Negotiation permeates all aspects of our lives. Kids negotiate with their parents to buy them the latest PlayStation gaming console for Christmas. Husbands negotiate with their wives to help with the house chores to go bowling "with the boys" on the weekend. And criminal investigators often negotiate with incriminated gang members to cut them slack in their sentencing if they agree to appear as federal witnesses in the court.
While negotiation is an absolute must-have in all areas of life, it's almost a survival skill in sales—where your livelihood depends on the deal size and commitment you can negotiate with your customers.
Yet, in sales, negotiation isn't all about discussing pricing or the number of licenses. Also, negotiation isn't only limited to sales.
Take customer success, for instance. Negotiation is a handy tool that helps customer success managers (CSMs) offer their customers the right upgrades and cross-sells at the right time in a way where it feels both parties are winning.
Whether in sales or customer success—a successful negotiation happens when everybody walks out of the room feeling like they won. In this post, let's look at 9 actionable negotiation techniques that will help you understand your customers better and find ways to grow together.
1. Listen way more than you talk
Customer discovery conversations are as important as the sales discovery ones—i.e., knowing how your customers are using your product and what they are trying to achieve, is as important as your sales discovery, where you try to identify product-prospect fit.
But in a world that can't stop talking, listening is incredibly hard. It takes a fair degree of patience, courage, and training to listen with an open mind rather than listening to respond.
In situations related to business negotiation, listening empathetically to your prospects is no less than a growth hack. When you listen with empathy, you build deep emotional connections with customers, which helps you have meaningful, in-depth conversations. It's a remarkable skill that lends its advantages in sales negotiations and other customer conversations across marketing, product, or customer success functions.
At Avoma, we have found that the amount of active listening is directly proportional to one's ability to close more deals or drive desired outcomes during a conversation.
To be more specific, our statistics across several online meetings show that the recommended talk range between a salesperson and a customer is pegged at 40%–60%. It means if you are talking for more than 60% of the total time on the call, you are probably leaving money on the table.
2. Mirror your prospects’ language during sales negotiations
Chris Voss—a long-time hostage negotiator who worked for the FBI—has a thing or two to teach us about the importance of mirroring as a psychological negotiation technique. In this book, Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, Voss explains that mirroring the language of a person helps a negotiator diffuse conflicting thoughts, neutralize negative emotions, and reinforce positive feelings.
Coming from the FBI's former lead negotiator—that's saying a lot about the power of mirroring. If Voss can use mirroring to diffuse possibly life-and-death situations, sales and customer success people can certainly use it in their business context.
But what exactly is mirroring?
According to Voss, mirroring is repeating a few keywords or phrases that the other person is using in conversation—and that can include mimicking their body language. Effective mirroring cues the other person that you are paying attention to what they are saying—and that you understand them.
Here's how it might look like in a real-life customer success check-in conversation:
CSM: Thank you for taking out the time for this meeting. Given that you're scaling up your demand gen team, you might want to upgrade to the premium plan so that you can run campaigns, track results and collaborate in one place.
Customer: Yeah, sure. But given that we're not finding enough use for what we are already paying for, it doesn't make sense for us to invest further.
CSM: I see. If I understand this correctly, you're saying that the product hasn't solved some of the problems you were hoping to. Or did you mean that the adoption isn't big enough to make it meaningful for you at this point?
Customer: The first one. We are hoping to fix our attribution. It would be great if your platform helped us in attributing our campaigns to revenue. Going premium makes sense only if we can showcase the value and return on our current investment.
CSM: I understand where you are coming from, and I think I can help. If you have time later this week, I can set up a meeting between you, your team and our product specialist, who can show you how to set up attribution down to the channel and campaign level. She might also show you how certain features in the premium plan might help you automate the entire workflow.
Customer: That sounds great! I would appreciate a product deep-dive and learn about the advanced features if they help us. Thanks!
Notice how the CSM mirrored the customer's sentiment and resonated in a matter of a few minutes? Next time you are handling objections, try this technique and see if mirroring can turn the negotiation tables in your favor.
3. Leverage demo sessions as a sales opportunity
Product demos are elaborate, time-consuming, and can end up becoming a liability if you haven't made an effective sales discovery. In addition, many sales teams waste a lot of time and resources conducting product demos because they are using it to train customers on how to use their products.
