We often hear from printing salespeople that negotiating with customers over terms, price, and specifications is the least enjoyable part of their job. Negotiating is not for the faint of heart. It can be contentious and, if not done well, it can cause of lot of hard work to be wasted. To make matters worse, many customers perceive print providers as a class of suppliers with which the customer holds the power.
Closing deals is not about who wins and who loses. It is about negotiating with an understanding that providing print-based solutions is a long-term relationship business, and you will do business together in the future.
It should never be about the person you are negotiating with; it is about the opportunity. Whatever happens during the negotiation, there should always be an open door to do business together again. Ultimately, it is about solving problems, coming together for a deal, and not caving in to unreasonable demands. The more effective we are at gaining and enhancing mutual satisfaction, the more likely we will complete a successful negotiation.
A Five Step Negotiation Process
1. Prepare to negotiate: Sales preparation is usually the key step people miss. Before you start, make sure you know what needs to be negotiated and have in your mind the best case scenario. Carefully assess not only your own and your company’s interests, but those of your customer. For instance, for any given print project, you will need to know how low you can go in price, given the customer requirements. Be prepared with back-up options for quantity, substrates, turnaround, design, format, etc., and anticipate what the other side’s objections and demands will be.
2. Create a positive atmosphere and process: How a salesperson presents and negotiates his or her position can dramatically affect the perceived value of the final offer. Building a trusted relationship is the cornerstone of creating a positive experience. Staking out non-negotiable positions, demonstrating unprofessional tactics, or getting involved in personality differences is a prescription for failure. Setting the right expectations and delivering them is crucial.
3. Explore what is important: The secret to less conflict in negotiations is a thorough knowledge of not only the customer’s requirements, wants, and worries, but yours as well. Separate unreasonable demands and positions from what is really in the interest of the customer. For instance, a demand for a low-priced print direct mail campaign could be offset by exploring a lower quantity, more relevant, but higher priced campaign that generates better results.
4. Present your proposal: We have been evangelizing the importance of providing selling proposals versus quotes in the printing industry for a long time. It is very difficult to negotiate a quote without appearing to “cave in”. By providing a potential offer based on customer input and requirements, the salesperson can seamlessly negotiate alternatives.
We are not suggesting that salespeople provide multiple alternatives within proposals. What we are suggesting is that proposals mirror customer feedback over the course of the sales cycle. If the customer does not like the proposed solution or price then, clearly, some other things need to be discussed and negotiated.
5. Reach agreement: The ultimate achievement is when both sides are satisfied. Most salespeople can deal with difficult buyers. Bad behavior and unfair negotiating techniques should not be confused with normal business negotiations. If the buyer is difficult to work with, salespeople must find ways to diffuse the bad behavior and regain focus on what is in the best interest of the customer and his organization.
If a mutually agreeable negotiation can’t be attained, then the salesperson needs know in advance at what point they need to walk away. Whatever the result, the objective is to leave the door open to come back and sell again.
Successful negotiating habits and techniques can be learned through experience, practice, and study. There are many good books and courses available on negotiating. One of my favorites is the classic, “Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In” by Fisher and Ury. Being a better negotiator is very helpful in our personal lives, but it is essential for all salespeople who want to sell more and generate higher margins.
Joe Rickard is a training leader and consultant who works with printing and technology companies in the graphic arts to improve their sales and operational effectiveness. He is the founder of Intellective Solutions, a provider of customized sales, operational and sales management training material and services. Contact Rickard at 845-753-6156, email@example.com or visit www.intellectives.com.