Partnering for Great Decisions

By Lain Ehmann

When the customer in a negotiation seemingly holds all the cards – that is, all the buying power – it can be difficult for a salesperson to see how to move the relationship from one of antagonism to one of partnership. But it is possible to work as a team, even if you are sitting on opposite sides of the table, says Don Maruska, author of How Great Decisions Get Made (AMACOM, 2004). Here Maruska explains how.

1. Enlist everyone. Says Maruska, “Too often salespeople sell to the person they’re talking to and ignore the possibility that others might need to be involved.” The earlier all parties are brought in on the discussion, the more they’ll feel their opinions are valued.

2. Discover shared hopes. Plumb down deeply to find what’s important to your customers and know how that fits into their overall business. Don’t be afraid to share your own hopes for relationships – for example, that they be long and fruitful for you both.

3. Uncover the real issues. Half the time the issue that’s initially expressed isn’t the real one, says Maruska. If you take what customers say first at face value you’re missing the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding. “Some people talk to discover what they think,” he explains. Give them the space and time to do so.

4. Identify all options. “Get multiple options on the table so customers feel in control,” recommends Maruska. Once customers have a say in the situation, they’re more likely to drop their defensive posturing.

5. Gather the right information. When you know what’s important to your prospects, you’ll know what data is needed to move relationships forward. “It always cycles back to what customers say and why it’s important to them,” he says. Concentrating on customers’ needs shows you’re committed to serving, not just selling.

6. Agree on the facts and avoid debate. “We’re not trying to change how people think; we want to close the sale,” reminds Maruska. “People don’t want to change how they think. They want to choose a better option.” Give them the facts they need to make the logical choice and then let them make that choice.

7. Write down choices that support shared hopes. Asking prospects to rank their options in writing takes the guesswork out of decision making and accelerates the decision-making process, says Maruska. “It gives you a fast way to get to a decision. And it sticks.”

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