By Ian Newall, Business Manager for Open Courses at Huthwaite

When a customer is considering your solution, you may find yourself in the midst of a negotiation. If you make a deal, it will be heavily influenced by the value that the customer ascribes to your offering. In turn, this means that you need to build value for your service or product before you begin negotiating the terms under which you will be doing business.

Put another way, the closer your solution fits with the customer's vision of what they want to achieve, the more your customer will value your solution and the more they will be willing to pay!

In order to demonstrate to the customer how well your solution fits, you should fully uncover and develop the customer's needs. Only then can you demonstrate how well your offering and the customer’s aims align. Questioning your customer will help you understand their requirements in depth.

Three-and-a-half decades of research by Huthwaite International has shown that asking the right questions is one key differentiator that sets skilled sellers apart from the herd. This is the basis of Huthwaite's flagship selling programme SPIN® Selling Skills.

Not surprisingly, Huthwaite's research on skilled negotiators also reveals high use of questioning. Almost a third of the time used by skilled negotiators was spent on asking questions. In particular, two behaviours were used twice as much by skilled negotiators as by their average counterparts:

•‘Seek Information’ — a behaviour that seeks facts and opinion from the other side. This behaviour has two main purposes. 1. As the saying goes ‘knowledge is power’. Aim to know more about the other side than they do about you. 2. Asking questions gains control of the process and flow of the proceedings.

•‘Testing Understanding’ a behaviour that seeks to establish whether an earlier contribution to the negotiation has been understood clearly by both sides. This behaviour also has two main purposes. 1. It can save countless hours taken up unfurling misunderstandings. 2. Skilled negotiators tend to avoid saying ‘no’. Instead they will use this type of questioning style to send the message to the other side ‘I don’t like your proposal’ and puts the ball firmly back in the lap of the other party.

Once you and your customer are in agreement as to what their needs are you can start to determine the details of how you wish to conduct business together. Making a proposal before you have reached this point may well be dangerous as you could find yourself arriving at the negotiating table with nothing left to give but your margins!

Creating value is explored in detail in my colleague, Guy Aston's articles 'Sales And Negotiation: The Links Between The Two' and 'Value Building: The Importance of Customer Value'.

To find out about Huthwaite Open Negotiation Skills training go to: Course Guide 2011 for individuals and small groups

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