7.2 Collaborate to Negotiate

Now that you have learned about the role of closing in the selling process and techniques to close the sale, it’s time to dig a bit deeper into the process of negotiating. Depending on the product, service, or prospect, some sales might be straightforward like, for example, buying a computer (“I’ll take the MacBook Pro with the fifteen-inch screen”). The price is posted and there is no room for negotiation. However in many situations, especially in business-to-business (B2B) selling, the pricing, length of contract, terms, options, delivery dates, services, and other aspects of the sale can all be negotiated. Negotiation, like selling, is a process. Following the process helps improve your chances of getting what you want.

The Art of Negotiation

Simply put, negotiating is “the act of discussing an issue between two or more parties with competing interests with the aim of coming to an agreement” (Entrepreneur, n.d., para. 1). While that might sound like an impossible task, it is not as difficult as you might think. Even people with differing positions or points of view share a common interest, which becomes the basis for finding common ground. It’s these common interests—security, economic health, personal recognition, control—that motivate people. It is negotiating that provides profit for organizations. The collaboration between parties is what provides companies the opportunity to exchange goods and services for money.

Image showing an iceberg in the arctic with its underside exposed.
Photo by AWeith, CC BY-SA 4.0

It might be helpful to think about a negotiation like an iceberg. Although you can see the tip of the iceberg, it can be deceiving because it does not tell the entire story. The same is true when you are negotiating; your prospect may say something that appears to be obvious but really wants to achieve other things that are hidden below the surface. Using the process of negotiation to learn more about your prospect’s motivations and interests, you can understand what is below the tip of the iceberg. It’s usually the part of the iceberg that you can’t see that is more substantial and has more impact that the portion that is visible. When you come prepared, listen, and probe during the negotiation process, you can learn a lot about what lies below the tip of the iceberg and use this information to collaborate and eventually reach a common ground on the issues. For example, assume you are selling advertising space for a men’s magazine to the hottest new beer company. Your contact at the beer company wants to get the word out about this new brand but has a very small budget, so he doesn’t want to pay the full published rate for the ads. You don’t want to sell at less than the published rate because that will lower the value of your ad space.

The tip of the iceberg shows that this is a price negotiation. However, if you ask the right questions and listen more, you will learn that his ultimate objective is to get people to taste the beer because that is the best way to get new customers. If he can get a major sampling opportunity, then he can use it to go to other media partners to get other sampling campaigns. Now you have gotten below the surface of the iceberg and understand his motivations. With this additional information that wasn’t readily visible on the surface, you can offer him an advertising package that includes ads in the magazine in addition to sampling opportunities at three upcoming national events that the magazine sponsors. Now the negotiation is focused on all parties winning by getting something they want, rather than simply negotiating on price. Getting below the surface provides valuable information and insights for negotiating.

Definition of Negotiating

Understand that negotiation takes place only before you agree to anything: “If you ask for something before a contract is signed, it’s called ‘negotiating.’ If you ask for something after a contract is signed, it’s called ‘begging.’ It’s better to be a good negotiator than an expert beggar” (RCM Staff Report, 2003).

Negotiate to Win-Win-Win

A successful negotiation can be measured by its ability to deliver a mutually beneficial solution to all parties. Some people believe that negotiation is an act that yields a “win” for one side and therefore a “lose” for the other side. The win-lose approach usually ends up in a lose-lose deal that doesn’t work for anyone (McGarvey, 1997). This philosophy of negotiating is selfish and short term. In addition, this approach implies that negotiation includes some kind of confrontation or manipulation to “trick” one side into doing something that it doesn’t want to do. This is an unethical approach to negotiating.

In selling, negotiating and closing go hand-in-hand. Just as closing is not a one-time event, negotiating is a process that has both short-term and long-term impacts (Selling Power Sales Management eNewsletter, 2003). The best negotiations are collaborative in nature and focus on delivering mutual satisfaction. According to Leigh Steinberg, lawyer and sports agent, “The goal is not to destroy the other side. The goal is to find the most profitable way to complete a deal that works for both sides” (Webber, 1998). Effective negotiating is based on respect and is seeded with open communication. Collaborative negotiating is dependent on the following three elements (Cohen, 1980, p. 163):

  1. Building Trust
  2. Gaining Commitment
  3. Managing Opposition

1. Building Trust

You’ve already learned in Chapter 5 that establishing and building trust is key to relationship building. Negotiating is the ultimate extension of a relationship because you and your customer are agreeing to concede on some points to make the relationship go even farther. If your prospect signs a contract with your company for products or services, you are now even more dependent on each other to make the relationship work. It is the true win-win-win relationship. But if your prospect doesn’t trust you, or you don’t trust her, it will be difficult to enter into a negotiation that will work for both of you and both of your companies. Building trust is the precursor to all business transactions, especially negotiating and closing.

