All Sales Negotiators Need To Know That Numbers Lie

You can't believe every number that you see…
You can’t believe every number that you see…

There is something almost magical about hard numbers: we all seem to assume that they are correct when we are presented with them during negotiations. However, I want you to think back to when you were in school and you were working on your math homework. Did you always come up with the right answer for every question? I think not. That’s why sales negotiators need to be very careful when the other side presents us with numbers – you can never accept numbers that you haven’t created yourself.

Why You Can’t Trust Numbers

Numbers printed on a page or displayed on a screen have a sense of finality about them. I mean, numbers don’t lie, do they? Well, it turns out that even in a principled negotiation if they don’t lie, they can mislead. We need to think of numbers as simply being another type of the other side’s negotiation styles or negotiating techniques.

There are a couple of things that a negotiator needs to realize when the other side presents them with numbers during the negotiation process. The first is that you are probably not seeing all of the available numbers. Instead, the other side of the table is probably only presenting to you numbers and figures that support their position.

What this means is that there are more numbers out there. What’s not being presented to you are the numbers that favor the positions that you are trying to negotiate.

The other issue is that no matter what is being negotiated all numbers can be challenged. One of the key things that a negotiator needs to realize is that numbers can always be interpreted differently. Often the numbers that will be presented to you will be based on historical measures and estimates about what will happen in the future. These numbers will show what the other side wants them to show and this means that you can challenge them.

What To Do When You Are Given Numbers

All of this leads to the big question: what should you do when the other side presents you with numbers in order to support their point? What you are going to want to do is to challenge their numbers. This can be done in a number of different ways.

When you are given numbers by the other side, ask them how the data was collected. Then go on to ask them exactly when it was collected. No set of data is ever complete so make sure that you find out what data should have been included and what data should not have been included in their collection efforts. The list of things that you can ask questions about goes on. There should be questions about the data’s timeliness, its accuracy, exactly who collected or measured it, and whether or not it’s even relevant to the negotiations.

When the other side presents you with numbers, you need to be skeptical. Assume that the numbers are biased and make sure that you ask a lot of questions about the numbers.

What All Of This Means For You

Although we all have some sort of built-in trust of numbers, it turns out that this trust is misplaced when it comes to negotiating. Whenever the other side of the table presents us with numbers, we need to make sure that we don’t accept them as given to us – believing numbers that are presented by the other side is not part of the negotiation definition.

The other side may not consciously be trying to mislead us, but perhaps they are. What often happens is that the other side will selectively present us with the numbers that support their position. What this means is that there may be a lot of information that they are not sharing with us that might tell another story.

As a negotiator, your job when presented with numbers is to question them. You need to ask a lot of questions about where they came from, who collected them, and how they were generated. It’s only by asking questions like this that you’ll finally be able to reach an agreement over numbers with the other side.

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

Question For You: What do you think that you should do if the other side start to get defensive when you start to question their numbers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

How does the other side of the table see you during a negotiation? Do you come across as being a nice guy? How’s that going for you – are your negotiations turning out the way that you want them to, or are the negotiation styles and negotiating techniques that you’ve been used resulting in negotiations that drag on and deliver less than you had been hoping for? Maybe it’s time to bring a friend along to your next negotiation – a “bad cop”