Negotiation: A survival guide to avoid being taken for a ride
Gullible sellers are the perfect target for a seasoned negotiator. They are so focused on their sales targets that they fail to see where their leverage really lies. The higher the stakes, the more the negotiator take advantage. Here are a few tips to avoid being hoodwinked.
Look out for mirages
Forget the win-win
A win-win negotiation is nice in theory. But if you’re up against an old pro who knows every trick in the book, you’re signing your own death warrant if you use that technique from the get-go. Because when it comes down to it, the aim of “win-win” is to work toward a common goal that advances each party’s interests to the max. In the best of all possible worlds, one could certainly see this method leading to both negotiators living happily ever after. But in the real world, a compromise in which both sides come out even only exists in theory.
Sussing out fake transparency
This tactic involves setting a negotiating trap by pretending to do the opposite. In other words, saying very nicely, and with a big grin: “I’m telling you that I’m not doing what I actually am doing to you.”
Need an example?
It’s when your client tells you:
- “Here’s what I can pay for this project. I can’t go a dollar over that. I prefer to let you know right away so that we don’t lose time negotiating, because my hands are tied.”
Rather clever, no? What you should actually read into that:
- I’m trying the “take it or leave it” trick as an opening gambit, and we’ll see if you take the bait.
Listen but make up your own mind
For years, sales reps have assiduously taken training that teaches listening skills. For good reason. But listening is not necessarily believing. Buyers often make a point of checking the information they are provided. Sellers less so.
A few examples:
- Believing in buyer superpowers. Sellers too often overestimate how much buyers know about their company and their business. Sometimes, it is enough for buyers to simply say they know the business well to have the seller take their claim at face value and assume they already understand all the ins and outs, constraints, cost structure and so on. But anyone who buys on a regular basis knows that it’s not so simple—far from it. Only gullible salespeople believe purchasing is easy.
- Believing in the imminent OK. Some negotiators are really good at letting salespeople believe they are on the verge of sealing the deal. The goal is to get the seller to share their confidence and expectations with as many company colleagues and managers as possible. The more they talk about it, the more they will be reluctant to let the deal fall through.
- Negotiating on their terms. This includes things like letting clients impose their own line of reasoning as fact, or when they ask you to solve problems that they themselves created. Another mistake is a willingness to discuss absurd hypothetical prices. It’s the anchoring effect: I start by mentioning a very low price, and the more you discuss that price, the more you will use it as an anchoring point as the negotiation moves forward.
How to stay on your guard
Accept that you can’t be liked by everyone
Unfortunately, you don’t get to negotiate your deals with your friends. Always try to keep a bit of distance between yourself and the people with whom you negotiate. You don’t really need to be friends with the buyer to have them put ink to paper. Don’t hesitate to act surprised, ask uncomfortable questions and showcase your strengths. Plant the seeds of doubt in their mind.
Know when to be quiet
Don’t waste your time explaining yourself or trying to make a point when the buyer makes unverifiable claims. If a buyer hassles you to tinker with a condition because they know that a such and such coefficient is applied at another company, all you have to say is, “Those are your figures, not ours.” Believe me, you’ll stop them in their tracks.
Plan on having a standstill clause
If you’re dealing with an overly ambitious client with far-flung assumptions about your business relationship, you can simply throw in some standstill clauses. Either they will agree, which is an indication you can trust them, or they will baulk and refuse, which is as good a lie detector as any.
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