There’s no denying that sales is a high-pressure, high-stakes game. When you close a big deal, you feel on top of the world. When you lose one, it’s hard to remember that you ever won. When you’re between the two, it’s dangerously easy to make concessions to get that coveted “yes” and avoid the sinking feeling that often comes with a “no.” But as we at the Black Swan Group often say, “yes” is nothing without “how,” and compromise is a relationship’s worst enemy. Teach your sales team these four tips to help them close more deals without relying on discounts.
1. Banish the Elephant from the Room
Your phone rings 6:30 in the evening. A number you don’t recognize, but you answer anyway...
“Hi [pronounces your name wrong], you’ve won a dis—”
“NO, I DON'T WANT ANY.”
Click, call ended, evening interrupted, emotions inflamed. As soon as we think someone’s trying to sell us something, our gut instinct kicks in and tells us to defend ourselves.
One of the biggest challenges in any sales job is learning how not to sound like a salesperson. When we feel manipulated, we become emotional and lose our ability to listen and process information. If offering discounts is your team’s primary means of earning or maintaining your audience’s attention, then you’re putting the proverbial cart before the horse.
Rather than leading with price, encourage your team to do a cold read and conduct an accusation audit to get ahead of any negative perceptions. Use negative labels to address common sales stereotypes, diffuse resistance, and thwart an attack. Imagine picking up your phone and hearing this statement:
“I know the last thing you want to do is talk to a sales rep and have your time wasted.”
At the very least, it would make you hesitate with your finger hovering over the “end” button. By first being preemptive and nurturing trust, you’ll build influence and create the foundation for an agreement, without the discounts and gimmicks.
2. Find Where Value and Perception Meet
Why do we buy new clothes when the old ones still fit? Hint: It’s the same reason parents hold onto baby clothes long after they’ve been outgrown.
The answer involves our ever-changing value perceptions. Although price helps inform our understanding of worth, our value judgments are largely dictated by our emotions, experiences, and passions. What’s valuable to one person or one culture may not be valuable to the next. No matter what, an underlying value always exists, it is a human nature constant, how you define it for them may in fact be culture based.
Before you let your sales team offer a discount, ask them to find out what emotions are informing their prospect’s values and what other items they might value unequally. If a prospect is insisting on a lower price, give them the chance to speak. Use labels to dive deeper into what you already know brought them to the table, finding out what’s motivating their behavior and dictating their standards. You may even find in the midst of the verbal vomiting, they either give you the ammunition you need or they talk themselves in to the solution.
If they value time more than money, they may be willing to pay more for an expedited timeline. By trading items of perceived unequal value and attempting to find the point where values and perceptions intersect, your team will create more compelling deals and win more business.
3. Uncover What You Don’t Know
It’s impossible to account for what you don’t know and it’s costly to be wrong. Regardless of whether you’re signing a contract or walking away, you should understand all possible outcomes before you make your final move. To make sure that you don’t leave anything on the table, nurture a collaborative environment, use tactical empathy to build trust and likability, and use combinations of labels, mirrors and calibrated questions until you’ve exhausted every possibility.
If you’ve hit a substantial roadblock, try a last-ditch label or no-oriented question before closing the negotiation:
“It sounds like there’s nothing I can say to change your mind.”
“Are you saying that you’d like to give up on this deal?”
Don't forget that mastery is in tonality.
If you’ve gotten this far, both parties have invested time and effort into the negotiation process, raising the emotional stakes. Tone is vital to your delivery, so use your “late-night DJ voice” or accommodator inflection to avoid igniting negative emotions. Then, fight all of your impulses and go silent for as long as it takes to get a response.
4. Never Create an Enemy
No matter how much pressure your team is under to perform, remind them that no deal is always better than a bad deal. When it comes right down to it, there is no silver bullet—people make deals because they feel like it, plain and simple.
When you use your influence to force someone into an agreement that they don’t feel good about, you build resentment, dissolve trust, and ultimately corrode the relationship before it’s officially begun. Even if you have made a deal in this instance, how hard are things going to be in 3 months… 6 months…? Rather than using your power to force a fit or take advantage, think about the emotional implications of asserting your will and the ripple effect it will have on implementation and future business opportunities. Some companies are short-sighted and unwilling to spend money up front—there may not be anything you can say or do to bend their reality.
If you’ve used your Black Swan negotiating skills and are still coming up short, ask yourself if this prospect is truly someone you want to be doing business with. Compromising your position beyond the limits you’ve established will probably cost your company more than it’s worth (beyond revenue alone). In that same vein, make sure to address implementation in the negotiation process so that no promises are made by either side that can’t be kept.