You may be of the view that in this new virtual world, opportunities to connect with people, to understand each other and to find ways to work and collaborate together have changed the dynamics of effective negotiation for ever. But, have they? Isobel Rimmer finds out
Over the years I’ve been asked by sales leaders to coach sales teams to ‘close deals’, ‘negotiate better’ and be confident to ‘ask for the order’. And yes, there are techniques that can help. But if we really want to negotiate well and continue to have effective, long term relationships then it’s not about tricks or tips, it’s about working together from a position of integrity and a genuine desire to help our customer solve a problem. Because the best negotiations allow for each party to come away happy with the outcome.
Good negotiation starts with getting to know each other with neither side intimidated by the other. This is the time when we connect, we start to understand each other’s world and what’s on the other person’s radar. I refer to these as ‘results’ – the more important they are and the more pressing – to the other party – the louder they’re bleeping on the radar and the more focus they will demand. These ‘bleeps’ are tangible, measurable and we can usually talk about them, openly.
But there’s more to just connecting on someone’s KPIs. Negotiating is a social skill – more Emotional Intelligence (EQ) than IQ. It’s about connecting at a personal level – having empathy and understanding, being able to appreciate how the other party is thinking and feeling. I maybe negotiating with a client who has to complete a strategic project or deliver on revenues each quarter. But this client may also be new to the business, keen to raise their profile and build their reputation. I need to be curious about them as an individual too, not just ticking off the results they’re measured on. I call these their personal ‘wins’ and they are key to negotiating well.
Negotiating is a social skill – the more I understand about my client or the other party, the more I know what they will value. I must be curious about their presenting problem – what it is they’re trying to achieve or get done, but I also need to know what sits behind that, the underlying problem. So, the skills in the discovery phase of asking questions and listening, really listening, require the negotiator to be curious, interested and genuine looking to understand the other party. People say and do things for a reason. We need to be curious and find out why.
Are these behaviours of connect and discover so different in the virtual world? If you are curious and interested in others, I’d argue it’s as easy – even easier – to get to know them. You get to peek into their personal space when people are WFH – see the books on their shelves, the artwork behind them, the small child coming in with a sign that says, “Can I have an ice cream?” (happened to me the other day – it was delightful – and yes, his Dad said he could…). Or, the new client with a photo of her Bernese Mountain dog – we connected very quickly when she heard my Bernese woof loudly during our Zoom call.
We achieve better negotiations when we are clear about what the other party is trying to achieve and why. Working virtually allows us to share ideas and suggestions quickly and easily. We can share screens, we can create prototypes and discussion documents. We can be more agile. We can set up another meeting at the click of a scheduling button and get commitment to the next stage of our discussions. We can show the other party, through shared screens and discussion, what we’ve done for others in a setting that is personal yet professional.
And finally, good negotiation is about working together, jointly. Collaborating for the benefit of both. We can negotiate virtually around any issue if we are clear on what the other party is striving for strategically, what matters tactically (these aspects will be bleeping on the radar) and what processes they have to work with operationally. We find that out through our time spent in the discover and share phase.
But remember negotiation is a social skill. By building strong interpersonal relationships and seeking to understand, culturally, what’s going on in their world we are better equipped to achieve better outcomes.
Coach your people to be curious, to want to understand their customers’ worlds better.
Because the more competent they are in the four phases of connect, discover, share and collaborate, the more effective negotiators they will be (virtually or otherwise).
Isobel Rimmer is founder of training and development consultancy Masterclass Training and author of new book Natural Business Development: Unleash your people’s potential to spot opportunities, develop new business and grow revenue