Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that your average client is anything like a terrorist. Having said that maybe that’s what it felt like the last time you were trying to do a deal.
I remember one of my first really hard client negotiations – I was sent in with a single outcome that I wasn’t to agree to – anything aside from that was okay. During the course of that hour or so, I remember thinking very clearly that it wasn’t going well. The client was holding their ground regardless of what I said or offered and he was getting red in the face. So I stopped talking. He talked and I listened…and listened..and finally understood what was at the heart of why he wanted what he wanted.
And then a miraculous thing happened. The client agreed. He laughed and said I drove a hard bargain. Not only did I do the deal I was sent in to do, that client and I…we’ve been good friends for more than a decade.
Anyone who’s been through any kind of sales training has been taught to ‘listen’. However most of the time, the listening is limited to doing it just enough to hear the client’s buying signals and react. We have an excuse to ‘jump back into’ the conversation. In other words, we’re only listening for our cue to talk rather than listening to the person doing the talking.
Yet that approach often leads us to make incorrect presumptions on what the client or prospect is saying based on our own ‘filters’, the need to be ‘right’ and to ‘get on with it’. Hostage negotiators know differently. So how can you translate hostage negotiators advice into doing better business with clients?
Top tips for better client negotiation
- Establish credibility early – as in prove you’ll do what you say you’re going to do. Hostage negotiators often give something small away early to ‘prove’ their commitment to the negotiation.
- Identify the leaders – we’ve all been there. Lots of work only to find we’ve been talking to the ‘wrong’ person. Make sure you know who’s in control of decision making before you start any negotiating.
- Gain face to face contact. Too much is done by written word today. It’s impossible to read subtle nuances in text. And while phone is better, face to face is best. You’re far more likely to pick when someone’s bluffing, blustering or in pain (especially if it’s emotional) if you’re face to face. It also helps that the other party can see the ‘whites of your eyes’ too.
- Allow enough time to do the negotiation properly. If I’d not stayed until the end, chances are, I’d never have gotten the client across the line. And if I’d rushed the meeting to get to another, that would probably have come off as arrogant and that’s something to avoid at all costs.
- Be observant – notice the feeling of the room and its people (are they nervous, relaxed, arrogant, eager), who’s who in the room/building, do they greet you formally or casually, where do they sit in comparison to you, how are they dressed. Every detail counts in a negotiation – they tell a story you might otherwise have missed.
- Build the kind of understanding that creates trust – make them feel ‘felt’ and get beneath their real issue.In other words – get them talking and really listen. In my client’s case, he was worried that his firm would spend lots of money only to get something they could use once – he’d been burned before – it just took a while for him to really articulate that as his key issue. The previous agency had left him feeling powerless and this was his reaction.
- Take charge if things are really getting out of control. If you’ve reached an impasse pushing harder or longer isn’t going to get you anywhere. Say something along the lines of “I think I need to take a break and consider where things are at (or come back with more ideas). We’ll pick up where we left off at (insert time). Notice there’s not the use of we in the first sentence and it doesn’t ask a question at all. It’s my problem and I’m fixing it. To suggest to a client that it’s their problem is to lay blame and that diminishes trust.
Seek first to understand – most of us are just misunderstood and looking to feel ‘cared about’. Hope that helps with your next round of business negotiations. Feel free to comment on what’s worked or not for you below.