Many negotiation tactics signal the beginning of a negotiation, and it’s essential you become aware of these to avoid treating them either as an objection or rejection.
In my experience, the signs commonly used by the prospect to try and negotiate a better deal are as follows:
1. They Send Buying Signals
The prospect may send you clear buying signals.
A well-oiled negotiator knows how the seller’s brain functions.
They know that if they send you enough buying signals, you’ll smell the sale, and the discounting will begin.
During my live sales negotiation workshops, I often show a picture of a cute fluffy teddy bear.
The bear is meant to resemble that fluffy feeling you get in your stomach when you think you’ve hooked a prospect who sounds ready to buy.
What usually happens, as a result, is you drop your guard and start to throw in some free extras because you’re so happy.
By this point, the prospect has you in an entirely vulnerable position.
You must pull yourself together next time you feel that fluffy feeling.
Your prospect’s flirtatious buying signals can be nothing more than a way of buttering you up to see what deal they can get.
Don’t fall for it. Burn the bear.
2. They Raise Objections
Another common negotiation sign is when your prospect raises objections.
The most obvious example might be when they say something like, “We feel the price is too high” or “We’ve got a better price somewhere else.”
If your prospect has a better price elsewhere, why are they still talking to you?
Use the objection handling strategy to isolate the smoke screen and progress to handle the real one.
This statement is often nothing more than a shakedown to get a better price.
3. They Complain or Criticise
Another common smoke screen objection that can signal the start of negotiation is when a prospect nitpicks about certain missing features.
The average salesperson usually has a good comeback.
They promise to get the feature in the next release or devise a perfect workaround.
Smart enough, but a complete waste of time.
When your prospect starts to nitpick, especially on multiple occasions, use the objection handling strategy to isolate the smoke screen again.
More often than not, these missing features are of little value, and the prospect won’t be able to explain why they’re of any importance.
Remember, though, if the prospect raises objections about anything that puts them in the position of being the owner of your solution, it’s a buying signal. It’s not the start of a negotiation.
If the prospect is at the stage where they’re reading the detailed terms of your offer, there’s little need to negotiate unless you’re negotiating brick wall objections such as strict company regulations about payment terms, property rights issues or something similar.
There are, however, certain exceptions to this.
From time to time, you’ll have to get approval on your sale from people with different motives than your primary contact.
As frustrating as this can be, you must stay calm and treat these people respectfully.
An individual in a financial department has one goal – to save the company money.
If your sale needs approval from someone in finance, it’s often because it exceeds a certain amount.
So, when your prospect tells you they need approval from finance, be prepared to negotiate because this is often why these processes are in place.
Another common hurdle in the approval process can come from legal departments whose common goal is to protect their company from making harmful or risky deals.
In my experience, getting past the legal department can either be a breeze or an absolute nightmare.
Some legal teams will request a detailed list of large, small, and sometimes strange contract amendments, whereas others will request few to none.
In my experience, most of the changes are negotiable. I had a new client query fourteen different areas in my contract not long ago, and I agreed to amend just two.
You must not become overwhelmed when dealing with finance or legal departments. A defensive and argumentative response to innocent requests will get you nowhere.
You’ll find that some people just need to be educated on how your solution works.
I once had a legal team request that his company get exclusive rights for the software they were about to purchase.
I had to explain to him they would have to buy our company before I could request such a change.
If you can make the required legal changes, then do so. If you can’t, then explain this to them in an unemotional way.
A stubborn, inflexible approach to contract negotiations is a winning strategy for losing the sale.
The signed contract is too close.
4. They State their Budget
This is commonly a bluff when a prospect tells you how much they have to spend.
In my experience, if the prospect says they only have £200 to spend, they most likely have 3, 4 or even £500.
The figure given could either be an estimate of what they feel your solution is worth or a rough calculation of what the prospect estimates as a good starting point in the negotiation.
This is, again, a buying signal, and with a little creative thinking, you should be able to handle it without trouble.
Sadly though, it’s all too easy to give in and close a quick and easy sale, and that’s usually what the average salesperson does.
The prospect wins, and the sale is closed. This is a result of fear.
You fear if you don’t give in and let your prospect win, they will walk away, and all of your hard work will have been for nothing.
What most salespeople fail to consider is how much time and effort the prospect has invested into the sale, and how badly they may want your solution.
By the time you’ve reached the final stages of the sales process, your prospects have often invested just as much, if not more time than you in getting the sale approved.
On top of the time spent talking with you, your prospect may have dedicated hours to researching and testing solutions, getting budgets approved, coordinating with other team members and stakeholders, and much more.
Trust me; they won’t walk away if they want your solution.
If they do, it’s because they didn’t see the value in the first place.
If your prospect tells you they only have x amount to spend, repeat it back to and paraphrase where possible.
Then hit them with any of the following questions where applicable.
“Will it help if I can spread the payments?”
“How do you feel about starting on the lower package and upgrading later?”
“When will you get more budget allocated again?”
“Which other departments could benefit from the solution?”
“What do you suggest we do now?”
Most importantly, you must be prepared to walk away.
The idea of doing so at this stage of the sales process may seem outrageous, but unless you can learn to hold your cards tight to your chest, you’ll never win a negotiation and will leave money on the table every time you close a sale.
5. They’ll ask, “Is That Your Best Price?”
The smart, direct, and fast-moving negotiator will always ask, “Is that your best price?”.
This is a huge buying signal.
