How to be a smart sales negotiator in a tough market

Communication Courses

Whether it’s #brexit nervousness or a general downturn, we’ve recently been invited to deliver negotiation skills programmes for a number of clients.  Are we seeing organisations preparing for the a potential downturn by making sure their staff are well equipped to deal with it?  

Negotiating in a tough market is of course a blessing and a curse, it just depends on your perspective; buyer or sales professional.  Let’s face it, the buy side is in its element when suppliers are under pressure. They can capitalise in a tight market and leverage their spend in a somewhat crude yet effective way to get the best deals.  Drop your price or we’ll take our business elsewhere is the typical brick bat approach!  Sales teams however are under massive pressure driven by the scarcity of demand.  You better be a smart negotiator if you’re selling into a tightening market, it can be the difference between results or failures. 

It’s not just about holding your nerve and using every technique in the ‘how to negotiate’ handbook, it’s that you have to step up the market insight in a big way.  

Your market and competitor knowledge is vital

Negotiating blind isn’t recommended at any time, but in a difficult market it’s suicide.  Understanding the position of the competition is the only way that you can be confident about when to hold out, or push forward, or concede whilst in the throws of negotiation. 

Mining for accurate competitor data is a significant task, that’s why many negotiation teams have researchers as part of the crew.  If you don’t have that luxury, then you probably have to step up and work creatively at uncovering as much information as you can yourself.  

One route to a deeper, richer insight about what your competition is doing is to propagate and use a ‘buying advocate’.  

Establishing a buying advocate

This is someone within the buying organisation who (for whatever reason) is positively inclined towards your companies sales offering.  ‘Buying advocates’ occur for a host of reasons; they may have prior experience of buying from you; they may like your offering more than the competitors; they may simply warm to you for any number of reasons.  Sometimes you will not even know why they are positively disposed towards your solution, it’s just clear that they are.  It is also possible that your buying advocate will not be part of the formal purchase decision team, and probable that they are not from the professional procurement community.  Whoever, their contribution to your market research can be invaluable.  

A strong buying advocate can provide you with all kinds of information and insight.  For example, an understanding of who the key players and influencers are in the buy decision, or insights into the buy process and it’s progress towards a contract. But most importantly, they can give you inside perspectives concerning what your competitor organisations are offering.  

In a tight market, having or not having a strong buying advocate can make the difference between winning or losing an opportunity.  Be a little more bold, ask them what they think, what the organisation is thinking, who the other suppliers in play are, how does your offering compare?   You’ve got little to lose, they can always choose to withhold if they like, but often may share gems of information that can help you tweak your positioning to great effect.  

Bob Bannister