations is about tit for tat. It’s not. It’s about creating a long-term, fruitful relationship.