By Jud Travis
Don’t be discouraged by the thought of improving your negotiation skills. It doesn’t have to be painful. Great salespeople did not get to where they are today without taking a hard look at themselves and the way their business is conducted on a daily basis. It’s easy to procrastinate and delay your improvement, but if you immediately follow the training tips and strategies below, your sales and revenue will dramatically increase.
1) Thoroughly Prepare
Thorough preparation is a no-brainer, yet, so many salespeople fail to do so. This is a huge problem. Research has proven time and time again that negotiators who are underprepared are all but guaranteed to make unnecessary compromises, fail to spot sources of value, and turn down mutually beneficial agreements. Don’t let this happen to you. The most important step you can take to improve your negotiation skills is to thoroughly prepare in advance of every single negotiation you have. Don’t be lazy. You’ll have to set aside a certain number of hours each day to do research*/prep work, create a negotiation checklist of objectives, enlist a negotiation/sales coach to help you, and role-play negotiations with friends, family, or colleagues.
*Part of your negotiation research must involve determining the best alternatives to a negotiated agreement and also determining your counterpart’s best alternatives.
2) Be Proactive by Being Thoughtful
Don’t just go through the motions to improve your negotiation skills, especially, when you are enrolled in a training program. Taking notes of your instructor’s key points is never enough. Make the effort to think about what the instructor is saying and how what he/she’s saying applies to your past, current, and future negotiations. If you’re not following a concept, ask for clarification or an example. Research has found that salespeople learn better when they take the time to reflect on similar experiences from their own negotiations. You need to retain the information you’re learning; so, always apply the concepts you learn to your own life. Otherwise, you’re just consuming empty words that will do nothing for you.
3) Forgive Yourself for Your Mistakes
Negotiation training is a humbling experience for everyone. Instructors will oftentimes have salespeople role-play so that the salespeople can see first-hand what they’re doing wrong, such as being overconfident. Don’t waste your time and energy feeling personally attacked or getting defensive when a training instructor calls you out for doing something incorrectly. It’s business, not personal—the instructor just wants you to improve how you conduct business. It’s a good thing to feel uncomfortable during your training. That means that you’re realizing your mistakes. Next, all you need to do is learn from them. Forgive yourself for all your mistakes. Focusing on learning instead of defending yourself will help you grow into an excellent negotiator.
4) Practice Non-Stop
Practice and utilizing time are the only ways to turn trained concepts into a reality. Your negotiation training doesn’t end when the training ends. Negotiation training is a lifelong process in which, to be successful, you must always be practicing concepts of both new and old. Have a sense of vigilance when you bring your trained concepts into the workplace and always take time to reflect on what you have learned. Don’t just practice the concepts in the office. Practice them at home too. Use your friends and family as a valuable resource to apply all your skills and strategies. Unless you have awful friends, they will forgive your mistakes and offer valuable feedback. With enough practice over time, your acquired skills will become second nature, and your old habits will effectively be removed and replaced.
5) Hire a Consultant/Coach
Swallow your pride and let an expert help you out. Anyone who’s ever told you not to hire a consultant in order to save money has, in actuality, been scared to save their career by acquiring new negotiation skills. Consultants are worth every cent. Consultants will quickly analyze how you conduct negotiations and be able to explain to you what does and doesn’t work.
A negotiation consultant will help you create high impact (yet reasonable) goals, figure out what techniques you need to succeed, and make you understand what you have not been doing correctly. Great consultants (1) provide advice that they themselves have applied in high-stakes negotiations, (2) teach you how to effectively prepare for all situations, (3) help you practice new negotiation skills, and (4) analyze the final results in detail.
(1) Be Assertive
Always carry the mindset that everything is negotiable. Assert yourself at all times by being willing to challenge anything and everything. A high level of assertion is what separates the good negotiators from the great ones. Being assertive means nicely conveying what you want but refusing to take no for an answer. Again, be nice and don’t waste your energy being angry or threatening. Practice ‘I’ statements. For example, instead of stating, “You really can’t be doing this,” state instead, “I do not feel comfortable by you doing this.” Keep in mind that there is a huge difference between being assertive and being aggressive. Assertiveness means taking care of your interests while showing respect for the interests of others. Aggressiveness means seeing to your own interests while lacking consideration for other people’s interests. Don’t ever be an aggressor.
(2) Be a Challenger
A challenger is someone that respectfully opposes the validity of an opposing position. Challengers think for themselves and do not believe everything that they’re told. Remember, you always have the right to question anything. And you don’t need to be belligerent (or aggressive) to do so. For example, when buying a new car, challenge the asking price of the car because you think it should be lower. Skilled negotiators are always ready for a challenge—because they, themselves are challengers.
Let’s be blunt. Sometimes you just need to shut up. Expert negotiators are detectives. They ask investigative questions and then allow the opposition plenty of time to make their case. The negotiator at the opposite side of the table from you will tell you everything you want to know. You just need to listen—that is the secret key to resolving conflicts quickly. Don’t ever forget to listen. You won’t be on top of your game if you don’t. Play it cool and allow the opposition to do most of the talking. Implement the 70/30 Rule in which you listen 70 percent of the time and talk only 30 percent of the time. Set up the other negotiator to talk by asking tons of open-ended questions that cannot be answered with just a “yes” or “no.”
4) Always Consider Walking Away
Never, under any circumstances, negotiate without having some alternatives in mind. Overly depending or hoping for the positive outcome will make you give up your ability to say NO. When you clearly say, “I will walk away if we can’t agree to a deal that is mutually beneficial,” the opposition will realize that you mean business. Your assertiveness will force the opposite side of the table to make some concessions. That’s not to say that you should usually be walking away from deals, but you must consider the option of doing so, otherwise you risk easily caving in to what the other side wants. Considering walking conveys that you are not desperate. This allows the opposition to sense your strength and determination.
5) Never Rush
It’s sometimes very hard to do so, but you have to remain patient, no matter what is at stake. If you rush through a negotiation, you are very likely to make errors and fail to maximize the money. The person who’s more flexible with time always has the advantage. Your patience can be a weapon that wrecks the opposition if they are rushing because they begin to infer that you are under no pressure to reach an agreement. So what does the opposite side of the table do? They start to offer high-value concessions as an incentive to get you to quickly agree to the deal.
7) Be Optimistic
Always expect your ideal outcome and never stop aiming high. All expert negotiators are optimists. They have to be. If they expect more, they will get more. So how do you get more? Your strategy should always be to hold an extreme position at the start of all of your negotiations. Ask for more than you anticipate receiving and if you’re a buyer, offer less than what you are ultimately willing to pay. It’s simple- negotiators who aim higher will do better. Let your routine optimism become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Negotiators with low expectations often end up with a less-than-desired outcome.
Improving your negotiation skills might seem like a daunting task, but by following the tips and strategies listed above, you will be on the fast track to success. Begin sharpening your skills by immediately implementing new daily habits such as researching and practicing—and don’t be afraid to hire a consultant or coach to bring out the best in you. It’s time for you to take your negotiation abilities to the next level. If you do, expect next-level earnings.