Like most skills, your ability to negotiate improves with practice. However, getting opportunities to practice isn’t easy.
There’s a lot on the line during a negotiation with the buyer. You need to focus on your objectives, your prospect’s goals, potential landmines, and more.
In addition, this isn’t an optimal time to try a new technique -- if it doesn’t work and things go south, you could lose the deal.
Enter negotiation role play exercises. Working through a hypothetical scenario with a team member or coach gives you a low-stakes opportunity to identify your strengths, weaknesses, and stumbling blocks.
These activities are also a fantastic way to practice responding to difficult events, such as unreasonable discount requests or unexpected demands.
Negotiation Role Play Exercises for Salespeople
1) Identify and Overcome Personal Negotiation Weaknesses
It’s crucial to be aware of and prepared for your personal negotiation shortcomings. For example, maybe you tend to get nervous and offer discounts prematurely -- or conversely, your unwillingness to compromise leads many potential buyers to walk away.
- The salesperson
- The prospect
- Write down one personal area for improvement related to negotiating.
- Choose who will play the salesperson and who will play the prospect. (You can play multiple times so each team member has a turn as the salesperson.)
- Go through a standard negotiation. The person playing the salesperson focuses on overcoming, avoiding, or dealing with their specific weakness.
- After you come to an agreement or decide your needs are incompatible, debrief. The person playing the salesperson reviews their performance for their specific area of improvement. The person playing the prospect then gives their feedback.
- Switch roles. The salesperson becomes the prospect, and the prospect becomes the salesperson. Complete the exercise again with the new salesperson focusing on their personal weakness.
2) Practice Dealing With Extreme Situations
Many sports coaches “overtrain” their athletes. "If you can run six miles in high altitudes," they reason, "you’ll be in great shape to run a race that’s three miles at sea level."
The same concept can apply in sales. Once you’ve successfully negotiated in an extreme situation, you’ll be mentally and emotionally prepared for a straightforward one.
- The salesperson
- The prospect
(This role play is designed for two participants -- one salesperson and one prospect. If you want a challenge, have the salesperson negotiate with two-plus prospects.)
- Write down the most extreme negotiating situations you’ve ever experienced (tight deadline, massive deal, legal complications, and so forth) on pieces of paper. Shuffle the papers and randomly pick one.
- Choose who will play the salesperson and who will play the prospect(s).
- Run through the scenario. After an agreement is reached -- or you reach a standstill -- debrief. Which responses worked well? Which were unsuccessful? How will you apply these takeaways to future negotiations?
- You may choose to redo the negotiation with the same circumstances or pick another scenario from the options. Complete the entire exercise as many times as you’d like.
3) Practice Negotiating With Difficult Prospects
Normal negotiations are challenging enough. Negotiations with irrational or demanding buyers may be one of the most challenging situations you’ll face as a salesperson. The more practice you have, the better your chances of crafting a mutually beneficial deal.
This exercise will give you experience staying calm and dealing with difficult personalities.
- The salesperson
- The “difficult” customer
- The person playing the difficult customer chooses two to four behaviors to use during the role play. Ideas include frequently interrupting, making threats, delivering “all or nothing” ultimatums, abruptly changing your mind, bringing up irrelevant details, using critical language, becoming excessively loud, shutting down topics you don’t like, refusing to commit, and/or letting your attention wander.
- Run a standard negotiation for 10 minutes.
- Spend five minutes writing down which responses and techniques worked and which did not.
- Switch roles and go through the exercise again.
- Compare your notes. What worked? What didn't? Identify the most productive ways to respond to a hostile prospect.
4) Learn the Value of Mutually Beneficial Negotiations
The three basic negotiation practices are win-lose bargaining (one person gains at the cost of the other), win-win bargaining (both people benefit), and mixed-motive bargaining (both people benefit by “expanding the pie.”) This exercise from MIT, known as the Two Dollar Game, illustrates all three -- and shows mixed-motive bargaining usually leads to the most desirable outcomes.
The Two Dollar Game requires a moderator and at least six players, so ask your sales manager or another member of your team to lead it. (And don’t read the guidelines below, or you won’t be able to play.)
- Three (or more) groups of two
- Tell everyone they’ll be negotiating three times with three different partners.
- Put everyone in random pairs. Each pair is told they have $2. They must divide the $2 between themselves.
- Players typically first think, "This is easy -- we can each have a dollar." However, every person receives a piece of paper with secret instructions. These instructions discourage a simple 50-50 compromise. (You can find a printable version of each participant's instructions on this page.)
- Give the pairs 10 minutes to negotiate.
- Organize them into new pairs and have them run through the exercise again. Give each partner a piece of paper with new secret instructions. (You can find a printable version of each participant's instructions on this page.)
- The participants will be expecting to switch partners again. To demonstrate the importance of mutually beneficial agreements and preserving healthy business relationships, ask them to run through the exercise for the third time with their current partner.
- There are no secret instructions for this round: Participants can use any strategies and styles they’d like. Some negotiators will reward their partner’s kindness in the last round with kindness in this round, while others will use this round to take revenge on a hostile or difficult partner.
- Ask each person to share their secret instructions with the partner they had in the second and third rounds. Ask them to review their individual performance (either in a group or on paper), along with the approaches they found effective versus ineffective.
Practice makes perfect -- or at the least, makes you a stronger negotiator. Use these exercises to prepare yourself for every technique and scenario imaginable.