One successful negotiation skill to be practiced and used today is that of ‘elaboration’. When a client or prospect is in negotiation with you, any hurdle or challenge should be explored by ‘elaboration’. Ask more questions of the client and get deeper into their issue or problem. Get them to talk.
Ask or drill down on 3 or 4 levels of questions on any negotiation problem. Seek to know more about the client before you want them to consider your points of negotiation or the transaction. It’s a strategy that is well worth practice and refinement.
From this approach there is a special result that is quite common known as the ‘Freudian Slip’. By asking questions you are encouraging the client to talk about their perspective; soon you will see them open up on the potential for agreement and the ultimate outcome that they seek in final satisfaction. You then know what you can negotiate on and the way to do it. You have something to work with.
So what can you do in this process of ‘elaboration’? Try some of these:
- Get more facts about the client as they see the potential transaction, sale, or deal. Facts can be explored further. Ask the client to tell you more.
- Ask the client for opinions about the situation of the deal and how it could match their situation.
- Get the client to talk about their targets and help them compare those targets to the market conditions and the supply of goods or services from their perspective.
- Questions can be directed towards ‘minor closes’. In that way you take the client closer to the main negotiation result. Any major negotiation is a series of small agreements in a logical order. Structure your pitch or presentation accordingly.
- Some clients get lost in the complexity of a transaction, sale, or negotiation; perhaps the market conditions are new to them. Make things simple. Identify if there is any lack of understanding on the clients part that could have an impact on your ultimate outcome. You will soon know if they really do not understand the reality of your produce and service supply.
Simple skills like this can help you with the negotiation techniques and strategies that directly suit the product or service that you are offering. I go back to the main point here. Get the facts from the client and then drill down deeper.
What is the value of a client to you in business terms? What does a high value client look like and where are they located? These are simple questions but they have a lot to do with where you can take your sales career. When you know the answers to the questions you will know how to build client collateral. That can then give you the foundation for better sales over time. That then leads to market share.
I like to call this ‘client awareness’; it comes from a close alignment with your clients and in any business this can be done quite easily. Here are some tips to help you do that effectively. It doesn’t matter if you work alone or in a large team of salespeople; the relationships with clients always come back to the individual.
The tips for building ‘client awareness’ are best summarised in this way:
- Start your day with client contact activities. Spend 3 hours interacting with your clients and prospects. The best way to do that will be by prospecting and by using a good database that feeds you information from the last contact cycle.
- Sell and service ‘upstream’ from current contacts. From your current clients there will be other levels of business to achieve or position for. Ask the questions at the right time and get to know the people upstream from your current clients and contacts. In major companies and corporations, relationships extend across cities and state boundaries. Have you asked the right questions to understand who the people are upstream? They will be managers, buyers, product controllers, sales managers, CEO’s, and similar key people. What can you do to get to know them?
- Understand the client experience and how it can be improved; this is especially the case with VIP clients. What do you do now to monitor your customer experiences? Can you create a ‘secret shopper’ strategy to see how a customer is treated in the business?
- Communication and timely responses are simple business practices, so don’t forget to do follow the rules accordingly. Many clients have stories of ‘being forgotten’ or ‘neglected’ in a sale or customer service situation.
- Know the clients business to a high level as well as all the people involved. It is remarkable just how relationships can frustrate a business deal. Without the ‘up line’ and ‘down line’ contacts under control, you will find the sale process slower and tougher. Whilst you may think you know the ‘key decision makers’ for a deal, understand what impact could occur through others involved in using or consuming your products or services. Your products and services will be assessed in a number of different ways by each of the stakeholders.
- ‘Seed ideas’ that can help the client move to a new level of results and service. One simple idea can open the door for better product or service coverage and performance.
- Bridging your ideas to the next level with new products and service – it is surprising just how much value the client can get from a simple display or product update.
- Benchmarking – this should always occur with clients in similar businesses and market segments. In this way you will know what you can do across client requirements and market segments.
- Tracking and measuring all aspects of the customer experience will help you see performance issues and changes. Over time you will want to find those problems before the client finds them.
- Comprehensive questioning of the client will help you drill down on the right information that affects your products and services.
- Keeping your promises on all orders and services will always be important.
So there are lots of things for you to do here. Get to know your clients in all ways and use that relationship for more leads and referral business. That’s how you will become a top salesperson
When it comes to understanding your sales activity and opportunity you can learn a lot from looking back in sales history and forward in market potential. That then gives you the fuller picture of activity in your industry.
Let’s face facts; things do change. Your clients will have pressures, the economy will be fluctuating and the margins on your sales activity will vary. If prices can’t change, your margins are likely to. Constant tracking is required to stay ahead of the wave of sales and client opportunity.
