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How You Can Have Successful Negotiation Skills in Providing the Best Service to Your Clients
Negotiation Skills Are the Key to Your Success
My husband and I have been self-employed since 1989. We successfully sold real estate as a team for several years. In fact, during those years we were known as “The Dynamic Duo”. Today, we operate a successful technical writing business. This article identifies the tools that have been useful in helping us secure clients and retain ongoing business by negotiating favorable contracts for our clients, thus producing ongoing business for our company.
Achieving a successful negotiation session is a process, not an event. Consistently, three steps come to the forefront of implementing successful negotiation skills.
Step 1: Be Prepared -- Gather information to be a prepared negotiator
Prior to stepping foot into the negotiation arena, take extensive time to do as much research as possible uncovering the client’s critical obligations and needs.
Start by gathering information about your client. Find out as much as you can about the company and about the people who run the company. Read the profile of the CEO, directors, business executives, and decision-makers in the organization. Read news leases and press clips about the company. Get their vital statistics. If you can get access to the company’s financial records, read their profit and loss statement and their balance sheet to see how they spend their money and how they set their budgets. The more information you have about a company, the more you can determine what their wants, needs, and desires are and how likely they are to receive what you have to offer.
There are many online resources to help you complete a diligent search of a company’s profile. Start by going to the company’s website and read the “About Us” page and any biographical information you can find. Other sources include:
- Search engines, such as Google, Yahoo, and Bing to gain a general concept of the company
- Consumer websites, such as the Better Business Bureau to see what consumers have to say about the company
- Social network websites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Linked-In, to see what common folks have experienced when associating with the company
- Information websites, such as Wikipedia and Manta(dot)com to gain viable nuts and bolts information about the company
Spend a good amount of time on various websites to get a sense of the company, its products and services, its atmosphere, who the executives are, and what they like and do not like.
Step 2: Listen -- Listen with interest and intention to learn what the client wants
When you are fortunate to get a meeting with a company executive, don’t just sit there like a bump on a log while your client is talking. Actively listen to your client. Listening allows you to hear your client address their needs and listening gives you an opportunity to determine what you have to offer that satisfies their needs. Listening is a very critical component to developing your negotiation skills. In fact, my husband once said to me, “If your mouth is opening, you’re not listening!” He’s right; and, when you are sitting across the table from a client, you need to listen. You need to hear what your client has to say about the matter which needs attention. In every conversation, you need to let your client do most of the talking.
Sometimes, in order to move a conversation forward, you need to ask questions. It is alright to ask probing questions, but your most important job is to listen for key issues and concerns. There are closed-ended questions and open-ended questions. Closed-ended questions simply require a yes or no answer and do not necessarily provide additional insight into your client’s situation. Open-ended questions are questions that require more than a yes or no answer. In order for people to answer open-ended questions, they must put some thought behind their answer. An example of a closed-ended question would be, “Do you like the color red?” The answer would be a simple yes or no and you are not any closer to knowing your client’s desires than when you started your session. An example of an open-ended question would be, “How do you feel about the color red?” Even if your client answers the question by saying they don’t like the color red, you could continue the conversation by asking, “What is it about the color red that you do not like?” Knowing what your client does not like about the color red would give you an opportunity to follow up with ideas and possible solutions to alternative colors.
One strategy I use to keep a client talking is to repeat the tail end of their sentence, the last four to five words that they have just spoken. For instance, if a client says, “Our company organization manual was written five years ago.” Following that comment, I might say something like, “…written five years ago.” Note, I would not repeat the tail end of their sentence in a question format, because that might suggest that I was questioning them in a judgmental manner. I simply repeat the last few words, nodding my head, to get the client to continue talking about that subject. It would be natural for the client to continue their thought by saying something like, “Yes. We only had two employees five years ago; and, every year, we take on more employees. We need to update the employee manual to include all of the updates that have been initiated.” Then, I might say, “…updates that have been initiated.” The client is likely to respond, “Yes; right now, our company has about five years of supplemental inserts placed at the back of the employee manual and it would be nice to have all of the supplemental inserts placed directly into the manual.” Now, after conversing with the client using the “tailing” technique, I have determined a solution to offer. I now know that if I offer to consolidate the client’s employee manual into one succinct document, I would be offering the perfect solution to their clearly identified dilemma.
