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!

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