Here are some tips to help you gather all the facts from the market:
- Define any problems that your clients could be suffering. Common problems are opportunities in disguise.
- Look into problem specific data to see what the impact may be on sales currently. A problem in any industry or market is likely to be the result of a number of things.
- Survey your clients to see and understand their industry and hurdles that they are struggling with.
- Identify what your competitors may be doing currently with their market share and their top clients.
- Find out what fellow salespeople may be experiencing with their clients and sales or orders.
- Understand any economic pressures that may be applying from the global and regional economy.
- Review the government pressures and legislation that may have relevance to your clients and their margins or operating standards.
- Are there any changes to consumer sentiment and if so how will that impact your industry and clients?
Top salespeople generally track and measure many factors from their area and industry. The history of sales and assumptions for the future can be very valuable as you seek to set your new marketing plans and territory targets.
There are different types of questions that you can use in a sales or customer service situation. In fact there are many question alternatives and they are used in circumstances that suit. As a sales negotiator it pays to practice your dialogue to draw on these very special skills.
So what question types are there? Try these for starters:
- Open – this question type will be encouraging a detailed answer and not a basic reply.
- Closed – this question type will be used where you want to get a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. This can be quite useful in closing on a critical point of a negotiation.
- Reflective – what you are doing here is asking the other person to tell you more based on a thinking process
- Leading – as the name suggests the concept here is to direct the conversation in a particular way
- Testing – the strategy here is to get feedback from the other person
- Probing – you use this when you want more information in greater detail
- Redirecting – this question type is designed to put the other person on a different point of discussion
So you can use all of these in many different ways. A top salesperson will be well practiced in all of these processes. If you want to improve your dialogue for better sales conversions think about how you can apply all of these concepts with your product or service.
When the customer responds to your questions, listen with all of your senses operating at peak performance. Watch what they do, hear what they say, and listen to their words. A true negotiator blends all of the senses as part of negotiating on a deal or an agreement with clients and prospects.
In sales it is wise to remember the factors of ‘reciprocity’. The act of giving freely and willingly has great impact on attracting repeat business and return customers. Clients know when you go out of the way to help them with their situation.
Certainly ‘reciprocity’ will help build your profile, trust, and respect with the customer. Be prepared to do some things for ‘nothing’ understanding that the person you are helping will really value your interest and help.
Consider these questions:
- How long is it since you ‘called in’ to talk to that customer who purchased from you last year or some time ago? Go back through your database to find the people that you can help and support further.
- What could you do for your customers today that would be of value to them? Go and see your clients and customers. Get in front of them at every opportunity when ‘in the field’.
- When the last sale went through, what did you do to extend the value of the product or service? Could you have done more?
- What can you do with your clients today to show them that you really value their business and contact?
It is a fact that people like to do business with those that they trust and respect. It takes time to achieve that profile; certainly reciprocity will help greatly as part of that process.
Find the people that you can help and go out of your way to do so. Over time that will bring you more clients and lots of repeat business. Establish the relationships with the right people that you know are of value to your business and your income.
At the early stages of connecting with a customer, make sure that you are dealing with or talking with a decision maker. So many prospects like to think that they are the decision maker when it comes to ‘buying’, but in reality there is a head office or board of directors somewhere that will make the final move on any recommendations.
So how do you get around this? Through ‘selective questions’ you will get the facts; that is the right answer in most meeting and prospecting situations. You can usually ‘read between the lines’ when it comes to the responses that you get.
In saying this, be aware that some prospects are ‘doorways’ to the top people or decision makers. You may only have that ‘doorway’ to use in reaching into a business for a sale or order.
So what can you do here? Set some rules like the following:
- Research the business or the customer on the internet and in any other way possible before you start to approach them.
- Find someone in ‘management’ that can give you relevant facts about the business and the people.
- Get to meetings as much as possible as the personal approach allows you to read and interpret the body language as well as the words spoken.
- Find out what they are doing today and if any of your competitors are active with the prospect. If so, respect the relationship and find out how it works.
- Understand the ‘lead times’ to requirements and if any ‘pain points’ exist when it comes to the business or the prospect using your products or services. Can you save them any money? Can you make their business more productive?
- Practice your dialogue for prospecting and in attending meetings. The practice process will help you lift your conversions.
- Understand that all prospects and customers have pressures and challenges. Speak to enough prospects in the market and you will find that you can ‘open more doors’ on future sales.
Sales and customer service today will always have challenges, but the reality is that the challenges have always been there. Focus on the value that you bring to the market and the sales that you make will escalate.