The best way to build trust during the negotiation process is to gain trust before the formal negotiation. And then, during the formal negotiation, focus on the ends rather than the means (Cohen, 1980). In other words, instead of focusing on going head to head on each issue to be negotiated, concentrate on keeping the end goal in mind. Take the time to listen and understand exactly what is motivating your prospect so you can deliver what is important to her. “Negotiation is needs based,” according to the online Selling Power Sales Management Newsletter. Understanding what is important to you and to your prospect drives your negotiation (Selling Power Sales Management eNewsletter, 2003).

Power Player: Lessons in Selling from Successful Salespeople

Honesty: The Best Negotiating Tool

Marty Rodriguez, one of the top real estate brokers worldwide for Century 21, has a simple formula for successful negotiations. She feels strongly that the real estate business isn’t just about closing the deal—it’s about providing honest information to help customers make the decision that’s right for them. She tells prospects everything from the fact that there is structural damage on a property to whether she thinks a deal is out of their price range. “When you treat people that way they’re not only happy to give you a commission—they become raving fans,” according to Rodriguez (LaBarre, 2007).

2. Gaining Commitment

Part of the process of closing is gaining commitment on every specific element of the sale. To do that effectively, strive to gain commitment long before you begin the formal negotiation. That means using every touch point you have at the company to help you. While you might think it is impossible to enlist others in your prospect’s company to help you sell, consider the creativity of Art Fry, the creator of 3M Post-it notes. Fry stumbled upon the semi-sticky adhesive years before the product was introduced after creating the first version of the product as a way to mark hymns in his hymnal at church, he started giving his new invention to secretaries and coworkers at 3M. Soon secretaries were taking the pilgrimage between buildings on the 3M corporate campus just to get more of the sticky note pads. It was the demand from the people who used the product that ultimately generated interest in marketing the product to consumers. Fry successfully gained commitment from others in the company as a way to “sell” his new invention as a marketable product (Beato, 2005).

3. Managing opposition

It’s true that although a negotiation is a collaborative effort, it is inherently a situation that addresses opposing views. The best way to manage this is to be prepared and know what’s important to you and your prospect.

Power Selling: Lessons in Selling from Successful Companies

Searching for Common Ground

Microsoft wanted to be more dominant in the Internet search business and saw the acquisition of Yahoo! and the development of a new search engine named Bing as the way to gain market share quickly. Although Microsoft made a bid to buy Yahoo! in early 2008, it wasn’t until July 2009 that a deal was closed. The original $45 billion takeover bid was shunned by Yahoo! much to the dismay and dissatisfaction of the shareholders because senior management wanted the company to remain a separate company (Burrows & Hof, 2009). Then, newly appointed Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz saw an opportunity for common ground and negotiated a deal that was a win for everyone. Under the ten-year agreement, Microsoft’s Bing will be used to power Yahoo! searches. Yahoo! will receive 88 percent of the revenue from all searches done on Yahoo! web sites. Customers and advertisers now have a viable alternative to Google. Negotiating a solution that lets everyone win, including the customer, takes creativity and time (Goldman, 2009).

The Three Elements of Negotiation

Every negotiation, whether it is in business, politics, or your personal life, includes three critical elements. Understanding the role of these elements can help make you a better negotiator.

The Three Critical Elements of Negotiation

  1. Information. When you do your homework, research, and ask questions about what is important to your prospect, you may be able to avoid negotiating on price all together. If you have information, and share information at the appropriate time, you can make a negotiation a huge win for everyone (Cohen, 1980).
  2. Power. According to Herb Cohen, known as the world’s best negotiator, power is based on perception. If you perceive you have the power to influence your situation, you do (conversely, if you don’t believe you have the power, you don’t) (Cohen, 1980).
  3. Time. Time is the great negotiator. Ninety percent of all negotiating occurs during the last 10 percent of the set time frame. Deadlines force decisions to be made and negotiations to come to fruition. Use time to your advantage by never revealing your deadline. Don’t negotiate when you’re in a hurry; chances are you won’t get the result you want (RCM Staff Report, 2003).
The three elements of negotiation: Information, Power, and Time.
“The Three Elements of Negotiation” by Freddy Vale, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0


