The Negotiator Magazine
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Ask The Negotiator
John Baker
Ask the Negotiator is designed to afford our readers with the opportunity to ask questions about any aspect of negotiations and provide them with answers from experienced negotiators in future editions of the magazine. Please direct your questions to John Baker at [email protected]. We will only publish your first name or the nom de plume you suggest along with your country when your question is published. Your question will be answered either by John Baker or by a member of The Negotiator Magazine’s growing list of outside negotiation resources.

John Baker has well over thirty years of active negotiating experience in educational, (USA) Fortune 100 corporations and small business companies. He has negotiated collective bargaining agreements both for unions and for management. Dr. Baker’s experience includes agreements across a broad range of negotiation areas, including marketing alliances, purchase and sales contracts, acquisitions, joint ventures, non-profit and government services agreements and even the peaceful conclusion of student protest sit-ins on more than one occasion. He holds a Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University (USA).

And now, this month’s letter…

Sales Force Training in Negotiations — Key Skill Components

From: Stewart (USA)

Dear Negotiator:

What would you consider the top negotiating skills for a salesperson? I have to minimize time out of the field and improve the results of my sales force rapidly with some focused training sessions at our sales meetings.

Dear Stewart,

You have posed an interesting question and a practical scenario for a sales negotiating training program. The challenges are several in delivering it. Let me mention some of these for your planning purposes and then I will move to identifying the top skills I would include in your plan.

The first of these challenges will be to position the program with some of your sales force who probably are certain that they do not need the training since they negotiate every day now. In fact, some of them may know a lot about the topic and they can become your in-house coaching team.

Your positioning must make it clear that the training is designed to enhance skills not test current knowledge, the material covered is practical and not theoretical fluff and that it is expected to improve performance immediately for both the sales person and the company. As in any sales force training, some real experience in sales by whom ever is a going to lead the delivery of the program will be a major factor in establishing credibility. Then, of course, you have got to deliver as promised from the first session.

Now, here is my list of top skills:

Preparation is the critical first step to success to any negotiation, but the one that people often choose to neglect. Don’t go off on some complex chart and planning document exercise because your sales force is not going to do it on a regular basis. Of this, I am certain.

Here, you need a benefit approach as should be used for each element of the program: What do you need to know? Why? How do you get the information? How do you use it? What’s the benefit?

What is needed is to focus your people on gathering usable intelligence largely from the customer as a critical part of their sales endeavor and making planning an integral part of their preparation so that they enter every call with a plan for applying the information in the negotiation. This is truly one of those cases where it is the thought that counts. No company charts, maybe the back of napkin is enough. What counts is the plan.

Listening. Too often, salespeople are so focused on their own proposals that they fail to truly listen to their customer or to read their body language clues. Sales persons need to learn this skill to gather essential intelligence about their contact, the customer firm, the industry within which they operate as well as the contact’s perception of the salesperson, the relationship, the sales firm and the marketplace. This skill has an abundance of resource information on how to improve it.

Ethics. It is a dangerous world filled with temptations and fuzzy standards, but your personnel need to know that your company and their employees have an ethical code, what it is and that it is to be adhered to at all times. Here is the time to get into the real world of gifts, favors, throw-ins, miss-billings and whatever else lurks in the recesses of the marketplace. Here’s what we do, what we do not do and how we handle these matters in our organization is the message.

Avoiding the Single Issue Trap. Selling on price alone is a sales program’s certain route to their company’s financial disaster. Strategies for moving from price only bargaining to multi-issue negotiations are essential skills that must be central to your program. This is the skill area that addresses the essential differentiation of your force as value-added providers of commodity sales personnel. This is one of the teachable and critical areas of negotiations.

Internal Negotiations. Creative sales solutions are expectable and desired, often they make the difference between success and failure. Blind-siding other departments with unexpected commitments to customers, however, is never the path to glory, interdepartmental harmony or profitability. Promises of immediate shipments, unique wrinkles for custom software, out of territory services, special billing terms and the like need to be an essential part of the salesperson’s negotiation process and this internal dimension is vital as a part of the program.

Without writing a longer essay on this matter, here are the other vital topics: constructing and presenting offers; concession strategies; relationship building and preservation strategies; putting the agreement in writing; handling difficult people; dealing with unfair tactics; and lastly and critically important, when to walk away and how to do it.

In order to speed-up the impact of this program on results and reduce the time your people are out of the field, you may want to do what many companies are doing: select some key books on negotiations and send your people free copies of them. Plan time to discuss them at future sales meetings, ideally with a negotiation expert as facilitator. Reviews of many of the best of recent books, in this author’s opinion, are listed under Book Reviews in the Subject Index of this magazine. If you have not done so yet, I would also suggest that you sign your people up as free subscribers to this magazine. Much of negotiation knowledge is often best acquired incrementally and then woven into a synthesis by the reader over time.

Lastly, as in learning any set of new or enhanced abilities, negotiation skills need to be practiced and positive experiences reinforced regularly. If you use Win/Loss sale reviews or something of this nature by another name, an examination of the applications and results of negotiation tactics and strategies used with the customer should be a part of the process. Negotiation is truly one of those areas that one learns best by doing. I would suggest that making the practice of negotiation in salary and performance review sessions and everyday interaction with your sales personnel should be a part of your team’s joint expectations and behavioral standards.

Good luck,
John Baker

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Copyright © 2003, John Baker
Copyright © 2003, The Negotiator Magazine