5 Steps to Negotiate Through the Sales Process


If you read my previous post, “Why the Traditional Sales Process Is Wrong,” you know that we’re not big fans of the traditional sales process here at The Black Swan Group. Not only does the traditional approach take way too much time, but it also comes with a number of other downsides, such as:

  • Wasting your counterpart’s time
  • Duplicating work
  • Taking longer to get paid
  • Spending more time tracking customer interactions
  • Preventing your business from reaching its full potential
  • Frustrating your team

We advocate for doing everything you can to accelerate your sales process. If you can talk today and get paid tomorrow, well, is the status quo going to stop you from cashing that check?

Negotiate through the sales process

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Regardless, there will come a time when you need to jump through the typical sales hoops to close a deal. For when you find yourself in that situation, here are some tips that will help you get to the next stage as quickly as possible.

Step 1: Prospect Qualification

When you’re qualifying a prospect, use an Accusation Audit™ to identify and verbalize the negatives that the other side is likely harboring. I’m sure you’ve talked to many salespeople who looked just like me, and the last thing you want is for me to waste your time.

After you have defused all the negatives the other side is thinking about, use Labels™ to get down to the nitty-gritty and bring to the surface unspoken sentiments. Say something like, It sounds like you have a vision for how you want this to play out, or, It sounds like there are things that are top of mind for you and need to be answered before moving forward.

Using Labels that are centered on getting them to lay out their vision for you gets you that much closer to a deal.

Step 2: Pitching

The point of your pitch is Proof of Life™. In the world of hostage negotiation, we might ask a hostage taker a question of the victim like, What was the make of their first car?—something that the hostage alone would know the answer to. In negotiation, there is always a team on the other side, even if they’re hidden from view. Here, the goal is actually getting the client to pitch you.

So ask Calibrated Questions™—questions that start with what, how, or sometimes  why. Some you might ask include: You’ve got many resources at your disposal—why us? and, There are many things you could be doing with your time. Why did you want to make sure you spoke with our team?

The answer to these questions will let you know if you need to waste any more of your time with this person. If they say something like: Aren’t you here to tell us why?—that’s someone you don’t want to do business with. So pack your things and leave.

If they say, Well, because you’re the best, you’re timely, you’re responsive, you’ve got a good track record, a good reputation—in other words, if they lay out the reasons why you’re valuable—you’re 80 percent of the way there for a sale. It’s counterintuitive for someone to list a slate of reasons they’re sitting down at the table only to follow that up by saying they don’t want to do business with you.

Step 3: Overcoming Objections

If you’re a salesperson who is savvy at your position, you’ll have a feel for the other side’s problems because everyone you speak to will have similar ones. And ideally, there won’t be any objections at this point because you’ll have already mitigated them with an Accusation Audit.

For example, if you’re a salesperson who is walking into a business that has a No Soliciting sign prominently displayed on the front door of its office, you can pretty much assume that the business owner is going to be frustrated with you right off the bat.

Many salespeople in this situation act as though they simply didn’t see the sign and try to wind their way through the conversation with lies. If you come in and say, I know you’re probably upset with me because I walked right past that No Soliciting sign—using an Accusations Audit to identify the unstated emotions and feelings in the room—that person is almost certainly going to do business with you because they’re going to trust you. You’re not like the other slimy salespeople they’ve run into countless times.

Step 4: Closing

If you’ve done a good job with Tactical Empathy™, the process of using empathy as a tool to make sure your counterpart knows you understand where they are coming from, the client is going to close themselves. 

Unfortunately, this is one of those experiences that you can’t understand until it happens to you.

For example, using Tactical Empathy, you might say something like: You want to solve this problem because your bottom line is affected in a terrible way for these various reasons, and you can’t stand for this anymore because the business isn’t going to drown on your watch. The deal is done right then.

Of course, there are other closing tactics—like the Ackerman method and The Black Swan MethodTM. But these become completely unnecessary if you’ve done the first half right.

Always be open to the possibility of closing at any stage in the process. When people want to make a deal, they don’t need more convincing, and you certainly don’t have to schedule (or reschedule) yet another demo. Why go out of your way to set up a meeting that everyone dreads? Does it make sense to purposely waste people’s time?

Eliminate all unnecessary steps in the sales process and you’ll get contracts signed faster. It’s that simple.

Step 5: Following Up

At the end of the day, the other side isn’t buying a product or service. They’re buying you.

Ideally, if you’re the person who made the deal, you’re the person who is going to be following up with them to let them know what implementation looks like. There’s tremendous value in the salesperson serving as an end-all, be-all resource for the customer.

And if you haven’t closed? Use no-oriented questions when you nudge the client the next time. Say things like, Would it be a waste of your time for us to revisit what we last spoke about? and, Is it ridiculous for us to come back together to finish our previous conversation?

We all know how coercive it feels when a salesperson is trying to get us to say yes. Would you like to save money on your car insurance? Yikes.

On the other hand, when we are able to answer questions with a simple no, we feel protected, which makes us more willing to trust the other side.

At the follow-up stage, it’s important to set expectations for what following up looks like. If your counterpart doesn’t know what to expect and you follow up randomly, they might be confused. So, if you’re going to follow up every two weeks, let them know that so they know what to expect moving forward.

Move Through the Sales Cycle Faster and Close More Deals

The more your counterpart feels that you see where they’re coming from and get them, the more likely they’ll be to sign on the dotted line.

Never go into a sales negotiation thinking that you need to take each step in the process. Adjust your approach and always be open to the possibility of closing regardless of which stage you’re at.

When the other side feels understood, money will change hands. So use Tactical Empathy out of the gate—and make it rain.

To learn more about how you can negotiate contracts and never split the difference, check out our free guide that explores why the best deals aren’t built on compromise—and what you can do to steer your counterpart toward the agreement you want every time.

never split the difference study guide

Brandon Voss

About The Author

Brandon Voss is the President of The Black Swan Group. Brandon has been instrumental in adapting the FBI’s hostage negotiation techniques to the business world. In addition to training clients, Brandon has guest lectured at USC Marshall School of Business and Georgetown McDonough School of Business.