How to Lose a Negotiation in 7 Easy Steps

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Aja Frost
Aja Frost


Every step of your sales process is a struggle in its own right, so by the time you reach the negotiation stage, it can feel like you've run a marathon — but you still have a ways to go.

salespeople losing a negotiation

Landing on agreeable terms that sufficiently suit your interests is a finicky, often frustrating process that can go south on a dime. Winding up on the wrong side of a slanted deal or losing out on a potential agreement entirely are possibilities in every negotiation — and you need to know how to steer clear of those outcomes.

From preparing the wrong way (or not at all) to letting the buyer handle the next steps, there are plenty of ways to stumble right before the finish line. So in the interest of showing you exactly what not to do, we've put together a handy, seven-step action plan for losing a negotiation.

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1. Start negotiating too early.

Let's say price has started to come up relatively early in the sales process. It's not uncommon for your prospect to ask about costs, contract lengths, and possible discounts on the first or second call. While you shouldn't evade their questions (which will make it harder to earn their trust), be careful not to get pulled into a negotiation until you're ready.

Give the buyer an idea of what the price will be to make sure it's in their budget. If they try to go back and forth with you, use one of these responses:

  • "I'm happy to discuss our options with you, but I think it would be more helpful to have that conversation after I've gotten more insight into your needs and shown you how our product might be able to help."
  • "This discussion is a little premature -- let's focus on seeing if you're a good fit before we get into the weeds on price."
  • "Would you be open to tabling this conversation for a bit? Once I've learned more about your pain points, we can figure out which [features, tier, package] will be best -- and that'll have the biggest impact on price."

2. Don’t prepare.

Walking into a negotiation unprepared is a surefire way to walk out with a bad agreement. It’s hard to think clearly when you're in the hot seat, so without a well-defined strategy you might end up agreeing to unfavorable terms or even losing the deal.

First, know your goals. What do you need vs. just want? Where are you willing to compromise? At what point must you walk away?

Next, go through the same exercise from the prospect’s perspective. If you can anticipate their objectives, where they'll be flexible, and where they won’t budge, it’ll be easier to suggest an agreement they’ll go for.

You should also develop strategies for overcoming their objections. Let’s say you’re pretty certain the buyer will ask for a monthly contract. If quarterly payment terms are preferable and you can come up with several reasons this is in your prospect's favor, convincing them during the actual negotiation will be less challenging.

3. Get down to business immediately.

Negotiations make most people pretty tense, so some immediately want to get down to brass tacks. However, taking the time to build rapport first is crucial. Negotiators who chat with their counterparts are more likely to compromise and share key information and less likely to make ultimatums or come to an impasse.

In other words, small talk can have a big impact.

4. Don't pay attention to non-verbal cues.

You might be talking the talk, but unless your body language and vocal cues match up with your words, you’ll be putting yourself at a disadvantage.

Negotiating in person? Pay attention to your hands and feet. Twisting your hands, touching your face, and bouncing or shuffling your feet are all common signs of anxiety. If you can avoid fidgeting, you’ll seem far more composed.

Also, remember to keep your arms and legs uncrossed. You might just be cold, but folding your arms makes you seem defensive and closed-off.

To put the prospect at ease and make you seem more trustworthy, try mirroring them. This technique works whether you’re sitting at the same table or talking on the phone. If you can see them, subtly copy their pose and some of their gestures. If you’ve only got their voice to go by, mirror their tone, intonation, and speed.

5. Dominate the conversation.

In negotiations, you actually gain power by saying less. Talking too much is an unmistakable sign of nervousness — and if the buyer can tell you’re anxious, they’ll be more aggressive than if you seem calm and in control.

Plus, reps who ramble may end up making unnecessary concessions. It’s much harder to accidentally volunteer concessions or slash a price when you’re listening more than talking.

The last benefit? Letting the prospect take the floor gives you greater insight into what they’re thinking. Pay attention to which items they spend the most time on and which ones they pass over relatively quickly, then use that information when you're requesting compromises.

Speaking of compromising ...

6. Refuse to compromise.

Agreeing to the buyer’s demands makes you seem weak, right? Wrong. Almost every negotiation requires concessions on both sides. After all, if the deal didn’t require any back-and-forth, it would’ve already been signed.

Not only should you be prepared to give up or modify some terms, you should actually build in a couple "wins" for the prospect.

"No one wants to feel like they lost a negotiation — especially a buyer," explains Jeff Hoffman, a renowned sales executive. “Create a few points where saying ‘yes’ makes the prospect feel like they won something."

For instance, if they seem concerned about migrating their data over to your platform, you could plan on offering free implementation support. "Winning" this point when it comes up during the negotiation will gratify the prospect and make them more receptive to your asks.

Above all, think of the buyer as your partner, not your opponent. When you’re thinking cooperatively — not competitively — finding a win-win solution is much easier.

7. Expect the buyer to take the next steps.

Once you’ve come to an agreement, have a system in place so the contract is signed and paid for as soon as possible. After all, right now the deal has the most momentum — the longer you wait to get the details squared away, the more likely it is that the buyer will change their mind about the exact terms.

HubSpot Sales Director Dan Tyre suggests having a payment link or invoice ready that they can fill out right away.

Some companies will need to have their legal teams look the proposal over. You should already know whether this is the case, thanks to the questions you asked during discovery. Come to a negotiation prepared with all the materials you need to kickstart their review process.

You’re in the home stretch — don’t lose your footing now. By avoiding these fatal mistakes, you and the prospect can emerge from the negotiation victorious.

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