Why Salespeople Don’t Make Good Negotiators

Do you think that sales people are as effective at negotiating as the procurement professionals they are facing across the buying table?  I’ve got some bad news for you.

In the course of my work as a speaker, consultant and corporate trainer in the areas of sales and negotiation I have spent increasing amounts of time working the “other side” of the buying table.

Over the last few years, I have trained both sales professionals and procurement professionals in approximately equal numbers to negotiate.

And I have come to a disturbing conclusion – in the majority of cases, salespeople just aren’t as good at negotiating as they need to be.  As this concerning reality became increasingly apparent, I spent much time and thought working out why this is the case and what can be done about it. My conclusions are as follows:

At an early stage in their career, sales people are usually told to “keep the customer happy”.  They have been taught that happy customers are good customers and will go out of their way to placate unhappy customers.   Professional buyers know this and will deliberately make salespeople uncomfortable by appearing to be unhappy as a way of tipping the power balance in their favour.

In addition selling and negotiating are two distinct skill sets.  Although selling and negotiating are inextricably linked there are distinct differences:

In selling we are attempting to persuade, convince, enthuse, justify and explain.  By contrast in negotiation we are stating our position, considering, making and weighing proposals and making demands for what we want.

In the majority of cases, sales people are far less comfortable with negotiating than buyers are.   If salespeople receive sales training the majority of the time will be spent on the process of selling and very much less time (if any at all) will be spent on the process of negotiating.  Buyers on the other hand will usually only receive training in negotiation.  Therefore when it comes to the negotiation stage of the sales process buyers have the advantage.

Buyers will attempt to short cut the sales stage and pull the salesperson out of their selling comfort zone and into their negotiating discomfort zone.  The experienced buyer will increase the levels of discomfort as much as possible using psychological ploys and tactics.  The uncomfortable salesperson will often pay their way out of discomfort in the form of (at best) some form of financial concession or (at worst) a non-reciprocated give-away.  They will literally pay their way out of discomfort with their employer’s profit margin.

For salespeople to become more effective negotiators, they need to recognise this and get more comfortable with being uncomfortable!

Having spent countless hours running realistic and demanding negotiation simulations, I have often seen the salesperson’s selling comfort zone once again rearing its ugly head in terms of negotiation behaviour.  Salespeople will tend to do far too much information giving in the negotiation, driven by their predilection for persuading and selling.  In doing so, they miss out on gathering the necessary information that would enable them to make effective negotiation proposals.  They spend far too much time thinking about things from their perspective and not enough time where their focus should be – getting inside the buyer’s head, understanding things from the buyer’s perspective.  Professional buyers will tend to exhibit higher levels of information gathering, giving them far more knowledge and information that they can the use to their advantage.  In negotiation knowledge is power.

To successfully negotiate you need to understand – really understand – what the other person wants to achieve.  When you fully understand this, you can create a deal that meets the needs of both sides.  If you fail to gather enough information (as sales people frequently do) your chances of securing a profitable deal are very limited.  Salespeople need to move their own agenda and objectives from the front of their mind to the back of their mind.  The buyer’s needs and priorities need to be in the front of the sales person’s mind, and they usually are not.

If this situation continues, sales professionals are going to continue to be taken advantage of by the procurement professionals they encounter.  The sales profession must put more far more emphasis than it currently does on equipping sales people to be more confident and capable negotiators.