Dealing With “What-If” During A Negotiation

All too often a seller will run into a buyer who likes to ask “what if”
All too often a seller will run into a buyer who likes to ask “what if”
Image Credit:
Hugo Cardoso

The goal of any negotiation is to always be using our negotiation styles and negotiating techniques to keep things moving forward. We want to eventually be able to reach a deal with the other side. The only way that we’re ever going to be able to get there is if we can make progress on the various issues that have to be resolved. However, sometimes things can grind to a halt. One way that this can happen is if the other side starts to ask us “what if”. When this occurs, we need to be ready to deal with it.

The Power Of “What If”

The issue of dealing with a what if question generally comes up when we have something that we’d like to sell to the other side of the table. We show up, we present them with a price, and then we sit back and hope that they accept it. However, this is generally when they whip out their what if questions and start to throw them at us.

The way that this generally works is that the person who is doing the buying will ask you how much it will cost if they decide to buy a certain quantity of your product or service. Once you’ve answered this question, they’ll then increase the amount that they are interested in buying and they will then ask you how much that would cost. They may repeat this process several times.

What the buyer is trying to do is to get more information about your organization. They’d like to know about your costs, your prices, and, of course, your profits. The buyer’s goal is to strengthen their position within the negotiation. Note that once the buyer learns the lowest price that they can get from you (generally for the largest order), then that becomes the price that they start their negotiation from.

How To Deal With “What If”

When we find ourselves in the position of being the seller who has encountered a buyer who starts to ask us a lot of what if questions, we need to be aware of what is going on. As a seller, we need to make sure that we remember the importance of time. This means that we need to take our time before responding when we are asked what if questions. The good news is that sometimes this line of questioning can lead to us getting a larger order than we were expecting.

The most important thing that we need to realize about dealing with what if questions, is that we need to slow things down. You don’t want to answer quickly because if you do you know exactly what is going to happen – you are going to get hit with even more what if questions. You can slow things down by telling the other side that you have to get back to them with the answer. Perhaps you have to consult with other people at your firm.

What you are going to want to be doing at the same time is probing the other side. You want to find out what the other side’s real needs are. How much of your product do they really intend to order? This will all take time. Also note that the answers to your questions may not come directly from the other side, but instead come from other people in their organization. This could all work out in your favor and you may be able to convince the other side to place a larger order than they were originally planning on.

What All Of This Means For You

As negotiators we like it when a principled negotiation that we are involved in moves along quickly. However, that’s not always the case. Sometimes the other side of the table can slow things down by starting to ask us a lot of what if questions. What they are trying to do is to get information out of us about our product or service. What should we do then?

The other side will ask us a series of what if questions. Each question will deal with the hypothetical situation where they would be placing a larger and larger order for products. What they are really trying to do is to understand what our pricing system is. We need to be careful when this starts to happen. We need to slow things down. This is a good opportunity for us to start to ask questions about how much they really need and what they are going to do with it. This can all end up in the other side placing a larger order than they were planning on.

We should never look at a series of what if questions as being a bad thing. The fact that the other side is going to the effort of asking them means that they are interested in doing a deal with us. Make sure that you take you time in answering these questions and use this as a chance to find out more about the other side. These questions just might lead you to the best deal ever!

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Negotiating Skills™

Question For You: How long do you think that you should allow the other side to keep asking you what if questions?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I think that we can all agree that what it takes to succeed in a negotiation is for you to have the information that you need. Now, it this was a perfect world, you’d have access to even more information – the secret stuff. You know what I’m talking about, the other side’s strategy planning documents, lists of what their restrictions are, information on what their bosses want them to get out of this negotiation, etc. Under normal circumstances we’ll never see these documents. However, sometimes…