A word of caution is in order regarding the tailing technique for moving a conversation forward. As much as possible, mimic the words the client uses but use common sense. For instance, if the client says, “I don’t like the color red because it’s too bright for me.” Repeat back with a nod that you understand, and instead of using the word “me”, use the word “you”. Since you are referring to what the client stated, say, “It’s too bright for you.”
Operate with the knowledge that your client’s needs come first. Everyone wants to be heard and understood. By listening to your client and engaging with them in conversation you show that you care about what is important to them.
Step 3: Give to Receive -- Give to receive so everyone wins
As a salesperson or consultant, you need to understand that negotiating is not about you getting everything you want from a transaction. Contrarily, you have to give to get. The final segment of every negotiation situation comes down to determining the price that will be paid for a product or service.
In steps 1 and 2, you gathered information and discovered what the client needs. Now, you need to assess what your offerings are and whether or not you can supply what the client wants. If you determine that you can fulfill the client’s needs, it is now time to offer your solution. If the client likes what you have to offer, you begin the part of negotiation that is usually left as the final matter – the price. This is the point where many salespeople and consultants fail in the negotiation process. In order to defend the price of your product or service, you need to place a value on it prior to showing up to the meeting. Having a price brochure with established prices is a valuable tool for salespeople and consultants. By doing this, you establish a baseline price point for various solutions you might offer. Ideally, your price brochure should quote your highest price range to assure that you are able to be flexible in negotiating the minimum price you are willing to accept for your product or service (which may be below the price quoted in the brochure).
Once you have established your client’s needs and feel that you have a viable solution for your client, hand your brochure to the client so that the client knows what people are expected to pay for the type of product or service that you offer. If you have reached this stage of the negotiation process, you are operating under the assumption that both you and your client are satisfied that you have a solution which solves your client’s dilemma. You are now simply discussing the price of that solution. You have handed your price brochure to your client and your client is now looking at what it costs to obtain your solution. At this stage, be quiet and refrain from defending your price. You have placed a value on your solution and you want your client to determine what price they will pay for your solution. If they accept your price outright, that’s awesome. But, the chance of your client offering to pay the suggested price is rare. They will likely want to negotiate a lower price. That’s alright. Just let your client be the first to suggest the beginning bid for the price to be paid for your solution. This way, you can determine the pace of the negotiation process. At this stage, you know three things: 1. You know your client is interested in your solution. 2. You know your value. 3. You know what your client is willing to pay for your solution. Now, you can determine whether it is most equitable to negotiate the price, the terms, or both.
If your client offers a significantly low price, do not be offended. Instead, ask why they offered that price and then listen to their explanation. Use Step 2 above to have a conversation about your client’s thoughts on the price they offered. You may discover that their budget simply cannot accommodate paying more than what they offered. Knowing this information, you are in a position which allows you to offer a price solution that works for both of you.
Through my negotiation history, I have found that the person who gives first tends to send a message that they are willing to deal in an equitable manner. Think about what you can give that would make your client feel they have been equitably fulfilled. For example, let’s say that you normally charge $75.00 per hour with a minimum four hour contract, producing a total minimum cost of $300.00 for any and all projects. Further, let’s suppose, you have assessed your client’s project and know, realistically, that you can deliver the completed project in two hours; the price solution to your client could be that you forego the four-hour minimum, giving your client a break on the total cost by offering your services for $150.00. You still receive $75.00 per hour and your client receives a 50% price break! That is significant to a client on a restrictive budget.
On the other hand, perhaps, you could offer a payment plan to cover the full cost of your solution. You may even decide to lower the price, altogether. In any event, you are in control of the price negotiation and you are in a position to offer a price solution that works for both you and your client. Consequently, you get the assignment and your client feels that they have been treated fairly.
Regardless of whether you use your negotiation skills to gain clients or to represent your client, being prepared, listening, and giving are steps which assure that you negotiate equitable outcomes for any occasion.
Special note: Always think of your prospects as clients. Clients are people you care about and when you care about people, you are more inclined to treat them fairly when negotiating with them.