Five Behaviours that Characterise the Very Best Negotiators

Negotiating is something that most of us do every single day, either in our personal or business lives. Negotiating with customers is core to a salesperson’s role, it’s a skill that will help or hinder your quest to beat quota, so you’d imagine that as a profession we are highly skilled negotiators, I’m sorry to say that this is often not the case.

I’ve had the pleasure of observing lots of salespeople negotiate over the years. I’ve witnessed all levels of capability, from salespeople who can deliver a really difficult message and still seem to finalise negotiations in a positive manner through to salespeople who struggle to say “no” and end negotiations with an angry customer. My goal with this post is not to teach you how to negotiate, there are lots of resources to help you with that, but to point out the behaviours that I have observed in the negotiations that reach a positive conclusion and seem to be missing from those that don’t.

The negotiating text books will tell you that you should be striving to achieve win/win situations in all of your negotiations and while this is true, let’s be pragmatic … both parties may be happy with the outcome of a negotiation yet I’d bet a large slice of my house on one party being happier than the other. That’s OK, a perfectly balanced outcome is rare. It’s also perfectly OK to walk away from a negotiation where there is just too much of a gap between negotiators or your counter party is being unreasonable. In one recent negotiation that I was involved in, a customer asked for double the level of service for a 50% reduction in spend and delivered the message with a “take it or leave it” ultimatum, it wasn’t a difficult decision to walk away.

Here’s five behaviours that strong negotiators exhibit, it’s not an exhaustive list but is a great place to start if you would like to develop your negotiation skills :-

  1. Prepare effectively : Sounds obvious but by doing your homework prior to a negotiation you will always conclude with a more positive outcome. Make sure that you understand what’s of most importance to your customer, you have a clear walk away point, you understand the items that you have at your disposal to trade and the relative value of the trade-able items for you and your counter-party.
  2. Practice the negotiation with your sales coach : If you are to deliver the strongest possible negotiating performance then you should ensure that you practice and role-play the negotiation. Finding a weak point in your position during the real negotiation is not helpful, much better to find it early, in the safety of your office and have the opportunity to iron out any issues before you negotiate for real.
  3. Be confident and decisive when saying “no” : Saying “no” is part of all negotiations, it’s the only way of determining the boundaries of the negotiation. Be comfortable and confident doing so. Don’t be half-hearted, don’t dither or be indecisive. Stand your ground and be very prepared to explain why the point you are saying “no” to is important to you and do so with conviction. If you are negotiating with a skilled negotiator they will lock onto indecision and you will find yourself in a tricky position.  
  4. Stay calm and balanced, keep your emotions in check : This is critical, work hard to disconnect your emotions. The best sales negotiators are the ones that succeed in staying very calm, they listen, question and challenge the customer’s point of view but do so in a very authentic, collaborative way. They accept criticism or challenge without showing their frustration and always remain positive.
  5. Be Comfortable with silence : I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen a salesperson ask a question during a negotiation (or any other client meeting for that matter) and then, as they get very uncomfortable with silence, start answering the question for their customer. Please, please , please don’t do this, become great at feeling comfortable with silence. Wait, let your customer think and answer the question. Chances are it will give you insight to help the negotiation move forwards positively.