Three Secrets That Have Been Missing From Negotiation Training

Good negotiators use the same secrets to communicate that cheerleaders do
Good negotiators use the same secrets to communicate that cheerleaders do

This is going to be a bit of a rant, so I should probably apologize for that in advance.

Over the past 10 years I have have read countless books on negotiating, attended training course after training course, and in the end I was left feeling that something very fundamental was missing — there were secrets to being being a successful negotiator that weren’t being talked about. There is nothing more frustrating than knowing that you don’t know something. I knew that I needed to find somebody who knew these secrets and who would be willing to share them with me.

When in doubt, talk to Sales. So that’s what I did – I started going out on customer visits with every salesperson that would let me tag along. What I saw was that there were good sales people and bad sales people. The good sales people would dive into a negotiation with a customer, tussle about the details, and in the end they would emerge with an agreement that was good for their company and with a satisfied customer no matter what they had gotten or given up. The bad sales people would enter a negotiation as though they were jumping into a street fight, have a knock-down-drag-out with the customer, and finally emerge bruised with a bad agreement and an angry customer. So what were they doing differently?

The bad sales people had clearly gone to the same negotiating classes that I had attended. They used the same negotiating vocabulary that I used and they stepped though a negotiation using the basic steps that I was currently using. They couldn’t really teach me anything. It was the good sales people who held the negotiating secrets that I was looking for.

As I focused on what the good sales people were doing, it very slowly dawned on me that they were being successful because of things that they were doing that weren’t taught in any negotiating course that I had ever taken. This clearly called for some serious beer conversations in order to gain access to these secrets.

Over way too many beers, I was eventually able to tease the answers out of the really good sales people about how they were so successful in negotiating with their customers. At a very high level, what they told me was that I had been missing the other side of the negotiation coin: persuasion. What they said is that negotiating is basically convincing someone to do something. What the bad sales people are missing is the other half of the process: persuading the customer that this is what they want. In fact, if you are good at persuasion then the customer will be falling all over themselves to buy what you have.

As I took all of this in, it started to become clear that what the good sales people were doing could be broken into three main sets of skills:

  • Rapport: they developed a sense of bonding with their customers that allowed the customers to treat them not like “the other side of the table”, but rather like an old friend that they were meeting once again.
  • Body Language: just like a cheerleader, the good sales people realized that in addition to the words that were coming out of their mouths, their bodies were also talking to the customer and they made sure that what their bodies were saying matched what their mouths were saying.
  • Knowing What To Say & When To Say It: the bad sales people always seemed to have periods of awkward silence when they met with customers. The good sales people, on the other hand, always seemed to have something to say and it always seemed to get a positive response out of the customer.

There is a lot more to this persuasion stuff and we’ll talk more about it. However, for now understand that even if you think that you know everything about negotiating, if you don’t have the persuasion skills that you need, then you still have a lot to learn!

Tags: , , , ,

12 thoughts on “Three Secrets That Have Been Missing From Negotiation Training”

  1. What a dynamite article. Once again what is taught in the classroom has little to do with what goes on in the trenches. Of the three, I vote for Rapport as the most important and the hardest to impart to another salesperson. So much of selling is art and cannot be taught, though it can be learned. Great job.

    • Tom: you’ve got my vote – rapport provides the biggest payoff. However, as you said, it’s just about the hardest thing out there to teach someone. All too often a salesperson either has it, or they don’t. It’s when they don’t that the real work begins!

  2. One Fantastic and practical Point to be noted is ” Perod of Awkward Silence” . Although a born Sales guy cannot remain silent for long but If the the theory of What to speak and When to speak is understood well then perhaps chances of SUCCESS are more.
    Thanks for Sharing it . It’s simply Great. Wish to explore deeper into this secret!!

    • Faisal: you are 100% correct. I have yet to meet a salesperson who could stay silent for long. However, the best ones sure seem to do a good job of letting the customer think without interrupting them. Talk about a skill that’s hard to teach someone!

  3. I agree with most of this article, with a couple of thoughts.

    There is no doubt that the hardest thing to learn, for a salesperson, is what to say and how to say it.

    However one could say that “Enthusiasm” replaces “Body language”.

    Most importantly though, I would suggest that “Rapport” be replaced by “Trust”.

    Not only does “Trust” apply to the salesperson, but even more critical, is that “Trust” be applied to the salesperson’s organization.

  4. I find the sales people with natural ability have no problem being silent. Rapport is crucial but what’s ALWAYS worked for me is walking into a negotiation telling your prospect they are going to be so happy, even if they look at the number and expected it to be lower they WILL be happy because you told them were going to be so they will automatically believe the number could have been so much worse and given that they may ask for a little more but they will never push to hard because they already feel like they should be happy!

    Make sense?

    • Deborah: you are so right! If you set the expectations before the conversation gets started, then the other side will be expecting to have those expectations met. Sure they might want to be MORE happy, but just meeting the expectations should at least make them happy.

      This all goes back to one of the basics of sales negotiations: you’ve got to prepare in advance for the negotiation. If you don’t know what you want to get out of it, then the other side won’t know how to give it to you!

    • Deborah: bingo – and just how one get’s that influence can be the key to success. Ultimately influence (not intimation) comes from having trust in someone and that takes time. Investing the time to build that trust with the customer up front can lead to fantastic rewards farther down the line!

  5. Thank you for the brilliant article. It explains all the stuff in a very simple way. I am sure I have read stuff books and in training courses but had similar feeling that something was missing and this article clarifies the confusion I had.
    As it is said its always the simple and little things that matter most and solve problems.
    What I have learnt from my experiences is to be open and KNOW your stuff which helps build rapport and trust. This builds your confidence and body langauge follows. Knowing what to say and when to say comes from experience and getting to know as many people as possible.


    • Tauseef: you have said it very well! The key to being a good sales negotiator is to realize that it’s not all about clever tricks and good use of words, but like you say – you need to realize that you are dealing with real people. The better job that you do in getting to know them and understand what their needs are, then the more successful you will be in your negotiations.


Leave a Comment