Sales negotiations – 4 strategies for handling conflict

Sales negotiations

Sales negotiations

No matter how skillful you are at sales negotiating, conflicts will a rise. Therefore, if you are going to close the sale and build the relationship, you must successfully resolve conflicts.  Even if the sale could be closed without resolving the conflicts, best practices suggest this approach often leads to major problems in the future.  So, do not leave conflicts bubbling beneath the surface.

Here are four strategies for handling conflict in a sales negotiation:

  • First do no harm.  If you are trying to negotiate an agreement and face a number of conflicts, don’t make things worse.  This simple truth may seem obvious but, in fact, it’s easy to make matters worse just by falling into three traps.
    • There is a difference between being firm on a point and belaboring it.  Beating a particular point to death will usually make the entire situation more difficult to resolve.
    • Point-counterpoint debate strategy is not an effective way to resolve a conflict in major account negotiations.  Even if you have a strong rationale for your position, this strategy will usually fail because in sales negotiations conflict resolution does not rely on the strength of the argument. This usually is true regardless of how compelling your rationale is presented.
    • Finding a way out of a difficult conflict depends more on joint problem solving than a strategy to win the debate.  This is one of the reasons why it is so important to have a comprehensive understanding of your customer’s company and industry.  It is difficult to take a problem solving approach if you do not have that customer and industry information.
  • Talk less and listen more. This fundamental principle of good selling applies equally well to good negotiations.  But, it is very easy to forget in the middle of a tough conflict resolution discussion.  During conflict resolution, there are three distinct reasons to listen more.

First, you get information that may help form a solution. Second, listening vs. talking is an effective way to reduce emotions and, last, if you’re not talking, you probably will not make a mistake and give a concession off-the-cuff.

  • Try a trial balloon.  One approach that top sales negotiators skillfully use is the “trial balloon”.  Don’t commit to something unless there is a good indication that the customer thinks the idea has merit.  Compare these two general approaches to developing a solution to a pricing stalemate.
    • First, “I will give a 10% reduction in price if you’ll increase the number of units purchased by 10%.” 
    • The second statement is:  “Suppose you could increase the number of units.  If you did, we could then look at a price break.  Do you think that might work?”

In the first statement, the salesperson made a proposal.  What’s the most likely response from the customer?  A counterproposal.  This might lead to a final resolution.  It might also just end up in a series of back and forth trade-offs with no final solution and an increase in frustration.

In the second statement, the salesperson invites the customer to help shape the answer.  When customers participate in crafting the solution, they are more likely to feel good about the end result.  Also, no time is wasted on ideas that end up going nowhere.

  • Offer fewer vs. more options.  When a sales negotiation is stalled because of a conflict, generating a long list of options is not an effective strategy.  Too many alternatives may lead either to indecision or the customer looking elsewhere for a simpler resolution. The best approach is to focus the discussion on one or two possible ways out of the conflict, and avoid the brainstorming idea. 

One of the powerful propositions for handling conflicts is to prevent them from occurring in the first place.  In a negotiation a best practice for preventing conflicts is not to take actions based on assumptions about the motives and reasons for the other party’s actions.

Making an assumption is not a problem but not testing the assumption is a problem. Ask questions and then listen to what the customer has to say.  By doing so you may find out that the negative assumption you made which could have resulted in a conflict was in fact not true.  In fact, there was a logical and fair reason why the customer took the action they did.

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©2013 Sales Momentum, LLC

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About Janet Spirer

For more than 30 years Dr. Richard Ruff and Dr. Janet Spirer - the founders of Sales Horizons - have worked with the Fortune 1000 - such as UPS, Canon USA, Smith & Nephew, Boston Scientific, Owens & Minor, Textron - to design and develop sales training programs. Janet has followed two different, yet complimentary paths. First, as a B-School Professor she taught marketing, sales, and business strategy courses. She also managed a consulting practice focusing on sales productivity and marketing – working with a variety of clients ranging from Xerox to IBM. She translated those experiences into a book – “Parlez-Vous Business” – that helps sales people develop the business savvy to sell successfully. Since co-founding Sales Momentum® in 2000 with Richard Dr. Spirer received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University, an M.P.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, and a B.A. in Economics from Brooklyn College. She holds the appointment of Professor Emeritus at Marymount University.
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2 Responses to Sales negotiations – 4 strategies for handling conflict

  1. Brian MacIver says:

    Great Blog, Janet.
    This can be a very expensive lesson! Thanks for giving us the tools we need!
    I would certainly agree with your summary comment:
    ‘Conflict is better prevented than it is “handled”.’

    There are two other tools, little used, which may help:
    “Building” on their proposals instead of counter-proposals.
    And, “Feelings Commentary” conflict IS emotional, so say how you feel. help them to express their feelings too!
    What sounds like anger, is often frustration.
    What sounds like disgust, is often disappointment.

    Again, really useful article, Thanks!

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