by Brian Signorelli, author of “Inbound Selling: How to Change the Way You Sell to Match How People Buy“
When you work in sales, there’s no end to the advice you field. Everyone — from bosses to consultants and trainers to the industry veterans you meet at the hotel bar — has tips and techniques that (supposedly) vastly improve your likelihood of making a sale. But here’s the problem: The way people buy has changed. And that means that a lot of the conventional wisdom out there just isn’t that wise anymore.
Many of the ‘best practices’ being passed around are obsolete. That’s because now, people do their own research, identify their own problems, and design their own solutions. Frankly, they don’t want a salesperson. They want a consultant.
This means all the advice around the salesperson’s holy grail — closing — no longer applies. If you’re floundering during the negotiation phase, that might be why.
The most successful salespeople in the post-Internet marketplace are selling the inbound way — meaning they engage prospects who’ve expressed an interest in their product or service, focus on their pain points, and gain their trust over time.
I did a Google search and quickly found the most popular pieces of sales negotiation advice being shared these days. Some of it still applies, but much of it does not. Keep reading to learn whether the conventional sales wisdom you’ve heard all your career still applies in the age of inbound.
Conventional Sales Wisdom #1: Never Negotiate with Influencers.
You don’t always have complete access to decision-makers during the entire sales process. Also, there is typically more than one decision-maker in any given sale, and the influencer may be one of them. I agree that negotiating with the influencer or influencers alone is probably not going to drive great results, but the influencer can be your champion to tip you off or coach you on what types of points need to be addressed in the contract signing process. Don’t count this person — or these people — out.
The Verdict: DISAGREE
Conventional Sales Wisdom #2: Never Be the First to Make an Offer.
This makes sense to a certain degree, but one could make an equally valid argument as to why you should be the first one to make an offer. If you know you need to negotiate around price to get a deal done, you’re better off setting the range — “anchoring” — rather than letting the prospect set the range.
Starting the range low is key, using dollar figures or percentages — whichever appears more powerful or substantial.
For example, a 5 percent discount may sound like a slap in the face. But if you’re negotiating a sale for a $100,000 per year product, that equates to $5,000 annually. This is an amount that carries far more weight than 5 percent, and offering it puts you in a much better negotiating position.
The Verdict: DISAGREE
Conventional Sales Wisdom #3: There’s a Big Difference Between a Trade-off and a Concession.
The website www.insightsquared.com features a blog titled “The 5 Keys of B2B Sales Negotiation.” In my book “Inbound Selling: How to Change the Way You Sell to Match How People Buy“, I cite it as an example of conventional wisdom that is absolutely true. In it I wrote:
This is probably my most favorite point raised by the team at InsightSquared. In effect, they define a trade-off as a give/get. For example, if you offer a 5 percent discount, then the prospect will sign their contract two weeks earlier than planned. However, a concession is one-sided. In the same scenario, the prospect may demand a 5 percent discount or threaten to take their business elsewhere. Because the prospect is viewing you as a commodity in this second scenario, either something went wrong in the sales process itself, or you’re potentially dealing with a poor-fit potential new customer that’s going to cause a lot more problems down the line. Walk away from people like this.
The Verdict: AGREE
Conventional Sales Wisdom #4: Never Start Negotiating Too Early.
Negotiations should not begin until you have finished the soft close — or what Dave Kurlan in “Baseline Selling: How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know About the Game of Baseball“ calls the ‘inoffensive close’. The soft close is the natural conclusion to the Advise step. You’re basically asking the prospect if there’s any reason at all they wouldn’t proceed with implementing the plan you’ve developed together, which you’ve both agreed will help them achieve their goals or overcome their challenges. In other words, don’t start negotiating unless you have an agreement, at least in principle.
The Verdict: AGREE
Conventional Sales Wisdom #5: Offer the Ultimate Package Early.
I completely disagree with proposing a product, service, or solution that your prospect does not need. This completely undermines your credibility as a rep and sets your prospect up for a poor experience. The ‘ultimate’ product may offer functionality or services that the prospect doesn’t need, and the oversell is setting the services or account management teams at your company up for disaster.
Instead, when the time comes to recommend the product or service, inbound sellers recommend the right product or service for their prospect and make sure they can stand behind why they’re recommending it. Your prospect will appreciate this even if it’s higher than they were expecting. Setting a range early in conversations will also help. Quoting a price by starting with the highest and moving back down to the lowest reverses the psychology of price negotiation. It gets “better and better” (to the prospect) as you go, because you’re coming down to lower and lower levels of pricing instead of causing them heartburn by going in the opposite direction.
The Verdict: TOTALLY DISAGREE
Conventional Sales Wisdom #6: Use Silence to Your Advantage.
Silence is far more powerful than most reps realize. I have observed many prospects literally talk themselves into — and out of — tough demands during a negotiation solely because the sales rep has not responded whatsoever. I suspect it is related to the simple fact that few people are truly comfortable with silence. My advice is simple: When in doubt, stay silent. Let 10 or 20 seconds go by, and I guarantee you’ll reestablish control of the conversation.
The Verdict: AGREE
If you’re still using outdated advice to negotiate and close your deals, you’re working much harder than you need to be. The way people buy from businesses has evolved, and you’ve got to adjust for it. So examine your negotiating and closing strategies carefully. If they don’t make sense for the informed buyers you’re meeting with today, it’s time to throw out the old playbook and embrace the inbound way of selling.
Author of “Inbound Selling: How to Change the Way You Sell to Match How People Buy” Brian Signorelli is the director of HubSpot’s Global Sales Partner Program, where he advises HubSpot partners on inbound sales and inbound marketing to grow their clients’ companies, as well as their own. He regularly writes, develops, and presents sales content for HubSpot’s partners and their customers. He is also the founder of InboundSeller.com.