In reality, demos are meant for selling your products to prospects—not to train them on how to use the product. At least not yet. You will have ample time, resources, and opportunities to do that once the prospects convert into paying customers.
Realistically speaking, demos exist for you to paint a brand narrative to the prospects—to show them what your product can do for them, based on what you learned from the sales discovery conversation.
In the long scheme of sales processes, demos are more like pitching sessions than the elaborate product walkthroughs that customers get as part of their onboarding.
If you can keep your product demos short, simple, and centered around what the prospect is trying to solve for—you will gain the upper hand in the negotiation table. In addition, teasing your prospects about the main highlights of the product will stoke their curiosity further, make them compare your product with the competitors', and possibly schedule the next round of meeting with your sales team.
Therefore, use demos as an opportunity to demonstrate how the prospects will feel if they were to start using your product. Focus only on what matters the most to a particular prospect and leave the product training for the time when they become customers.
4. Bring up the right topics at the right time (one of the most key negotiation tactics)
Conversations work best when you have a clear flow or an agenda. And yet, it's not about you sticking to a script. Negotiation tactics work out best when the context is well-established for both parties.
Therefore getting into a call, you might always want to make sure that you establish the context —by touching upon the key aspects you want to cover. Using Avoma, you can create a meeting agenda template for each conversation type to make the baseline scalable across the organization.
Avoma ensures that the appropriate templates are automatically applied to your meetings based on your meeting purpose. In addition, and more importantly, all the key information discussed during your meeting gets automatically captured and categorized into specific categories such as Business needs, Pain Points, Budget, Action Items, etc.
Another key factor that's super important is the timing of each topic you discuss with the prospect—for example, at what point in your call do you bring up the pricing discussion matters a lot.
As you see in the screenshot below, our experience shows that our most successful reps and customer success folks tend to bring up' pricing' after the demo and the discussions on how we solve their pain points.
5. Leverage objection handling to earn trust
A key part of being a master negotiator is to field objections during sales conversations. According to Hubspot's findings, 35% of sales leaders perceive objection handling as one of the biggest challenges for account executives and sales reps.
Objection handling isn't about converting your prospects from "NO" to a "YES." In reality, most CSMs and sales reps go through a series of "NOs" before getting to a "YES."
In that sense, objections are opportunities for you to deeply understand your customer psychology and move them towards mutually beneficial goals. Objections are keys to identifying your customers' concerns and helping them navigate to a solution that is mutually beneficial to both you and them.
Successfully handling objections takes your prospects from a flat "NO" to "let me think about it." Other times, it's making them say, "I can work with that," when they originally said, "I'm not sure about it." If you handle objections well, you can turn any negotiation into a win-win conversation.
6. Apply gentle but firm pressure
Too many salespeople—and CSMs—treat pricing-related conversations as an invisible elephant in the room that should not be provoked. Pricing is like the little dance that both the sellers and the buyers do to see who brings up the topic first.
But the reality is that most customers are often keen to discuss pricing and prefer the vendor side to initiate the topic up during a sales conversation. So the key is to bring it up at the right time.
The Challenger Sale technique offers a glimpse of how effective it is to wedge pricing in a sales call. (Refer to the 'average starting time for topics' image in point 4).
Six attributes set the Challenger sales reps apart from their other colleagues:
- They offer their customers unique insights
- They have strong two-way communication skills
- They know the individual customer's value drivers
- They can identify economic drivers of the customer's business
- They are comfortable discussing money
- They can apply gentle but firm pressure on the customer
If you notice closely, the last two points are about pricing and asking for a sale. Challenger Sale technique suggests that salespeople should control the customer conversation and offer an expert buying experience that they can't get on their own while looking for a solution. To offer such an unparalleled customer experience, sales reps and CSMs should be confident in addressing all aspects of a sales process, including pricing.
Discussing pricing-related issues demonstrates that you believe in your product's offerings and are serious about moving the discussion to the next step. It also communicates that you have clarity about your product's value and are prepared to answer any questions related to pricing instead of giving vague answers.
