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Sales is a multi-step process, and one of the most critical steps along the way is to earn commitments that optimize our odds of winning the business AND best serving the client. This includes negotiating well and ultimately asking for the business.

Negotiation skills can be the difference maker in your success and your organization’s growth. But negotiation is often misunderstood, and most people dread it. The good news is that it’s a skill you can learn. With the right intention and approaches, you can be very successful with it and your clients will have even greater trust in you.

Negotiation Sets You Apart

Negotiation is the process of learning, understanding, and conversation – where your goal is to create a mutual win with your client. It’s an important part of the business development process, because in today’s environments there is so much choice, so much commoditization. It’s a chance to be a differentiator and do right by your client or prospect.

So why do we frequently avoid negotiation? It comes down to mindset and skillsets. There can be a mindset of fear. Negotiation can be viewed as creating conflict, and we humans naturally want to avoid conflict. There can be fear of manipulation, giving in, or damaging the relationship.

Negotiation is a learned skill that only becomes mastered with practice. Don’t assume that because someone is in a business development role they know how to negotiate, especially if it’s not their primary role in the firm. Even if someone is a strong negotiator, there’s always opportunity to learn.

A resource I recommend often is Getting to Yes: How to Negotiate Agreement Without Giving In by Roger Fisher, William Ury, and Bruce Patton of the Harvard Negotiation Project.

A Negotiation Approach Ideal for Professional Services

Let’s consider how negotiation works in a real-life sales situation. When conducting discovery and gathering intelligence, that’s where the groundwork for negotiation begins. Make it your goal to understand more of the “why” behind what’s important to the prospect.

It comes into play drafting a sales proposal. Whenever possible, try to offer choice. A standard approach is to create three options in each proposal. Offering choice helps the negotiation process. When you only present one option, you’re creating too much of a one-way street. Options open dialogue and that approach shows that you’re thinking of multiple ways to help the client.

Use the proposal as the basis for negotiation. We can discuss the pros and cons of any proposed idea or solution. More often than not, the client ultimately lands on a hybrid of the various solution ideas. They may also propose some other ideas that ultimately get worked into the engagement.

When there needs to be compromise, work to understand why it’s important to them. Let’s say for example they don’t have the budget, or they don’t want to take on too much risk in switching providers. In a situation where the client is requesting a lower budget, help them to reprioritize and remove deliverables to help them meet their budget. In a situation where they are risk averse, ask them to share what could be done to help them mitigate the risk of change.

In the end, it’s not a zero-sum game. There should be three winners: your firm, the client, and their customers/clients.

What Attributes Make a Successful Negotiator?

  • They are focused on others before themselves. They have empathy, they’re also grounded in what they would like to achieve, because that breeds confidence.
  • They come to the table with “back pocket “alternatives. They never go into a conversation with a one-sided or position mindset.
  • They use open-ended questions. For example: “What about this solution hits the mark for you? What about this solution needs some fine tuning?”
  • They conduct strategic follow up. Almost immediately after a conversation, they will send an email follow-up including agreed-to options. It’s fresh and everyone is most agreeable. A skilled negotiator always leaves a conversation better than they found it.

 

Some Do’s for Negotiation…

  • DO provide options for conversation. Know what your best alternatives are should the client make other requests.
  • DO follow-up with anything in writing.
  • DO remember that in modern selling, the value you personally bring is as important as the solution you offer.
  • DO remember that negotiation isn’t a short-term zero-sum game. You’re looking to create a winning scenario for your client, your organization, and yourself.

 

… And Some Don’ts for Negotiation

  • DON’T go into a high-stakes negotiation tired. Lack of sleep inhibits decision making and emotional control.
  • DON’T dig into your position so much that it shows lack of flexibility. It will also be hard to dig back out of that position at a later point.
  • DON’T agree to something right away if you want time to think about it. You’re entitled to take time to process what the prospect or client proposes.
  • DON’T negotiate on fees. Negotiate on deliverables and terms. This is where you have the opportunity to sell your value.
  • DON’T be afraid to walk away if the opportunity or situation isn’t a fit. There will always be another opportunity; a difficult client or one that loses your organization money isn’t worth your time, effort, or sanity.

 

Does Your Sales Negotiation Strategy Accelerate Your Sales Results?

Amy Franko is the leader in sales strategy and sales leadership coaching, helping you to design best-in-class sales programs that accelerate growth. To significantly improve the outcomes of your sales strategy, let’s schedule a conversation. Don’t let your competition get an advantage. Contact us to schedule a conversation with Amy.

 

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