Study: Top execs give salespeople low marks in negotiation skills
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Study: Top execs give salespeople low marks in negotiation skills

Salespeople cave in on price too quickly during negotiations.

It’s not us saying so. It’s what top executives say – including ones just like your buyers.

Specifically, that was the judgment of 500 corporate executives who participated in the National Census of Sales Performance. The census was conducted back in 2002, but there’s no reason to think things are significantly different today.

Executives also said that:

  • Salespeople are too quick to assume a price objection is really about price. Often it’s a smokescreen for deeper issues that the buyer is reluctant to discuss.
  • Price objections are often the result of poor communication on the part of the seller. Specifically, sellers often fail to do a good job exploring the costs and consequences of the customer’s problem.

Don’t be too easy
These execs were underwhelmed by sellers who are too agreeable. Accommodation is not the best answer to a tough negotiation, the executives said. All it does is make the customer expect something for nothing in future negotiations. Nor were they keen on compromise. A meet-in-the-middle approach is a lazy way to resolve issues, and usually fails to meet the needs of either the salesperson or the customer.

So what do these top executives respect?

They listen
Active listening is the number-one skill of a good negotiator, according to the survey. Active listeners are always on the alert for the feelings being expressed behind the words. They use a lot of “we” statements and try to avoid too many “I’s.” Conversely, the poorest negotiators are those who want to do the talking and don’t let other people express themselves without interruption. When salespeople start from their own position instead of the customers’, they come across as someone who can’t accept that negotiations are not personal. They appear to be defensive instead of objective — always a bad position from which to negotiate.

They find small agreements
A successful negotiation is really a series of small agreements. Executives respect salespeople who can chip away at disagreements and find common ground, using every opportunity to get on the same side as the prospect and try to get him or her to agree.

Tools of good negotiators
The best negotiators also display the following characteristics, according to the survey:

  1. Preparation. Ill-prepared negotiators not only hurt their own position; they also drag out negotiations because they don’t have the information they need to make a deal.
  2. Patience. In an hour-long negotiating session, concessions usually occur in the last 10 to 15 minutes. Good negotiators wait for the right time to act.
  3. Expertise. Salespeople who know their stuff have tremendous power and influence in negotiations.
  4. Confidence. The best negotiators remain calm in the face of high-pressure tactics. They don’t panic, even when deadlines are imminent.
  5. Character. Good negotiators do what they say they’re going to do, without exception. Once they agree to a point in the negotiation, they don’t try to change it later. Nothing will scuttle a deal faster than perceived lack of integrity.

The National Census of Sales Performance Survey was conducted by Advantage Performance Group.

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