Do Salespeople Make Good Negotiators?
Do you think that your sales team you are as effective at negotiating as the procurement professionals they are facing across the buying table? I’ve got some bad news for you…
In the course of my work as a consultant and corporate trainer in the areas of sales and negotiation I have spent increasing amounts of time working the “other side” of the buying table. Over the last few years I have trained both sales professionals and procurement professionals in approximately equal numbers to negotiate.
And I have come to a disturbing conclusion – in the majority of cases salespeople just aren’t as good at negotiating as they need to be. As this concerning reality became increasingly apparent I spent much time and thought working out why this is the case and what can be done about it. My conclusions are as follows:
At an early stage in their career sales people are usually told to “keep the customer happy”. They have been taught that happy customers are good customers and go out of their way to placate unhappy customers. Professional buyers know this and will deliberately make salespeople uncomfortable by appearing to be “unhappy” as a way of tipping the power balance in their favour.
In addition selling and negotiating are two distinct skill sets. Although selling and negotiating are inextricably linked there are distinct differences:
In selling we are attempting to persuade, convince, enthuse, justify and explain. By contrast in negotiation we are stating our position, considering, making and weighing proposals and making demands for what we want.
In the majority of cases sales people are far less comfortable with negotiating than buyers are. If salespeople receive sales training the majority of the time will be spent on the process of selling and very much less time (if any at all) will be spent on the process of negotiating. Buyers on the other hand will usually only receive training in negotiation. Therefore when it comes to the negotiation stage of the sales process – buyers have the advantage.
Buyers will attempt to short cut the sales stage and pull the salesperson out of their selling comfort zone and into their negotiating discomfort zone. The experienced buyer will increase the levels of discomfort as much as possible using psychological ploys and tactics. The uncomfortable salesperson will often pay their way out of discomfort in the form of (at best) some form of financial concession or (at worst) a non-reciprocated “give away”. They will literally pay their way out of discomfort with their employer’s profit margin. For salespeople to become more effective negotiators they need to recognise this and get comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Having spent countless hours running realistic negotiation training simulations, I have often seen the salesperson’s selling comfort zone once again rearing its ugly head in terms of negotiation behaviour. Salespeople will tend to do far too much information giving in the negotiationâ€“ driven by their predilection for persuading and selling. In doing so, they miss out on gathering the necessary information that would enable them to make effective negotiation proposals. They spend far too much time “in their own head” thinking about things from their perspective and not enough time where their focus should be â€“ inside the buyer’s head, understanding things from their perspective. Professional buyers will tend to exhibit higher levels of information gathering, giving them far more knowledge and information that they can the use to their advantage. In negotiation knowledge is power.
If this situation continues sales professionals are going to continue to be taken advantage of by the procurement professionals they encounter. The sales profession must put more far more emphasis than it currently does on equipping sales people to be more confident and capable negotiators.
Simon Hazeldine MSc FinstSMM is an international speaker and senior consultant with Mentor Group. He is the bestselling author of “Bare Knuckle Selling”, “Bare Knuckle Negotiating” , “The Inner Winner” and co-author with Chris Norton of “Bare Knuckle Customer Service”.