How to negotiate like a pro

With continued economic uncertainty, you might find that your prospects are delaying on closing deals, or taking a much more cautious approach when it comes to investing in new products and services. In these circumstances, mastering the art of negotiation could make the difference between closing a deal and losing out to a more proactive competitor. In this article, Shaine Gravett, left, Head of Sales at Sopro, shares his tips on becoming a successful negotiator. 

Define your approach

Most sales and marketing professionals have their own negotiation style, but there are some common themes when it comes to the most – and least – effective approaches. For example, there’s the “churn and burn” method, which is all about volume of sales. These types of negotiators tend to want a quick close and will therefore drop straight to the lowest price, before moving onto the next prospect on their long list of leads. Next, there’s the “in it to win it” people, who are likely to have a well rehearsed sales pitch that they are ready to launch into at any given moment. They typically have set goals which they are fully focussed on, meaning they often do not take the time to ask their audience any questions or get to know them. Then there’s the “lasting value” negotiator, who listens carefully and gets to know their audience. They adapt and build their offer according to the prospect’s feedback and needs, demonstrating good intent and bringing true value, rather than a rehearsed pitch. This type of negotiator tends to get the best results in the long term, and while it might not always have an immediate impact, this approach could be particularly successful in the current climate, helping to build a stronger relationship with the target audience.

Knowledge is power

Before starting conversations and negotiations, you should do as much homework as possible to understand your prospect’s business and history. Has the company previously invested in the services you’re offering, or worked with a competitor? Consult its website, blog and social media, and research where else it appears online, looking out for any recent media coverage and partnerships with other organisations. You can also start to understand the company’s tone of voice and approach to business, which can be emulated during the negotiation phase. This research should then be fed in a clear action plan which outlines the bespoke approach you plan to take when entering conversations.

Take your time

A successful negotiation is very rarely a one-off event; more often it is the result of a relationship that has built over time. A number of positive touch points will be involved – particularly when following the lasting value model mentioned above. From the very first point of contact with a prospect, consider how to make each conversation a positive one in which you are truly listening to and understanding their needs. When the time finally comes to close the deal, you will need to have understood how your product or service can meet each of these needs, and how it can bring value to the business. Don’t rush the process – investing time into the initial stages will pay dividends when it comes to the final pitch. 

Once you have built rapport and trust with your prospect, you can enter the more active stage of the negotiation process and ask questions about their precise situation. This can be done in a discovery session, which should be a transparent, frank conversation about the barriers they are facing and any concerns they might have about investing in your product or service. It is vital that you listen rather than speak for the majority of these sessions, prompting them throughout the conversation but ensuring that they feel heard and understood.

Close the deal

Now is the time for you to present your solution to their challenges. If you have a template pitch, adapt this so that it is completely bespoke to their needs. Ideally, your prospect should feel as though a brand new solution has been tailor-made to fit them. Present the key features first and highlight all the benefits of working together, addressing their concerns along the way and focussing on how your product or service solves their problems. Don’t undo your hard work by reverting to the “churn and burn” or “in it to win it” approaches when it comes to getting them to sign on the dotted line. Rather than asking outright whether they can close immediately, gauge their readiness by using phrases such as “Based on what we’ve discussed, how do you feel about moving forward?“ or “On a scale of 1 to 10 where are you?”. If they are a seven or above, this suggests they are ready to proceed.

In businesses where every expense is being scrutinised more than ever, the final decision might be down to the finance team, rather than the contact that you have built a relationship with. Providing your contact with some softer assets – such as a video demonstration, case studies and engaging sales collateral alongside the hard proposal can help them to get approval from the decision maker. Ask if there is anything else you can provide to help secure a final decision. And consider using silence rather than filling it; allow them to progress the conversation and determine the next steps. And even if the decision doesn’t go your way, take the lessons from the process and move onto the next opportunity.