The Ultimate Negotiation: A Very Tough Customer

A Tough Customer Requires Special Negotiation Skills
A Tough Customer Requires Special Negotiation Skills

In the world of negotiations there are the easy ones (getting a discount on that lawnmower that you bought) and the hard ones (a difficult customer to whom nobody has ever been able to sell). It’s the difficult customers that are the most interesting because they are a real challenge no matter what stage of negotiating you are at. Let’s take a look at this type of customer and see if we can come up with a strategy that will boost your chances of successfully concluding a negotiation with them.

Negotiations with a difficult customer rarely look like a formal negotiation with both parties sitting on different sides of the table. Rather, a negotiation with a difficult customer often starts out as a discussion and then steers into negotiation territory. That’s why you as a negotiator always needs to be ready to switch into negotiator mode when the customer wants to start negotiating.

One of the best things that you can do right off the bat when you are dealing with a difficult customer, says Grande Lum who is a negotiation training profession, is to take ownership of the situation. All too often customers become upset with the way things are going and they feel that nobody is stepping up to the plate in order to take charge and solve the problem. By accepting ownership of the situation and perhaps even going so far as to apologize if it is called for, you can diffuse the situation from the start.

Your next challenge is to find out why they are being difficult. There is a good chance that their motivation for being so adversarial has nothing to do with the deal that you are currently discussing. Rather, long simmering issues with you company, other people who work for your company, etc. could be spilling over into the deal that you are currently working on. Of course there is also the possibility that this is just the way that this customer deals with anyone who is trying to get him/her to buy something – it’s a negotiating tactic.

Lum has come up with a clever way to deal with difficult customers which he calls the ICON framework for negotiation. ICON stands for the four steps that you need to move through during the negotiation: Interest, Criteria, Options, and No-Agreement Alternatives. When using this frame work, you first probe the customer for Interest, then you use the information gleamed from this to establish a Criteria that you can use to understand and persuade, next you brainstorm with the customer to come up with Options and finally you make sure that you identify No-Agreement Alternatives so that you have a fallback option should the negotiations not work out.

If you are looking for a magical silver bullet that will instantly solve your negotiation problems with a difficult customer, bad news – it doesn’t exist. However, if you can get them engaged and get them talking and into a problem solving mode then you’ve succeeded in getting them working in the right process. In some cases this just is not possible with your customer. You then need to reach out to others who work at his/her company and ask for their help in understanding what is causing your negotiation problems.

How have you helped to move things along when you find yourself negotiating with tough customers? What techniques have you used to resolve the problem? Have you ever had to work with other people at the customer’s firm in order to get things moving again? Leave a comment and let me know what you are thinking.