Negotiation is an important aspect of any type of business. The ability to effectively reach agreements with clients, vendors, competitors, even employees can often make the difference between a successful enterprise and one that is constantly struggling.
However, despite the importance of being able to negotiate, many people avoid it or feel apprehensive or unconfident going into meetings. After all, negotiations are focused on contested issues, in which both sides want to “win,” and will often go to great lengths to do so. Even if you believe that your argument is stronger than the other side’s, chances are they feel the same way. Not to mention, people do not always react and respond the way that we think they will, and consequently, negotiations often break down, or one side leaves the table feeling like they “lost” or conceded more than they intended to.
While individual communication styles, participant expectations and positions, and potential outcomes are all important considerations when planning a negotiation, the foundation of a successful negotiation is set well before the first arguments are made. Without a comprehensive, well thought-out plan, any negotiation session is bound to end in disaster. Having a plan is especially important in the realm of sales, where the plans you make now could mean substantial profits in the future.
Do Your Homework
When negotiating in the sales environment, buyers and sellers are working at cross purposes. The buyer wants to get the best deal possible, while the seller wants to make as much money as possible. The trick then, is to find a way to make both sides happy.
Usually, this involves doing some research. Knowing how your product fills their need better than any other product on the market, and how your product compares to others, is only the beginning. You have to identify your opponent’s pain points, and be prepared to address them. For example, for a customer investing in network security, the sticking point may not be the equipment itself, but the payment terms and budgets are a common concern.
Go into the meeting with a plan to address those concerns. This might mean identifying any manufacturer incentive programs that your client qualifies and taking the necessary steps to register for them. These processes often take time (for instance, Cisco’s OIP program sign up steps for resellers can take up to several days to complete) so don’t wait until the last minute to complete them.
Setting the Stage
Planning an effective negotiation isn’t just about making offers and making your case. The actual physical environment of the negotiation can make a difference in how it plays out. Everything from the temperature of the drinks you provide to the chairs you sit in can make a difference in how the negotiation is perceived. Think about it: If you’re ushered into a conference room furnished with hard plastic chairs around a table with nothing but documents on it, chances are you are going to expect the negotiators to play hardball with you. On the other hand, if the room is warm and comfortable, with cushioned chairs and an array of snacks and drinks to choose from, you’re probably going to expect the conversation to be friendlier.
Setting the right stage is very important in sales. You want to make your clients and customers feel comfortable, and not be on the defensive from the beginning. Pay close attention to the environment, and make changes ahead of time to ensure a successful negotiation.
Create an Agenda
Finally, another key part of planning for a negotiation is to develop an agenda of the points that need to be discussed. Doing so creates a roadmap for the meeting and prevents it from veering off topic or derailing on minor points. Most experts recommend negotiating the “easy” stuff first, and saving concessions for the more important topics.
Sometimes, giving in on the minor issues can pave the way for a better outcome on the more important topics. In addition, keeping your negotiation framed around one or two key points — typically why your solution is the best option for the client and how you can best serve their interests — helps maintain focus and keep the meeting on track.
According to one survey in Negotiator magazine, nearly half of the time devoted to any successful negotiation is spent before anyone comes to the table. Some even argue that the planning is the most difficult part of the process, as it requires strategic thinking that goes beyond why your argument is superior. Regardless of the challenges though, planning for a negotiation is vital to success, and learning to do it well can increase your chances of success.