Everything Is Negotiable

Many salespeople are afraid of negotiating. They are worried that they won’t be up to the challenge to persuade someone to do what they want or to pay their price. Confidence and preparation go a long way to achieving a satisfactory result on both sides. Negotiating and closing are ways of gaining agreement. The old saying goes, “Everything is negotiable,” and it’s true. Your prospect believes the same thing so be prepared to negotiate about virtually every aspect of the sale. For less complex sales, the close might come as a result of a simple question at the end of the presentation. However, for more complex sales, there are various elements of the sale that must be agreed upon to close the sale. Elements such as price, length of contract, service, terms, and options are common points to be negotiated as part of the close.

One for All

Negotiations in B2B selling usually require multiple parties to be involved from both companies. You may find yourself negotiating one-on-one with a prospect or being a member of a negotiating team that works with a prospect team to negotiate a deal. Either way, the same principles of negotiating apply.

Many salespeople are concerned about negotiating price. They think that lowering the price will make the sale. In fact, price is rarely the motivating factor behind any purchase. That’s not to say that price isn’t important, but customers buy value, not price. If price were always the determining factor in purchases, premium brand such as Porsche, Apple, and Neiman Marcus would not exist. If you’ve ever shopped at Nordstrom, Banana Republic, or Abercrombie & Fitch, you decided that those retailers offered more value than Old Navy, eBay, or Wal-Mart for the item you bought. Price is a part of the value equation but not all of it. According to author Kelley Robertson, “Everything you say and do from the first contact with a prospect affects the value of your product or service in their mind” (Robertson, 2008). That means establishing value with your presentation, demonstration, testimonials, follow-up, and everything that comes before the actual negotiation. How is your product or service different? What advantage does it offer? What is the most important problem it will solve for your prospect? (Robertson, 2008)

Holding Firm

Forty percent of customers ask for a price concession not because they want it to close the sale but because “they had to ask.”

Fifty percent of salespeople give price concessions on the first request.

The best salespeople negotiate on value, not price, and use creative negotiating to find common ground (Francis, 2008).

If your prospect wants to negotiate on price, use your creative problem solving skills to get to the end that will work for all parties. Use concessions, something that you are willing to compromise, to create value during the negotiation. For example, use length of the contract, payment terms, service, delivery date, training, or other elements to demonstrate to your prospect that you are willing to work with him and give him something that has value to him.

I’m not able to meet that price, but I can offer you three months of training worth $3,000 at no charge.

How many employees would be included in the training?

The following is another example:

That pricing is only available if you carry the entire product line. If you add all ten of the products into all your stores, I can meet that pricing.

We can take a look at that.

The bottom line is that it’s best not to make a concession without getting a concession. In these examples, the salesperson always used another part of the deal to give something and get something in return. This win-win-win approach helps reach common ground and close the sale faster (RCM Staff Report, 2003).

Steps of the Negotiation Process

While negotiation has some elements of being an art, there are three specific steps that can be followed to help ensure success with each negotiation.

Table 7.2.1 Three Steps of the Negotiation Process


1. Pre-negotiation

  • Get in the right frame of mind; be confident about the value of your product.
  • Do your homework; know who’s sitting on the other side of the table and what’s important to him.
  • Set prenegotiation goals; identify the minimum that you will accept for the deal and be ready to walk away if you can’t get it.
  • Identify an offer that is higher than your prenegotiation goals to allow some room for negotiating.

2. Negotiation

  • Make your initial offer and hold firm.
  • Identify other “currencies” with which to negotiate to reach common ground.
  • Be specific and identify every element of the deal in detail; put it on paper to avoid surprises later.
  • If you encounter a deadlock, put the issue aside and come back to it at a later time in the negotiation.
  • Avoid getting emotionally involved; be ready to walk away if you can’t make a deal that is mutually beneficial.

3. Post-negotiation

  • Celebrate with all appropriate people; consider dinner, cocktails, or another get-together.
  • Use the negotiation to build your relationship.
  • Record what you’ve learned.
  • Be ready for the next negotiation.

Step 1: Pre-negotiation

Start off in the right frame of mind. Be confident by knowing that you are one of the finalists for your prospect’s business. If you are confident that you have the best product and represent the best value for the price, you already have the beginning of a good negotiation. On the other hand, if you’re not confident or don’t believe in the value of your product, chances are you will not negotiate well (Francis, 2008).

