By John Holland, Chief Content Officer, CustomerCentric Selling® – The Sales Training Company
Image courtesy of Imagery Majestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Most sellers, sales managers and executives of vendor organizations are rightfully concerned about what is said during buyer interactions. My first mentor in sales was a wise man (not my manager) that took me under his wing. One of the many things Dick instilled in me was the perspective that knowing what not to say in certain situations is critical to success or failure. This advice remains valid to this day. I wanted to share some instances where I believe a seller’s first impulse can make the job of selling more difficult that it otherwise needs to be.
When buyers ask about pricing before sellers have had a chance to learn about their needs and develop potential value, my suggestion is to try to avoid getting dragged into premature cost discussions. Consider making a response like: “We’re early in our discussions. I’m hesitant to provide pricing until I better understand your requirements. Can we defer the pricing discussion until we get to that point?” Most buyers will allow you to go further, a major advantage because as potential value is established, price becomes less important.
If a buyer persists in wanting estimated pricing, many sellers choose to give a range. When taking this approach, how often will buyers remember and bring up the lower figure later in buying cycles? My preference is to offer a “not to exceed” figure. Hopefully this approach can minimize pricing issues down the road.
When buyers want to begin negotiations, try to qualify them.
We encourage sellers to negotiate only after buyers indicate that they are the vendor of choice. If the buyer isn’t to that point, my suggestion is to acknowledge that the buyer has further work to do in evaluating their options. If and when he or she decides you are the vendor of choice, at that point suggest both parties try to finalize terms. If sellers are “Column A” buyers will come back to them.
Once good faith negotiations have started, stop selling! Continued attempts to sell will make sellers appear defensive. Buyers may find it annoying. If you are the vendor of choice, the selling is done and the last step is to arrive at mutually acceptable terms, so just focus on that.
During negotiations if a buyer asks for pricing that is lower than what you can provide, my advice is to resist the temptation to tell them there’s no way you can get to that level of discount. Doing so can make discussions more adversarial than they need to be. I suggest sellers respond by taking a stand (value, cost of delay, ask if the buyer would like to take anything out, etc.) and try to move negotiation forward. This approach can reduce the chance that the buyer will hang onto a number that you can’t get to.
After a successful close shake hands with buyers, say you look forward to working with them, briefly tell them the next few steps, thank them for the business and leave. As a manager I saw more than a few situations where sellers continued to sell after closing the business and jeopardized getting the order.
A final thought: Throughout buying cycles, thoughtful pauses before addressing buyer questions can be used effectively. Knee-jerk answers (things that shouldn’t be said) can be troublesome. Calm, measured responses minimize the chance of going down the wrong path and are likely to be better received by buyers.