The other week, I saw a young girl walk up to the counter of a nice department store.

“I really want this toy,” she told the employee. “But I'm $10 short. Can I please have a discount?”

He was clearly amused but said that would be against store policy.

Negotiators sometimes come to an impasse, no matter how much both sides would like to agree. As a salesperson, this usually happens when the prospect asks for a discount or term you simply can’t grant.

If you turn them down outright, as the store employee did to the girl, your prospect might walk away -- and neither of you will get what you want.

The solution? Use the four-part response recommended by former FBI hostage negotiator Chris Voss in his book, “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It.”

Chris Voss' Four-Part Negotiation Strategy

“How Am I Supposed to Do That?”

This question immediately puts the ball back in your prospect’s court. Now, the onus is on them to come up with a solution -- rather than on you to concede or refuse.

In addition, they’ll be forced to acknowledge that they’re making a ridiculous or outsized request.

Make sure you sound respectful and genuinely curious. If you sound hostile, this question will backfire.

Here’s an example:

Prospect: “My boss is on board, but his manager won’t approve the purchase if it’s over $8,000.”

Rep: “How am I supposed to do that?”

Prospect: “Hardware plus support comes to $11,000, right? Is there any way you could knock something off from support? It won’t bring us down to $8,000, but I think I could persuade my boss’s manager with that.”

The buyer essentially admitted his original ask wasn’t feasible -- and better yet, adjusted it.

“Your offer is very generous. I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me.”

If you ask how you’re supposed to fulfill your prospect’s request and they respond with a variation on, “I don’t know,” then politely but firmly say:

“Your offer is very generous. I’m sorry, that just doesn’t work for me.”

As Voss explains, “This well-tested response avoids making a counter-offer, and the use of the word ‘generous’ nurtures your counterpart to live up to the word.”

Saying “I’m sorry” also creates empathy.

Here’s how the salesperson would use this response if her prospect hadn’t softened his request:

Prospect: “My boss is on board, but his manager won’t approve the purchase if it’s over $8,000.”

Rep: “How am I supposed to do that?”

Prospect: “I’m not sure. She’s pretty dead-set on that limit.”

Rep: “That’s a generous offer and I want to make this partnership work. I’m sorry, but $8,000 just doesn’t work for us.”

Prospect: “Hmm. Do you have any flexibility in boosting our level of support? She might go for it if we’re getting premium support.”

Rep: “Yes, I can upgrade you to the priority package with no charge.”

“I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I just can’t do that.”

Does this response sound familiar? Voss says it’s “a little more direct” than your previous statement.

“The ‘can’t do that’ pulls great double duty,’” he adds. “By indicating an inability to perform, it can trigger the other side’s empathy toward you.”

At this point, you’ve said “no” in other words three times. Unless your prospect is extremely set on getting what they’ve asked for, they’ll probably compromise.

Prospect: “My boss is on board, but his manager won’t approve the purchase if it’s over $8,000.”

Rep: “How am I supposed to do that?”

Prospect: “I’m not sure. She’s pretty dead-set on that limit.”

Rep: “That’s a generous offer and I want to make this partnership work. I’m sorry, but $8,000 just doesn’t work for us.”

Prospect: “Unfortunately, I don’t think I can persuade her at the current price. Are you sure you can’t do $8,000?”

Rep: “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I just can’t do that.”

Prospect: “I know our department really needs this new equipment … Could you put me in touch with a reference who might be able to sell her on the value?”

Rep: “Definitely -- I’ll send you two contacts by the end of the day.”

“I’m sorry, no.”

“Delivered gently, this barely sounds negative at all,” writes Voss.

You’re politely standing firm. If the agreement is salvageable, the buyer will agree to your terms or ask for a different concession. If they keep pressing, it’s likely time to cut your losses or offer a concession.

Prospect: “My boss is on board, but his manager won’t approve the purchase if it’s over $8,000.”

Rep: “How am I supposed to do that?”

Prospect: “I’m not sure. She’s pretty dead-set on that limit.”

Rep: “That’s a generous offer and I want to make this partnership work. I’m sorry, but $8,000 just doesn’t work for us.”

Prospect: “Unfortunately, I don’t think I can persuade her at the current price.”

Rep: “I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I just can’t go that low.”

Prospect: “From my end, the price is non-negotiable. Are you sure you can’t do $8,000?”

Rep: “I’m sorry, no.”

Prospect: “Let me tell her you can’t do $8,000, show her the ROI information you gave me, and get back to you.”

While holding your ground during a negotiation is hard to do, it’s often necessary to reach a fair deal agreement. This four-part response should make saying "no" easier.

HubSpot Free Sales Training

Originally published Jan 23, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated August 30 2017

Topics:

Sales Negotiation