selling process

How to Negotiate as a Sales Professional to Influence a Win-Win Outcome

As a sales professional,  you may be tempted to believe that you have no influence or power when negotiating with a customer. In fact, many sales professionals I work with during my strategic work sessions and seminars don't even realize they are "negotiating" in the first place.

The truth is, you are negotiating every single time you have a conversation with your customer and, more importantly, you have a tremendous amount of power to influence the outcomes of those negotiations. I'll explain . . .

Though the customer does bring the power and influence of the final decision and the checkbook to the table, you and your company bring something to the table that the customer cannot do by herself. Otherwise, you wouldn't be having the conversation in the first place.

You bring an outside perspective, data, research, superior products/services/strategies/ideas and proven strategies to apply your solutions they do not have, that can help them solve their most expensive and pervasive problems. But first, you have to understand what those expensive and pervasive problems are, and you have to prove to them you can solve them.

Here's how to wield your power and influence to facilitate a mutually beneficial outcome for the customer, your company and yourself as a sales professional:

1. Make a Value List. Based on the research you've done, and the conversations you've had with the customer, what is it that you perceive they value, need or want to feel like doing business with you is the right decision? What are 5-10 items you could give to them to add value to them, and help them achieve the outcomes they desire? Likewise, what are 5-10 you could ask for, in return, to be able to achieve the outcomes you and your company desire?

Make an actual list and have it with you during your next conversation with the customer. The purpose of the list is not to give all or ask for all on your list, it's to encourage creative give-and-take, and solution creation between you and the customer.

Enter a "What if?" Conversation. Now, take your list and start a non-committal, hypothetical exchange based on the list in front of you. "Mr. Smith, suppose we were to offer x?", "Would you consider . . .?" "How would you feel if . . ." Basically what you're doing here is testing the waters without raising sales resistance. You're just feeling your customer out to see which of the items on your list may or may not have merit. You're not promising anything, and the customer isn't committing to anything (yet).

2. Ask the Most Important Question. The most significant and important question you can ask your customer, to understand what they truly value, is some version of "what do you want?" How you ask this question is going to depend strongly on the relationship you have. The bottom line here is, you can do all the testing you want in step 1, but until you ask some of this question, you're guessing at what they value, at best. 

The secret to asking the "what do you want question" and getting a sincere and favorable response is to honestly disclose what it is you truly value and want from the business relationship first. When you do this, it lowers the resistance and defensiveness of the customer. They feel safe disclosing their true needs and wants because you did so first.

You can't begin to imagine the catastrophe I've witnessed when one party asks what the other "wants" before they volunteer what they "want." That's a recipe for conflict if ever I've seen one.

4. Partner to Create Viable Options. Many times your products, services, strategies and/or ideas won't appear to have merit with your customer. It won't be clear to you or to them how you can solve their problem. This is where the fun begins but, unfortunately, it's where most sales professionals throw in the towel and admit defeat.

If you've handles steps 1 and 2 properly, you've built adequate trust with your customer and created a problem solving momentum. Now, instead of trying to sell them a solution to their problem, get on the same side of the table as you customer, literallyand figuratively, and team up against the problem. Begin brainstorming ways to overtake the problem based on what you learned and discussed in the first two steps. Offer ideas and encourage them to do the same. When you here some for of "well, that won't work, but what if we try this?" coming from your customer, you've successfully entered the battle together.

5. Fight for Their Win. Now it's time to bring it home by assuring your customer you won't quit until you find a way to help them achieve their outcomes in a way that is fair and comfortable for the both of you. More importantly, make sure they know that you're fighting hard to help them achieve their win.

Consistently applying these steps to the negotiations conversations your having with your customers will help you to understand what it is they truly value. Once you do, you can then partner with them to help them achieve their outcomes. 

Sometimes, however, helping the customer achieve a win for their business may require you to refer them elsewhere for the short term, but it will lock you in as a trusted advisor, and you will be able to serve their business and drive revenue for your company long term.