Three Deal Killing Blind Spots in Negotiations

One factor common to all sales professionals is the nagging suspicion and doubt that surfaces in our thoughts as we approach negotiating a close to a major deal. Have I answered all my customer’s questions? Is my price low enough or has someone else brought in a low-ball number at the last minute? Can I count on everyone’s support or is there someone who can derail my sales effort?

It’s easy for sales representatives to become so completely immersed in the selling process that they can’t clearly see their vulnerabilities. The same principle applies to the negotiating process. “Doesn’t my customer see how hard I have worked to get them the very best deal?” Unfortunately, the answer is “no” or “probably not” or “why should they care?” Sometimes our hard work, diligence and personal investment of time and energy leaves us blind to obstacles and challenges facing our customer on a personal and business level.

What is a blind spot?

A blind spot can be an error in your thought process that keeps you from seeing the picture from your customer’s perspective. It can be a gap in your research or a hole in your logic that’s led you to an erroneous assumption. In short, it’s allowing your investment in the selling process to blind you to the issues, strategies and tactics that are likely to surface in the negotiation process. Do you ever find yourself saying the following?

  • “I’ve built a strong connection to all the decision makers; I’m sure they trust my recommendations.
  • “ I’ve covered all of their concerns and believe we can finalize the deal quickly.”
  • “Everyone seems to be on the same page; the deal should be pretty straightforward.”
  • “They’ve got to make a change and ours is the only logical choice.”

Let’s take a look at three blind spots that are deal killers and what you can do to discover the underlying threat to closing the deal.

Three Negotiating Blind Spots

  1. The “Rapport Doesn’t Beat Trust” Blind Spot.  It’s easy to assume that because you’ve built a strong rapport with someone that they trust you. Wrong. Your customer may like you and enjoy your company without trusting you. Rapport allows you access but it says little about your overall capability, the performance of your solution or the veracity of your pledge to deliver value. Trust, not rapport, is critical in driving a negotiated settlement.

At the heart of trust is credibility. “Can we trust that your solution will deliver the desired results?” “Can we count on your company providing the resources promised and agreed upon in our negotiated agreement? “

What to do? The best way to test whether you have built rapport alone or developed the credibility necessary to engender trust is to test your customer’s willingness to take action. In every negotiation session request that your customer share his or her priorities. Disclosure is therapeutic for both parties.

 Think in terms of reinforcing your credibility at every step. Share the results from similar sales. Remind your customer of your business case and the ROI. Be willing to address service issues and response time. Don’t focus on the worst-case scenario but be willing to add precautionary measures as needed.

  1. The “Corporate Benefits Don’t Assuage Personal Fears” Blind Spot.  Every sales proposal represents change for the buying organization. The larger and more complex the proposal, the greater the change required. Consider a hospital that’s mulling a new software suite that embraces patient records, accounts payable and receivable, even performance measures for departments. The ramifications of implementing the new information system touches a broad spectrum of executives and managers in the healthcare organization.

Each stakeholder perceives change through a different lens and sees success or failure as it relates to them personally. While your software proposal may provide extraordinary business benefits to the hospital it may raise fears and concerns at a personal level among individual stakeholders and buying influences. “Will the implementation disrupt my vacation plans?” “Will the capital outlay put my pet project on the back burner?” “How will I get up to speed on the new software and its capabilities?”

Bob Miller and Steve Heiman, in The New Conceptual Selling1, refer to a “basic issue” as the fear of incurring a personal loss from implementing change. The basic issue may have little to do with the salesperson and everything to do with the threat that change poses to the customer on a personal level.

What to do? Just ask. Before finalizing any negotiation session probe your customer. “Is there anything that we have discussed or agreed upon that makes you uncomfortable?” “What potential downside concerns you the most?” Probe for anything that might be a hidden personal loss for your customer. Then consider what you (and your proposal) can offer that minimizes the threat posed to your customer.

  1. The “Agreement Isn’t Commitment” Blind Spot. Often the sales representative is faced with a team of stakeholders who have input in the negotiation process. This blind spot occurs when the sales representative detects what appears to be acceptance on how to resolve points of dispute. Unfortunately, acceptance may not imply commitment.

Several months ago a close personal friend shared a story that illustrates the difference between agreement and commitment. His son is a highly recruited football player with multiple offers among the regional division one schools. In an attempt to sway his son to choose Auburn University (his alma mater), he shared, what he believed to be, well-thought-out reasons. For example, Auburn is closer to home and easier for parents attending football games; and his high school girl friend is attending Auburn.

When the National Letter of Intent Day came, my friend was shocked when his son selected Georgia Tech. “I can’t believe it! I thought we were in agreement and then he selected Tech.”

The task of the sales representative isn’t just to gain agreement it’s to create a heightened commitment that will support action. When a customer is committed to a provision, he/she is readily willing to act.  The challenge for the negotiator is straightforward: “what do you do if you suspect that one or more parties appear to agree but may be reluctant to act?”

What to do? One alternative is to conduct controlled discussions. Use a prioritizing exercise to rank order issues. Conduct brainstorming to identify options. Focus on the issue of urgency, immediate action and executive support. The purpose of the discussion is to give all members an opportunity to voice reservations while allowing the sales representative an opportunity to assess their commitment to act. Don’t just search for agreement—drive commitment to action.

Parting Thoughts

In every negotiation, the eight hundred pound gorilla in the room is the status quo. Have you truly created a compelling rationale for change? The status quo is a powerful but subtle competitor. It is easy for a sales representative to assume customers see all the weakness and limitations of the status quo. The sales professionals’ continued focus on outside competitors leaves the status quo unchallenged. Make sure you highlight the threats, risks and long term costs associated with failure to finalize the deal quickly.

  1. Miller Robert B.; Heiman Stephen, and Tuleja T. The New Conceptual Selling. Warner Business Books: 1987, 1999,2005.