Once you believe you are presenting the best option with the best value to your prospect, dig below the surface in research and conversation to learn what’s really important to your prospect. Ask a lot of questions; negotiators report that they often have to ask five levels of “why” to get to the “root cause” or true motivator of the person with whom they are negotiating (Hoult, 2000).

Identify your pre-negotiation goal – objectives that are identified before a negotiation begins and which identify the minimum you are willing to accept to make the deal happen. This is critical to your success as a negotiator so that you don’t give away more than you want in order to make the deal. Pre-negotiation goals should be realistic based on what you want to get out of the negotiation and what your prospect wants or needs to get out of the negotiation. This is where you have the opportunity to explore creative solutions that may address different aspects of the sale. (Are you willing to provide additional services rather than provide a price concession? Will shorter payment terms help your prospect be able to sign on the dotted line?)

It’s a good idea to realize that your pre-negotiation goals should not be the same offer you put on the table. Always allow some negotiating room as the first offer is rarely, if ever, accepted. Your prospect wants to feel as if she was able to get you to move from your original position. When you identify your prenegotiation goals, you know where you may end up, and also give yourself some room to negotiate (Hoult, 2000).

Step 2: Negotiation

This is where it all comes together—your preparation, prenegotiation goals, strategy, and understanding of your prospect’s needs. Although you have done your homework and set your prenegotiation goals, hold firm on your initial offer. This allows you to learn more about what your prospect thinks is important and why. If you give in too early in the process, your prospect will feel like the negotiation was too easy and may have an expectation of getting even more concessions than you are willing to give. The general rule of negotiating is not to accept the first offer. That means you will need to reiterate the value you deliver and hold firm to your initial offer (Tjan, 2009).

As the negotiation progresses, consider offering a concession to move toward common ground. But for every concession you give, get one in return. For example, “I’ll be able to look at pricing like this if we were able to be your exclusive distributor in the Northeast.” This is an example of using other “currencies” to make the negotiation work. In this case, the currency of exclusivity is used in exchange for a price concession (Tjan, 2009).

Specificity is key in negotiating and closing, because once an issue is negotiated, it will be difficult to revisit it. Define each negotiated point in specific terms such as the number of days until delivery, specific payment terms, options that are clearly spelled out, and any other information that will clearly define your agreement. In most cases, all these elements are included in the contract that is signed as a result of the negotiation. It’s always best to clarify each point during the negotiation and put it on paper to avoid misconceptions, bad memories, or surprises down the road. If there is no contract, it’s a good idea to follow up the negotiation with a written summary of the agreed upon points (Selling Power Sales Management eNewsletter, 2002).

If you encounter an issue during the negotiation that causes a deadlock – a point in the negotiation at which discussions stop due to disagreement on an issue or a stop in the discussion, set the issue aside and revisit it after other elements have been negotiated. You may find a way to include the thorny issue in a concession for a different negotiating point. It’s not worth getting held up on points during the negotiation; simply set them aside and revisit them at a later point in the negotiation. When you leave the most difficult issues until the end, other issues have already been resolved and both parties are motivated to find a resolution (RCM Staff Report, 2003).

Getting emotionally involved in a negotiation makes it extremely difficult to walk away from it. That’s why many professional people such as actors and actresses, professional athletes, writers, and others have agents negotiate their contracts (Novicki, 1996). It’s a good idea to remember that it’s not personal, it’s business (Webber, 1998). Not all negotiations end in a deal. Based on your prenegotiation goals, you may need to walk away from a deal if it isn’t mutually beneficial. Keep in mind that your ability to negotiate is directly linked to your ability to walk away from the deal. If you don’t have any other options, you have given up any power you might have. It’s a good idea to always keep your options open (RCM Staff Report, 2003).

Step 3: Post-negotiation

At this point, every element of the deal has been negotiated, agreed to, and documented on paper. It’s a good idea to take some time to celebrate a successful negotiation including all appropriate people at dinner, cocktails, or another get-together. This is a good way to recognize everyone’s contribution to making the negotiation a success and to look forward to enjoying the benefits of the partnership (Webber, 1998). There’s one thing that’s true about every negotiation—it will surely lead to other negotiations in the future (Novicki, 1996).

11.2 Collaborate to Negotiate” from Selling For Success 2e by NSCC and Saylor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


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