By Jeb Blount
Every author of every book on negotiating is quick to point out that in business and life, everything is being negotiated, and that as humans, we are negotiating naturally at almost every point in our daily lives. But despite this blinding flash of the obvious, despite the fact that salespeople are required to negotiate as part of the job, the brutal and undeniable truth is that most salespeople suck at negotiating.
There are five reasons why salespeople get ripped up like cheap t-shirts by buyers in sales negotiations.
Poor Emotional Discipline
Effective negotiating begins and ends with emotional discipline. When salespeople get beat at the negotiation table—just as in the example above—90% of the time it’s due to their inability to rise above disruptive emotions in the moment. Fear, insecurity, anger, attachment, eagerness, desperation, and more all conspire to undermine the salesperson’s ability to think clearly and maintain their cool.
Lack of Training
Executives and leaders put tremendous pressure on their sales organizations to hit sales numbers, then complain bitterly after the fact that their salespeople are not negotiating hard enough. The one constant refrain from executives is that their salespeople “leave too much money on the table.
Yet, they invest very little money in training for sales negotiation skills. Nor do they train their sales leaders to model, coach, or reinforce negotiation skills. It’s as if salespeople are somehow supposed to be born with the ability to negotiate effectively.
When companies do provide training on negotiation skills, the training content and curriculum is, more often than not, disconnected from the sales process. Sales negotiation is treated as a separate discipline rather than part of an integrated and complete system.
Worse, it’s usually delivered by training companies that specialize in teaching negotiation tactics—but not sales-specific negotiation skills. Because the trainers that work for these outfits have very little experience selling anything, they are unable to connect the dots between the sales process and the sales negotiation.
In my entire corporate sales and sales leadership career that spanned more than twenty years, I attended only one training session on negotiation. On that occasion, my sales manager used his personal budget to bring in a negotiation training company. In that training, I mostly learned how to negotiate as a buyer which was helpful that year when I was purchasing my first home. Once the training was complete, we called it good and moved on. We never reviewed the material again.
These one-and-done training events feel good but have little long-term impact. Leaders and sales enablement professionals fail to understand that sales negotiation skills are perishable and diminish over time. For this reason, if companies want their salespeople to negotiate at a higher level, there must be a commitment to both initial and ongoing training.
Failure to Self-Invest
Negotiation is a fundamental part of being a sales professional. No matter who you are and what you sell, you are going to be required to negotiate with buyers.
The companies I worked for didn’t provide much in the way of negotiation training, but with my income on the line, I realized that if I didn’t become a better negotiator, I was going to pay a price. So, I resolved to invest in myself and get better. I read everything I could get my hands on about negotiation, paid my own way to attend negotiation seminars, and sought out mentors who could help me master negotiation skills, strategies, tactics, and techniques.
In sales, when you out-learn, you out-earn. To become an elite sales athlete, to keep your skills updated and sharp, and to become a master sales negotiator, you must invest your own money, time, and effort in books, audio books, workshops, and online learning programs. You must subscribe to newsletters, podcasts, trade magazines, industry publications, blogs, and sales publications to stay current on your own industry and the sales profession.
Use your drive time wisely. The average inside salesperson has a commute of one to two hours a day. The average outside sales rep spends between four and five hours a day in a car. Turn your car into automobile university or your commute into train, Uber, bus, or plane university.
Invest that time in learning rather than listening to music or talk radio. Listening to educational and personal development audio programs during your commute or in your car can give you the equivalent of a university education many times over.
Buyers Are Better
Buyers, as a rule, generally have more power at the sales negotiating table and are better at negotiating sales outcomes than salespeople. There are several reasons:
- Training. Buyers—especially professional buyers who work in procurement—are usually professionally trained in how to negotiate with salespeople and win. Thus, salespeople often find themselves in an amateur versus expert competition. It’s like a local club team taking on a professional sports team. The scale is tipped decidedly in the professional’s favor.
- Information and Knowledge. Buyers typically have more information than the seller. Buyers have entertained presentations and proposals from multiple vendors. They have information on specs, product and service comparisons, and pricing. In general, buyers are doing far more research on competing companies and market conditions than the salespeople they’re negotiating with. This information gives them leverage and power when negotiating with less informed sellers.
- Alternatives. Buyers tend to have more alternatives than salespeople. This strengthens their power position and lets them exert greater emotional control at the sales negotiation table.
The number-one reason salespeople are in a weak position and lack emotional discipline at the sales negotiation table is an empty pipeline. When you have an empty pipeline, you get desperate. When you get desperate, you get up-close-and-personal with the Universal Law of Need:
- The more you need to close the deal, the more you will give away to close it.
- The more you need to close the deal, the less likely you are to close it.
Effective prospecting and a full pipeline instantly make salespeople better negotiators. An abundant pipeline gives you emotional control, assertive confidence, and the ability to negotiate as if you don’t need the deal.
If you want to learn more about sales negotiation skills, check out Jeb’s new book by clicking HERE.