By Keith Place, author of 'Selling for Everyone'


To improve your skills you need to be able to understand the process of negotiation and the behaviours of the parties involved. Yes it is a process. Many of us recognise the ‘game’ we are all playing, but nevertheless we are all uncomfortable if the rules of the game are not followed. Do you remember the haggling scene from Monty Python’s ‘The Life of Brian? If you haven’t seen it, it’s a must! In this scene, unless any haggling took place a sale was never going to occur. Not only was it very funny, but very true in most cases.

Negotiation should be a win-win. If one party wins, by definition another loses. This is not a good way to leave a deal and let’s face it, business will never occur between both parties again. The loser will go elsewhere. If you insist on playing hardball for the sake of ‘winning’, will the person on the wrong end of this style of business ever refer you or your business to anyone else? Will they provide testimonial? No and no again. What goes around comes around. So, be firm, hard, fair, reasonable, professional, businesslike, honest, trustworthy....don’t be cruel, unrealistic, bullying, threatening, sarcastic, arrogant...which person would you most like to be? Who would you most like to do business with?

One thing to remember, you are out to get a good deal for yourself/your business. That is not the other person’s role in this. Only you can determine what you need out of the deal and what you are prepared to give.

With these thoughts in mind, let’s get to the detail of how we can improve our negotiation skills.

Process and Behaviours in Negotiation:

1. There is a premise that both parties have an interest in a transaction taking place ie a sales opportunity has arisen You now need to establish the terms — so negotiation begins!

2. Whether you are buyer or seller you need to have an opening position. In some cases it is a published price or if you are a buyer it is an offer based on local knowledge or referenced information. Understand your opening position and be comfortable and confident with it.

3. Price is never all that you can negotiate. You need to understand what it is you and the other party value in this transaction. There are many reasons for entering into a sale that are not about price. Some examples are: Quality, service, sustainability, kudos, branding, personal referral, immediate need, desirability, etc. Improve your knowledge of your own reasons for buying or selling; what it is you and the other party value most.

4. I have said you need an opening position. That’s right but it goes further than that. You need an opening position (like to get), a middle ground (intend to get) and a walk away position (must get). Clearly once you have reached walk away you have stepped over the line of must get! If you take an auction as an example, you will have an opening bid (like to get), you may have several other bids in the middle ground (intend to get) and then you will come to your final bid (must get or walk away). Practice knowing what your, Like, Intend and Must positions are before the negotiation. This will improve your confidence and help you to perform better in the tense situation of a negotiation. It will certainly stop you giving away all that you value in the transaction.

5.Make it your business to understand the position of the other party at all times during this process How do you so that? Listen. Listen very carefully. Ask questions and listen some more. This is more important than all the things you prepared before the meeting. Why? Because the other party will provide you with clues of what they want and what they need out of this transaction. Once you know that what can you do? Yes that’s right. You can start to make an offer that suits them but meets your requirements too. This moving towards a win-win.

6. Present a solution. Now that you know more about what they want, propose a reasonable and sensible outcome.

7. Present a counter-solution. When offered a solution, provided that it’s reasonable and sensible, take time think about it carefully and consider all the things you value. Make sure that as many of them as possible are covered and push back a little. This is haggling. It’s not being disrespectful but it is part of the ‘process’. Re-present the possible outcome.

8. Summarise and check details. Often the detail can trip you up. Cover everything. Get agreement from both parties. Shake hands. Do not at this stage go for another concession! If you do you need to get out of the 1980’s!

It is worth remembering that both parties want a conclusion that leads to a transaction. If both parties are firm and fair you should reach a win-win solution.

To improve your skills, prepare more for each meeting, practice with colleagues and friends/family, think through the process and have a planned approach, make your approach flexible, understand your limits.

About The Author

Keith Place is the founder and director of Oxford Sales Consultants, which he established at the start of 2009. He brings over 20 years experience in sales and marketing. His experience, which he carries forward into his business, covers areas such as:

Sales and Sales Management, Marketing Management and Strategic Business Planning, Training, Coaching and Mentoring, Key Account Management and Planning, Strategic improvement Programmes, Change Management.