Sales Negotiations Training: How to get the most

Learn how to maximise your sales negotiation effectiveness. Successful sales are about ending up with win more/win more results, where both organisations feel that they have benefited from the transaction.

How many sales training courses are available today? Depending on what industry you find yourself in, I would guess that we are talking about literally hundreds of different sales courses. On one end we have sales training and methodologies focused on certain industries and certain levels of complexity involved in the type of sale. At the other end, we have generic sales technique courses focused purely on the interaction between a buyer and a seller. Examples of the first kind of sales training are courses offered by the likes of Miller Heiman, Target Account Selling etc. Examples of the second kind are those courses focusing on the "7 ways to close a sale" type approach.

With the exception of one or two of these providers, few sales skills courses have ever really broached the topic of negotiations. Negotiation as part of the sales process has been sorely neglected. Buyers haven't made the same mistake. Particularly in complex sales, buyers have been using experienced negotiators for years. These purchasing professionals have mostly had their way with sales people well versed in the art of selling, even complex selling, but little or no understanding of the principles supporting negotiations.

Buying and selling are at the opposite ends of the spectrum, but they are at opposite ends of the same spectrum. If sellers are aware of why and how organisations are buying, won't they be much more successful at getting their products and services sold? Yet most sales training programs, even the complex sales training programs, have neglected this particular area.

What exactly is sales negotiation?

The closest you can get to a mirror image of sales in negotiations, is purchasing. Large organisations typically employ specialist purchasing resources to negotiate supply contracts based on the strategic and tactical objectives of the relevant department or organisation. These individuals are more often than not seasoned negotiators who spend most of their time negotiating contracts with suppliers. They are more than up to the task of standing up to sales resources pumped full of product knowledge and complex selling theories.

Complex selling strategies cater for the complex decision making process in evidence within large government and corporate environments, yet rarely focus on the negotiation strategy adopted by the buying organisation. How often do salespeople find themselves at the receiving end of an astute negotiation strategy exercised by the buyer? In many cases the salesperson may not even be aware of the fact that they are being negotiated with. Normally, once a deal has been sold, the sales person will hand over the deal to the legal department, the delivery department or similar, who will then participate in, or even lead the negotiations to shape the final contract.

The problem is this, once the deal has been sold, a good deal of negotiation has already taken place. Sales negotiations start long before the first contact with a prospective customer or supplier. It starts with the drafting of the corporate or enterprise wide sales negotiation strategy which should cover things such as:

Sales preparation strategy

  • This should cover things such as what customers are you aiming at?
  • What strategic issues are your customers currently facing?
  • What recent buying decisions have they made?
  • What economic influences are at play in your customer's industry?
  • What are the key things this customer would want from a supplier?
  • What are the likely purchasing strategies that this customer will pursue given the information available?
  • What margin authority is assigned to your individual sales resources?
  • Set up a role play with some of your resources assuming the role of the customer and then negotiating a deal with you - you will be delighted with the amount of learning this simple exercise will bring about.

Sales resource skills audit

  • Does your sales force have a solid grounding in the basics of negotiation skills?
  • Do your sales resources have the presentation and communication skills required to enter into sensitive negotiations?
  • Has your sales team been formally trained in a complex selling methodology?
  • Has your sales team undergone any sales technique type training?
  • What kind of training regime have you got in place for new recruits?

Supporting technology strategy?

  • Does your technology platform support your sales team as they negotiate? In other words, do they have the technology at their disposal to empower them to negotiate effectively?

Knowledge management strategy

  • Are important documents readily available across the organisation? How many contracts get negotiated in isolation?
  • Is sales/company/purchasing and other information easily accessible?
  • Are sales resources aware of the same information about your company that the customer's purchasing team will most certainly be aware of?
  • Does your corporate purchasing team, including the legal department, ever interact with your sales team at a meaningful level?

I know that some of these points may seem rather obvious, but it is amazing how many organisations simply ignore the basics.

What to do to improve your sales negotiation effectiveness:

  1. If the recipe for success in the retail business is location, location, location, then the recipe for success in the sales negotiation training arena is prepare, prepare, prepare. As a rule of thumb, you should be spending at least three times as much time preparing for a meeting and talking with a client or customer.
  2. Research and attempt to understand the customer's behaviour in the market recently. What kind of large contracts have they closed recently? Do you understand the customer's strategy for procuring services and products in your sector? You will be surprised at how easily you could get a hold of some of this information. Request a meeting with the head of procurement at the prospective customer and ask them to tell you what their purchasing strategy is for the next year.
  3. Impress upon your sales resources that negotiations open the day they introduce themselves to the customer. Make sure your sales resources understand concepts such as negotiation preparation, framing, positions, interests and common ground.
  4. Learn and understand the dynamics of power. Sales resources often believe that all the power is in the hands of the buyer. This is simply not true. In many cases the seller has a lot more power than the buyer. Buyers, however, are typically more skilled at negotiating large contracts. An understanding of power will go a long way to boosting the confidence of your sales team.
  5. Spend more time with buyers. Arrange for your sales team to spend some meaningful time with your corporate purchasing team, including the legal department. Engage the senior purchasing professionals in your target customer accounts with a view to align yourself strategically.
  6. Get your senior executives, the ones that are involved in making major purchasing decisions for your company, to spend meaningful time with your sales team. Have them talk through a recent purchasing negotiation with one of your suppliers. This will provide you with invaluable insights into the mind of the buyer.

Successful sales aren't made only by sales skills. It is important to remember that negotiations start the moment you meet with your prospective customer. Successful sales are about ending up with win-win results, where all organisations feel that they will benefit from the deal. It is important to remember that in most complex sales, relationships are not fleeting, most complex sales include support, training, maintenance, components, guarantee periods etc. If one of the parties does not feel like they have won through the transaction, then it could be contended that no deal should have been struck at all. It is as important to walk away from the wrong kind of deals as it is to strike win more/win more agreements.

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