Negotiation skills play a crucial role in professional sales. Expertise in negotiation is a skilled practice. While some individuals are naturally strong negotiators, the best ones learn and work hard to strengthen their knowledge and learn new techniques– and they continually practice perfecting their approach.
Every negotiation conversation is different and requires far more than just product knowledge or technical knowledge of what you’re negotiating about. Each negotiation requires interpersonal skills that let you connect with who you are talking to, build rapport, and communicate in a way to engage and proactively move the conversation forward in a mutually beneficial way.
Everyone has internal motivators and drivers they will respond to in a conversation – or will shut down if those motivators are not there. Strong negotiators listen and pay attention to cues from the other person regarding what resonates for them during the conversation. When they can see and understand those, they can use words that resonate with the other person and bring elements into the conversation they know the other individual will respond to.
People want to be heard and listened to, and, when they feel that, you build rapport and relationships that support more productive conversations and collaborative outcomes for both parties.
During negotiations, people often make three common mistakes that hinder their success.
Preparation is critical. That preparation isn’t just about researching the company or individual you are meeting – though that is important, too. But when you are meeting with someone new, you have to know your key talking points inside-out so you can address everything else that comes up in the conversation. What are the questions they will ask you? What are key areas you see potential issues in the conversation or process? Preparing for how you will handle those questions and more challenging parts of the conversation is crucial. When you are ready for the ones you know are coming, you have more mental bandwidth to address any curve balls or unexpected questions that might come up.
Listening and watching for cues from the individual you are talking to are key elements of emotional intelligence to understand. Additionally, you must have self-awareness around how you show up for a conversation and your behavior during it (i.e., self-regulation). Get ahead of any emotional triggers you have so you can focus on the other person; otherwise, the negotiation conversation is likely to fizzle.
While being clear on your personal and company goals and objectives is important, being inflexible can hinder – or totally block – negotiation progress. Successful negotiators understand the importance of flexibility and compromise. They know how and when to pivot and they strive to find mutually beneficial outcomes that satisfy the interests of all parties involved, even if that requires giving concessions. Remaining open to alternative ideas and approaches creates opportunities for win-win outcomes that foster collaborative relationships for the future.
Practical experience and feedback are crucial to becoming a more assertive and confident negotiator. With a trusted advisor or mentor – who knows the practice well and will provide important and constructive feedback – engage in role-playing exercises simulating different negotiation scenarios. You want someone who knows your business and has experience of their own to give you the best feedback possible.
Be open to their feedback; some may not be expected or what you want to hear, but it is important to make you better. As you practice alone and with a mentor, you build confidence and refine your negotiation techniques. Doing this makes you stronger going in and more prepared to pivot during the actual conversation itself.
After everything is said and done, take the time to reflect. What went great? What would you do differently next time? Taking time for this self-reflection will solidify the already-strong techniques and skills while outlining what you need to work on.
At the end of the day, negotiation is not only about reaching an agreement. It’s about building relationships, understanding others’ perspectives, and finding mutually beneficial solutions.