Focusing on negotiation skills doesn’t give you power
If you are responsible for B2B selling, chances are that you often negotiate with your business clients. The outcome of these negotiations determines whether you’ll continuously nurture your growing business with profitable transactions or not.
That’s why many salespeople and top executives are always learning how to negotiate better and improve their negotiations skills.
However, the problem is that the more we focus on the negotiation skills needed at the very last (closing) stage of the sales process:
- The more difficult it is to recognize and build up our negotiation power before negotiations take place
- The easier it is to forget about working towards win-win outcomes with our clients
Interestingly, building up our true negotiation power with corporate clients has usually very little to do with a flashy negotiation performance during negotiation meetings.
Instead, we should accumulate our negotiation power long before the negotiations following three simple principles.
Sticking to these enabled me to successfully sell, negotiate and sign plenty of profitable, multimillion dollar transactions with global key account clients during my B2B sales career.
PRINCIPLE 1: Engage early in the purchasing process
The earlier in the purchasing process you engage with the client, the more likely you can cocreate the project vision together with the client.
Also, the sooner you engage, the more time you have to earn the client’s trust, which emerges naturally as a result of your consultative selling efforts.
Both cocreation and trust increase your natural negotiation power, as many client decision leaders will sell your project to themselves long before you offer it.
PRINCIPLE 2: Know your client inside out
Having engaged early on, you have plenty of time to get to know and properly qualify your client in the best possible way, as a sales team. Here comes the second principle:
The more you know your client’s industry, business, key decision leaders, stakeholders, initiatives, needs, pain points, shortcomings, wants and goals, the more ideas you have on:
- Solutions that will help your client respond to their needs or resolve problems
- How to propose your solution, so it attracts each decision maker individually
- How to effectively differentiate your solution from your competitors’
- Which tradeables valued by the client should be used in the negotiation process
- What may be the win-win scenarios and outcomes for you and your client?
So, the more you know your client before any negotiations take place, the more likely you will:
- Face only minimal negotiations once you offer (as they already want both you and your solution)
- Have plenty of powerful and relevant tradeables to play with during the negotiation process. From this perspective, think of every bit of information about your client as ammunition that guides and empowers your subsequent negotiation approaches
PRINCIPLE 3: Communicate unique business benefits and value
The third way of increasing your negotiating power is to identify and communicate early on all the unique business benefits that the client will get if they implement your solution.
Product analytics faster by X hours/days? Shortening time-to-market by X weeks/months? Saving Y hours of costly working time of Z client’s employees as a result of your solution?
Whenever you translate your solution’s functionalities into business benefits like the ones above and then into business value (linking confirmed benefits to cost savings or increase in revenue/profit of the client), you upgrade the relationship with your client.
This is because by communicating the benefits and value of your solutions, you change your role from a vendor of a commoditized product to a strategic partner who can provide the client with the strategic business value. Needless to say, the latter role powerfully increases your negotiation power at the end of the sales process.
As you can see, there is a lot you and your sales teams can do long before negotiations to improve your competitive position and increase your negotiating power.
And if you are still not convinced, just think of your average conversion rate with clients whom you meet for the first time during their request for proposal (RFP) process and therefore submit your standard offer.
Not a great conversion rate to say the least, right?
Therefore, rather than obsessing about negotiation skills, I invite you to practice systematic, strategic account management using the above three principles.
By doing so, you will increasingly cocreate solutions with your clients rather than sell to them.
You will collaborate more than push.
You will consult more than sell.
And by creating these dynamics, you will often make the negotiation process… irrelevant.