How to Negotiate (the boring, effective way)

Negotiation as a sales skill is commonly thought of as the ability to sway your customer onto your way of thinking- regardless of needs.  Sleazy salespeople are experts at this.  They use cheap conversational tricks and common logical fallacies to try and force agreement and get the win.  Fear tactics and selective inflexibility are their friend- and once the transaction is closed they disappear.  They treat sales meetings like hostage situations, and focus on getting rather than helping.  They’re obsessed with position and power- thinking only of themselves.  They make for really good entertainment on TV and in movies, but they’re just awful in real life.  I’ve written about them before- they’re scumbag salespeople.

Don’t be a scumbag.

Instead- try the consultative approach.  Your customers want and need value.  Whatever you are charged with selling has some inherent value.  Your job is to bridge that gap.


Here’s how:

Step 1: Be honest.

Seems obvious,  but as you become more and more talented at explaining value- it’s easy to cross the line.  Trying to push a little extra or omitting some relevant negative detail feels exciting.  Resist the temptation.  Stick to the facts.  What can your product or service do?  What can’t it do?  Manage the expectations of your customer with up-front honesty from the outset of any conversation.  This helps you in two ways-

  1. You won’t have to have hard conversations later when the customer finds out you omitted pertinent information.


  1. Honesty breeds honesty.  You want your customers to be truthful to you as you continuously qualify their needs– as they sense that they can trust you they will be more forthcoming.

Step 2: Find common ground

Hostage-style sales negotiators think about only one thing- power.  Negotiate from positions of power, dress in expensive clothes to show your wealth (and therefore power), and wield your persuasive ability like a medieval broadsword.  Any perceived weakness is an opportunity for your enemies.  It’s very Alec Baldwin.

It’s also idiotic.

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Your goal as a salesperson isn’t to rescue hostages- it’s to sell things!  Why would you use tactics designed to talk down a serial killer to sell your products?  What benefit could that possible have to your customers?  Rather than hunting down deals with aggressive and often reckless abandon- work with your customers.  Negotiate from a position of common ground on the basis of real value.  Combine this practice with a rock-solid qualification program, and your win percentage will skyrocket.  Remember- people want value, not to be sold.

Step 3: Keep calm and solve problems

At its core, your job as a salesperson is to solve problems.  There will be organizational objections, feature comparison problems, even personal vendettas.  Knowing when and how to address these issues as they arise takes strategic thinking.  Here are two good qualifying questions to help:

  • Is [insert problem here] critical to the business problem what I’m selling addresses?

Here’s what I mean- oftentimes objections may arise because of reasons unrelated to the business problem at hand.  If the issue being raised has nothing to do with the business pain you’re trying to alleviate, this is a good indication that you have not reached the core problem.  Keep qualifying.

  • Are you selling too much too fast?

Knowing when to move forward with new ideas is as important as being able to demonstrate value.  Once you’ve got a good grip on the business needs of your customer, you might find yourself eager to solve all the problems at once.  Remember- the business relationship is as important as the business pain.  Unless your life is a romantic comedy- you wouldn’t get on one knee and propose on a first date.


Remember- basing your sales on real value to your customers let’s you negotiate from a position of common ground.  Common ground leads to stronger partnerships, increased referral sales, and happier clients.  It’s boring, but it’s also super effective.  Be boring.


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