Cold calling, or really any type of sales, is a proving ground for negotiation skills. If you have strong negotiation chops, then you close more deals than the average salesperson. It’s just a fact of life. And if you’re a sales leader with negotiation skills, then you’re more likely to lead your team in the most efficient and effective way possible. That translates to more growth and a healthier company culture.
Unfortunately, the problem is that negotiating doesn’t come naturally to most people. In fact, it’s a square-peg-round-hole problem that I see in companies all the time.
But think about it, everything in life boils down to negotiating. From getting a raise, to getting your kids to bed, and everything in-between. So today I’m going to discuss a handful of negotiation techniques you should definitely have in your sales quiver.
The Hostage Negotiator’s Playbook
All right, closing a $30,000 software deal is kind of a big deal. But it’s nothing compared to the life-or-death situations that hostage negotiators deal with. Still, we can look at the hostage negotiators playbook to learn how the real pros do it.
First, the hostage negotiator builds trust with the subject. They empathize with the person and take the “good guy” approach. After all, you are far more likely to surrender to a trustworthy friend than you are to the police.
But there’s a balancing act going on. While the hostage negotiator is trustworthy, he also means business. His respectful but authoritative demeanor shows that he is an authority, or guide. And guides help people get out of sticky situations. You can see the metaphor coming together, right?
Finally, the hostage negotiator has impeccable timing. He knows when the moment is right to signal the SWAT team to close in. A moment too soon and he fumbles the whole negotiation. A moment too late and a life could be lost.
As you’ll see, a lot of these themes are common to sales negotiating. So let’s get right into it!
Sales Negotiating Techniques to Improve Your Close Rates
1. Set the scene
To get the best results, try to set the scene so that it’s warm and inviting. You wouldn’t try to close a deal underneath the buzzing florescent lights in Walmart, so make sure your virtual space doesn’t give off this impersonal, corporate feel. This is especially true if you use Zoom or other video conferencing calls. A warm and inviting space, physical or virtual, is a necessary ingredient to win at sales negotiations.
2. Reframe Anxiety as Excitement
You and your prospect might both be nervous. Let’s be honest, meeting around high stakes can put people on edge. So be sure to reframe this in your mind: anxiety = excitement. If you’re getting anxious vibes from your prospect, keep positive, and remember it could just be that they’re excited to finally meet with you. If you get nervous, just tell yourself that the butterflies are from excitement, and a slightly excited edge actually helps you to perform better.
3. Welcome the silence
Now, you don’t want your sales appointments to be riddled with awkward silent pauses. But, sometimes silence is a great negotiation technique. Speak wisdom and let it sit with your prospect. Or … if you move in for the close — “we can start Wednesday or Friday, which do you prefer” — let the question sit with your prospect. Don’t fumble the sale by interrupting yourself! Besides, allowing for silence shows that you’re a true professional and not a sweaty-palm salesperson.
4. Ask questions. Then ask more questions
If you think you’ve asked enough questions, you haven’t. Asking questions gets people to open up and lets you into their thought bubbles, their personal worlds. If you ask the right questions, you can find their biggest pain points, fears, desires, hopes, and dreams. The best sales negotiators ask questions and listen, listen, listen. Which brings me to my next point.
5. Listen at least two-thirds of the time
A skilled negotiator listens empathetically to his prospect. Listening has two vital benefits. First, you are no longer seen as a salesperson in the prospect’s eyes. They will drop their guard and trust you like a friend. Second, by simply listening you will pick up on helpful information with which you can shape your offer. Finally, listening allows you to meet your prospect where they’re at mentally, and allows you to help by drawing a bridge to “what could be.” Aim to listen about two-thirds of the sales appointment, and skillfully connect your offer to their needs during the other one-third of the time.
6. Don’t rush in!
I alluded to this earlier — if you rush in, you will probably fumble the deal. One of the biggest mistakes I see with salespeople is a fairly short questioning session, a hard pitch, and then immediately a premature attempt to close. Rather, this should be an intimate time between you and your prospect where you two are engaging one another in a sort of dance. Patience is a virtue in sales. So take your time and allow for the conversation to unfold naturally.
In the same vein, don’t wait too long to close the deal. If you do, your buyer might go from warm to cold right before your eyes. With experience, you’ll understand timing and when to ask for the deal. (By the way, you have to ask for the deal. Your prospect won’t just close the deal herself!).
7. Stand firm on the value you offer
Don’t undermine your brand and your perceived value by slashing prices just to close a deal. You should know the acceptable range in which you can negotiate, and that’s that. Do not go any lower. When you let your buyer haggle with you, you will come across as desperate for a sale. Not to mention the tone is set for this customer/client to nickel and dime you into the future. Not a good look. Be willing to walk away. Some deals just don’t work out. And that’s fine.
8. Time tactics speed up decision making
Time is always of the essence. Thankfully, this is an easy negotiation technique to get a handle on. I recommend being explicit at the beginning of the sales appointment — agree that at the end of the meeting, your prospect will make a decision one way or the other. This time tactic works wonders. It also speeds up the decision-making process. But the real genius of this technique is that it kills a ton of objections on the spot. Now your prospect can’t say “Let me run it by the team,” or “I’ll get back to you about it,” or any other stalling objections.
As you can see, a salesperson armed with the techniques I’ve highlighted today will have a competitive edge out there. Many tricks of the trade really just boil down to earning trust, listening, and being patient. Remember, that’s basically how an expert hostage negotiator would save a damsel in distress. But since many of these methods don’t come natural, it’s important to practice them daily in your sales activities until they are second nature. Drill them. And drill them some more. Soon it’ll be muscle memory.
With that in mind, it might be helpful for you to bookmark this page or print it out and hang by your desk to use as a checklist. Be sure you’re always being intentional and never falling into complacency. Cultivate a winning mindset, pick up the phone with confidence and conviction, and never stop growing toward greatness. Whether you’re a salesperson yourself or you lead a sales team, all of these principles will hold true for decades to come.
So get out there and close more deals!
Until next time…