A quick rebound question like, “What makes you ask?” is a smart response when followed by silence.
The question will often prompt your prospect to explain precisely why they asked.
Here are some examples of typical responses I’ve witnessed.
“Because that’s what your competitor offered me.”
“I feel it’s too expensive.”
“I’m just asking.”
Either way, you’ve isolated the real objection and will better understand how to proceed.
6. They Get You Excited
Another strategic approach used only by master negotiators is to ask for more than they need.
These negotiation Yoda’s know perfectly well how to tap into the average salesperson’s emotions.
They do it by creating excitement.
And they create excitement by requesting your biggest package with the most number of users or whatever other add-ons you have, resulting in a potentially huge-looking sale.
The prospect’s objective is to see how flexible you are with negotiating the pricing.
Their strategy is to get you excited by the potential size of the sale. They will then negotiate the best deal for that package before dropping down to a lower option.
To avoid this situation, you must ensure you’re the one recommending which package your prospect needs.
If they start asking about a higher package, beware of the dollar signs that may cloud your judgement and re-qualify the prospect’s needs.
Treating every prospect with a cautious and somewhat pessimistic approach will serve you well.
7. They Use Your Competitors
Another common sign of a prospect who is negotiating is the constant mentioning of your competitors.
These prospects will often not be rushed into making any decisions and will be sure to let you know they’re speaking to your competitors.
You must not allow the name-dropping of your competition to trigger your ‘discount mode’.
I refuse to enter negotiations with such prospects.
In my experience, they often end up being poor clients with no loyalty who will do the same again next year.
Focus on your solution, and treat the prospect as if the competition was not involved.
If you enter into a negotiation with these prospects, be sure to give them a ‘buy-right-now-at-this-cost’ ultimatum to avoid them playing you against your competitors.
8. They Befriend You
You’ll be blown away at how easy it is to make friends when you work in sales.
And you’ll also be blown away at how quickly those friends want something from you, too.
Getting too friendly with your prospect will make negotiating difficult.
Your prospects know that if they get friendly with you, you’ll likely give them a good deal.
You’re asking for trouble if you fail to draw the line between your personal and professional relationships.
I genuinely believe most prospects are friendly and without an agenda.
However, a few always ruin it for others, so stay on your guard.
9. They Play Weak
A common tactic the smart negotiator uses is to play the ‘lack of authority’ card.
Both decision-makers and non-decision makers can utilise this strategy.
If you’ve not already uncovered the stakeholders involved at this stage of the sales process, then you’ve got your work cut out for you.
I won’t suggest a strategy for this scenario.
I’d rather have you struggle, feel pain, and be motivated next time to qualify using the process questions covered earlier in the book.
I believe it’s called being cruel to be kind.
You’re in serious trouble if you enter a negotiation with a non-decision maker.
If you’re lucky, your primary contact will help you. If you’re unlucky, they will play you.
It’s easier said than done but try at all costs to negotiate with the decision-maker directly.
I suggest you all get together on a call, communicate via email, text, chat – whatever – so long as you negotiate with the right person directly.
Negotiating via a go-between prolongs the process, gives more power to the decision-maker and leaves you in the dark about how your opponent is feeling emotionally.
It’s important to know if your last offer enraged them or not before making your next move.
If you know or have a suspicion you’re already dealing with the decision-maker, this could be the start of a negotiation or stall.
A prospect who feels pressured into making a decision may pull the ‘I-need-to speak-to-my-partner’ card to buy more time.
This is good. It tells you their brain is in full working order, and they need a little time to ensure they’re not making a rash decision.
You may be in trouble here if you’re selling a fluffy ‘nice to have’ solution.
If you give your prospect time to process their decision, they’ll likely disappear, never to be seen again.
But if you believe your prospect can get value from your solution, and you feel you’ve done enough to earn the right to ask for the business, grab their tail and pull them back in.
Ask them a question such as;
“Apart from the final sign-off, is there anything else that’s stopping you from going ahead today?”
What you want to do now is take them through those commitment steps again, ensuring they see value in your solution.
If you sense pricing is the concern, bring it up.
Ask them if the payment terms align with their company policy or expectations.
There are plenty of ways to fish out the real objective behind the ‘lack of authority’ card, but if you truly know you’re dealing with someone who can sign off, it’s time to get cheeky.
The best and most direct way of cutting to the chase is to say’;
“You’re not saying that just to get rid of me, are you (First Name)?”
You must say this in a direct yet friendly tone, and it must be followed by instant silence, so you can monitor how your prospect responds and decide on what to do next.
Most salespeople fear using this approach with gatekeepers, let alone decision-makers.
They fear the stakes are too high at this stage of the sales process.
I can tell you from personal experience that I have used this approach repeatedly throughout my career, and it separates the real prospects from the potential time wasters every time.
Your prospect will likely respond in one of three ways.
- They laugh and begin to negotiate.
- They innocently and repeatedly confirm they’re not trying to get rid of you, which signals guilt.
- They respond angrily and end the call, in which case, they just saved you valuable time.
Fear will hold you back in sales and life.
If you lack the confidence and ability to call your prospects bluff, you’ll lose the negotiation every time, even if you win the sale.
If there’s one strong belief you should have when negotiating with the decision-maker, it’s that if they’re negotiating for your solution, it’s because they want it.
So, learn to negotiate with confidence and use fear to your advantage.
In the words of Harvey Spector from Suits, “Play the player, not the game.”