7. Master video sales meetings
Video conferencing has disrupted sales—especially in the last couple of years. According to Vidyard, video calls made up 40% of all sales conversations in 2020—a stat that's been on an upward trend since then. By connecting face-to-face with more prospects in the virtual ether, salespeople and CSMs can build rapport, earn trust, accelerate their sales process, increase cost-efficiency, and compensate for the lack of "in-person" meetings.
That said, you can't run your video sales meetings the same way you did offline sales meetings. To maximize the efficacy of video meetings, you will have to drop the old-school sales tactics that could jeopardize your sales negotiation process.
Here are a few no-nos to avoid during a video sales call:
Don't be too aggressive: Most prospects don't like being sold to, and hard-selling your product can be more awkward on camera. So don't 'speak at' your prospects. Instead, position yourself as a trusted advisor and try to have a genuine conversation with them so that you can understand their pain points and goals better.
Don't use a canned sales pitch: Delivering canned sales speeches that don't resonate with your prospects' unique frustrations and requirements will make you appear insincere and erode any chances of trust you could have built with them.
Don't fake enthusiasm: Some salespeople may get away with faking excitement on the phone—but it won't work when talking to prospects over a live video format. People like people who are real and appear vulnerable. Prospects can tell when you are sincere versus just putting on a show through your tone and body language.
If you can up your video sales meetings game, you can leverage several advantages over traditional customer touchpoints like emails, phone, or in-person meetings.
8. Foster a habit of following up with more context
B2B sales cycles take longer to close because of certain nuances that make them more complicated than others. For example—B2B sales often involve buying committees, multiple stages of careful evaluation by different teams, regulatory considerations, and a host of other factors.
And believe it or not, often it takes upto eight touches with a prospect before a sale closes. It doesn't mean that you will hear four or more 'NOs' before getting a 'YES.' It's just the time it takes on an average before buying committees make a decision.
And that's where follow-ups help.
Following up with your prospects is an underrated sales skill that unlocks new possibilities of reviving dormant leads and improving sales conversions. Unfortunately, 44% of salespeople on average give up prospecting a lead after just one follow-up.
And sometimes, we need a little nudge to follow up. The note taking software in Avoma (the left pane in the image below) tends to capture key parts of your initial conversation, including your' Action items' or 'Next Steps' so that you never miss a follow-up again.
Effective sales follow-ups demand that you have better context about your prospects than you did the last time you talked to them. So figure out what can make them click—look into the conversation transcript, or re-listen to your conversation, and understand the PoV of your prospect before you go into your follow-up meeting.
9. Design high-value Mafia Offers
Imagine closing 70% of all prospects who evaluate your products for purchase. Sounds too good to be true—right? But with Mafia Offer, not only can you close more than 70% of all sales conversations in your pipeline but also command premium pricing on your product.
Mafia offer is a negotiation technique that you can use to offer your prospects an irresistible proposition that is too tempting for them to ignore. Unfortunately, it's also something your competitors can't quickly match or replicate.
In the words of Vito Corleone, it's giving them an offer that they can't refuse. After all, the idea of Mafia Offer finds its origin in the novel/blockbuster movie The Godfather.
In the context of sales or customer success, you can craft high-value Mafia Offers to get customers to agree to your negotiation proposal without many hiccups. If you are persuading an existing customer to upgrade to a higher plan, for instance, you can give them a "buy now pay later" option to make their decision-making easier.
Amazon effectively uses the buy-now-pay-later to make online buying a no-brainer for its customers. But it's a tactic that doesn't have a lot of takers in the B2B space—at least not yet.
Similarly, in sales, you can make your product "twice as good or half the price" to aggressively improve your sales conversion numbers.
Here's Jim Schleckser, CEO and Managing Partner of Inc CEO Project, explaining why you need Mafia Offer in your business:
We hope that the above ideas will help you improve your negotiation skills and reduce the friction in your sales and customer success processes.
A parting suggestion from our side is—you can further improve the success rate of your negotiation by recording, transcribing and learning from your customer conversations using a conversation intelligence platform.
That way, you can turn all your customer conversations into a searchable knowledge base and build a powerful repository/ snippets of handling objections and successful negotiations. Understand what works and what doesn't to narrow down on surefire negotiation tactics.