Buyer-Seller: The three commandments of surprise

staff Published by Staff

Every year Halifax Consulting meets with thousands of sales reps to help them improve their B2B negotiating techniques. We try to find out how they react when a customer puts them to the test. What have we observed? Nothing much surprises sales reps anymore!

French cinema lovers who have seen Itinerary of a Spoiled Child will surely remember this legendary scene in which Jean-Paul Belmondo teaches Richard Anconina a few “business secrets,” including the importance—in his eyes—of never appearing surprised:

This is one time where Belmondo got it wrong!  Surprise is a useful tool in a buyer-seller relationship. Why? Because acting surprised shakes things up. As the saying goes, “silence means consent.” And you can say a lot by showing your surprise. Here are the three commandments of using surprise to your advantage at key moments.

Thou shalt be surprised at questioning about prices

What happens in your client’s head when you name a price? For most, more expensive means better. When you quote a price range to a client, you have to be sure of yourself. So if your client questions your prices and you’re not surprised, what message does that send? That your quality isn’t up to par? That they didn’t ask for enough? They were right to challenge you—and now it’s time for you to show that you’re surprised! The idea isn’t to sidestep discussion or negotiation, but to always act surprised when your proposal is questioned, because in your mind, the value it offers is clear to see.

Thou shalt be surprised at complicated language

Everyone will tell you that you need to do things simply to sell effectively. That includes negotiating financial terms. If you don’t understand the client’s processes or counteroffers, be surprised!  You run a risk when you have the impression that the buyer is speaking another language. Don’t waste your time listening to a litany of procurement processes that are all over the place. Negotiate them! The most underhanded buyers are often the ones who announce their terms most boldly. The Wolf of Wall Street can attest to that.

Thou shalt be surprised at urgency

If your client seems to want an answer from you at all costs without even making time to meet with out to discuss their request, needs and priorities, then something smells fishy. Unless you have a .44 Magnum pressed against your temple, there’s no point in entertaining this sort of approach. Here again, act surprised and let the person know that you don’t accept their terms. Never forget that you’re the one who decides when the contract will be signed, because you’re the one dictating the tempo. The client can’t make a decision until they know your final offer. 


  • Logo linkedin