Focus on How: Negotiation Tips

The battlefield of a sales professional is negotiation.

It is arguably the most difficult part of working in sales because it takes us out of our comfort zone and demands skill and the acumen to successful overcome objections and partner with the client to ensure the deal closes.

Looking back over my sales career poor negotiation has led to breakdowns in communication and the inability to help my client transform their business with the solution.

My mistakes in negotiation have been rooted in several failures:

  • Being on the defense in tackling client objections
  • Not understanding their true pain point and business challenge from the beginning (lack of deep discovery)
  • Inability to detach emotionally from the deal
  • Lack of assertiveness.

When I’ve successfully negotiated a deal, I was poised and kept a creative mindset. As sales professionals we would like our sales cycles to be packages that we can wrap in a bow – with problems, easy solutions, clients sign on the dotted line and we move on.

As an expert in your industry you should be able to intuitively and systematically make certain assumptions based on your knowledge – of how to solve the customer’s problem. Example: Client is faxing and has no secure email. Your answer: encrypted email that has an Outlook plugin. You show them the tool, build value around the time and in theory close the deal.

  • This line of thinking is not wrong, but it can be incomplete.
    • What other tools are they using now?
    • Why is change important to them?
    • What reasons do they have for maintaining the status quo

We keep going back to ‘Discovery,’ because you really need to dig deep – even when the solution and sale cycle appears easy and obvious. Clients often don’t fully trust sales people immediately and may be withholding certain information – which comes out in negotiation (price, competition, new need).

The deeper you can get to those obstacles early in the process will help you power through any negotiation and establish you as a trusted partner.

In negotiation too many sales professions either get defensive in handling roadblocks/objections or they go on the offense.

Why I love the game of basketball (Go Heels) – sales negotiation is never won by playing on one side of the court.

  • Defensive: This typically happens when we feel attacked by the objection – usually because it is so unexpected. This happened to me a few months ago when I got on what I thought was the final call …I fully forecasted this deal to close without a hitch. But the client came in with new objections (competition) and we found out there was an unknown partner. I was on the defense – defending our product and essentially having to politely argue with the client to stand up for my solution.
    • While I did address his objections – the client was in control of offense. They weren’t going to listen to my objections and I was so emotionally attached to this deal that I was unable to step outside and pause.
    • In this case I don’t think I could have won the deal due to outside circumstances, but I learned a lot about avoiding a defensive posture in negotiation.
    • Emotions drive negotiations for customers as much as facts, but we have to dismiss our emotions. We can speak with empathy to client emotions in the negotiation – but the minute we get emotionally involved (if this doesn’t close I’m not hitting quota) – we won’t be effective because it becomes about us and not the customer.
    • When we are emotionally attached in negotiation we get so caught up in the ‘argument’ for our product we don’t listen and problem solve the real pain points driving this.
    • Successful negotiators meet clients on neutral ground – ready to speak to the value of the solution and objection handle – but not from a place of fear, anxiety of defense.
  • Offensive: Being proactive, strategic and tactical in negotiation is great, but going on the offense in negotiation is well offensive. You are taking control the deal (which is a good thing), but doing it in the wrong way. I’ve seen this play out when a colleague bashes the competition or uses a churn and burn strategy – anything to win the deal. Discounting, manipulation – it plays out in different ways and gives all sales professionals a bad name.
    • I use the term Offense here to describe that badgering controlling behavior. It is important that sometimes being on the offense can be a good thing -when we are proactively problem solving and using tactics like SPIN to handle objections before they arise. Offense in negotiation however may win a deal, but it will cost the relationship and trust with the client. It devalues your solution and any professionalism

So what do we need to do?


Client Sales Professional

In an online LinkedIn Learning, Lisa Earle McCleod discussed what I think of as the Solution Triangle. In sales negotiation the solution should be center of the negotiation.

The solution is going to solve business objectives for the client and you have to work together in negotiations to continue to establish and show that value. We are salespeople, but in truth a good salesperson is not ‘selling’ – they are valuing their solution and showing how it impacts client businesses. You are a partner – not an adversary.

“Play the board, not the player,” is a chess saying (I don’t play, but is relevant here) – you know the value and how it can help your client. You don’t need to paly into their emotions – but rather play to their business needs and hold firm with value.

Be assertive – not aggressive. too many sales professionals think that being assertive means using that churn and burn – ‘when is this closing,’ ‘I need xyz’ – you know the pushy sales person – they don’t listen and aren’t negotiating – they are pressuring.

Negotiation is not something to be fully avoided or feared. How many times have you had a deal that seemed perfect that fell apart because the client was afraid to bring up their objections because they hated negotiating. They were afraid of being honest about hesitations so in the end you both lose.

It is okay if the client doesn’t see the value – as long as they are honest about that. I say this because how many times have I demoed and said – ‘Does this seem helpful’

‘Oh sure.’ but the client doesn’t see the value – they are just being polite to avoid conflict.

Please be transparent because the earlier we see that value isn’t built we can handle that objection and guide them. We can listen to understand and act on that objection/obstacle.

Tip: Always have the client describe the impact a feature or process would have to their business. Get them talking and to verbally admit the pain and how we solve it. If they cannot do this – you need to dig deeper

Tip: The more value to build the easier budget negotiations will be to overcome. Negotiations on budget are usually because the client doesn’t see the value and the cost of the problem outweighs your solution.

Tip: In discovery don’t just focus on the solution requirements – but also lay out the business objectives. You can prove the solution requirements (Solution can do xyz), but if it is not aligned to the overall business objectives from the start – you will hit objections with DMs in the negotiation stage

Tip: Make sure you are aware and engage all the key stakeholders early on. A big objection – is ‘my boss is too busy for this.’ and they may be in theory -but using language like ‘I understand they are extremely busy, but as you said they have x and y initiatives it is important we loop them in to ensure we are meeting all of their needs on this project.’ I usually loop in my manger and level up here as necessary. We genuinely want to be respectful of the DMs time and nothing is more respectful than a quick conversation to ensure they are investing their budget into the correct solution.

Negotiation is a focus for me the next two weeks and I will share what I’m learning.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments about what negotiation techniques have worked for you and what obstacles you have faced.


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