A negotiation is like a high-stakes dance. Both parties need each other -- if one person takes an unexpected step or even walks away, their partner can’t continue. But neither knows exactly what the other is about to do. They can only guess based on their partner’s indicated intent and past behavior.
These conditions can make for a tense and stressful situation. Consequently, some salespeople conduct their negotiations as quickly as possible. The sooner it’s over, the sooner they can relax.
Reps might also assume an extended negotiation results in a less favorable outcome. The thinking goes that with more time to strategize, the prospect is less likely to agree to the salesperson’s proposal.
The opposite is actually true: A longer decision making process benefits both the buyer and the seller. Let’s dig into the “why” before exploring the “how.”
Why You Should Slow Down Sales Negotiations
1) You’ll Get a Better Read on the Situation
If you’re rushing through the negotiation, you’ll miss valuable information about your prospect’s priorities and goals, as well as potential blockers.
Here’s some sample dialogue to illustrate:
Rep: “$5,000 is the minimum dollar value for every bulk parts purchase you make.”
Customer: (hesitantly) “Ah, okay. How was that minimum determined?”
Rep: “The shipping costs for anything lower than that are prohibitive. Now, moving on to our recurring order policy … ”
Now imagine the salesperson had paused and said, “You sound a little hesitant about that minimum. What are your thoughts?”
She would have discovered her prospect’s orders vary dramatically in size: From $2,000 one month to $10,000 the next. With this information, the rep might have offered to negotiate that term rather than risk losing the business entirely.
When you take your time, you’re far likelier to hear what the buyer is saying (and what they’re not saying), and ask the appropriate follow-up questions. In the end, closing will be easier.
2) You’ll Gain Respect and Influence
The person controlling the negotiation’s pace controls the negotiation itself. After all, you decide how the conversation unfolds: When to move on, when a specific point requires more discussion, and when, if ever, to circle back to an earlier topic.
If you rush through steps as quickly as possible, your prospect will likely fight you for control. For example, if you say, “Let’s move on to payment terms” before the buyer is satisfied with the agreed-upon contract length, they’ll probably be even more set on their original stance because they feel ignored.
However, using a methodical, deliberate approach ensures all of your prospect’s questions and concerns are answered and tells them you have their best interests at heart. They’ll instinctively let you guide the negotiation.
Not only will the buyer be less likely to push back, they’ll also view you as more credible, trustworthy, and authoritative.
3) You’ll Both Make Better Decisions
It’s incredibly difficult to make well-considered, strategic decisions when you’re under time pressure. Research shows people take fewer risks in time-sensitive situations, typically opt for the simplest solution, and focus on the most negative characteristics of the decision. They’re also more likely to misinterpret information since they’re processing it faster than usual.
Obviously, these effects are undesirable. You’ve invested time and energy into getting the deal to this point -- don’t allow it to be derailed because neither you nor the buyer are thinking clearly.
Extending the negotiation process gives both sides more time to think and come to the best possible decision.
How to Slow Down Sales Negotiations
Strategy #1: Set Proper Expectations
Be clear that you don’t want to rush this process. Not only will your prospect feel more relaxed from the outset, they won’t be taken aback when the negotiation moves more slowly than they might have anticipated.
When you set the agenda at the top of the meeting, consider saying something like:
“Thanks for joining me to discuss the agreement between [prospect’s company] and [rep’s company]. We’re both interested in seeing your team [achieve X objective, solve Y challenge, capitalize on Z opportunity]. To get there, we’ll need to figure out [key issues]. I’m prepared to spend as much time as you need exploring the options and discussing any concerns.”
Other potential lines include:
“These conversations can often feel rushed. We shouldn’t cut corners, so I’m hoping we can take the time we need to make a thoughtful decision.”
“My customers usually find it’s easier to reach the best agreement when neither side is rushing. Will you let me know if, at any time, you’d like to discuss a point in more depth?” “This meeting is scheduled to last [X minutes/hours]. If we’re not finished by [time], however, I’m happy to [go over, put another one on the calendar].”
Strategy #2: Take Breaks If Necessary
If either side becomes emotional, aggressive, or obstinate, call for a time-out. A short break gives everyone a chance to calm down and clear their minds. It also helps you overcome obstacles that may otherwise stop the deal from going through.
To initiate a break without showing you’re flustered or upset, suggest a snack or bathroom run. Or bring in refreshments; not only will you give the negotiating parties a breather, you’ll subconsciously earn goodwill by sharing food.
Going for a walk with the other side can work wonders as well. Away from the negotiation table, people typically become less hostile. Walking side by side also puts you in a collaborative mindset, so they’ll be likelier to work with you by the time you return.
Negotiating over the phone? Say, “At this point, it might be helpful to pause for a few minutes so we can both regroup. Should we jump back on the call at [current time plus 10 minutes]?”
Strategy #3: Schedule Another Meeting
When they come to a seemingly unbreachable impasse, many negotiators thank each other and go their separate ways.
But you can rescue the deal by saying, “[Issue] seems important to both of us, and I think we can find a way to achieve both of our goals. Should we pause for now and pick the discussion up again on [date and time]?”
If you want to be more assertive, say, “I’m not ready to give up on this partnership. Are you open to reconvening on [date and time]? In the meantime, we can both review our objectives.”
Either the buyer says yes -- in which case, you’ve potentially salvaged the opportunity -- or they’ll say no -- in which case, you know it wasn’t the right one in the first place.
Strategy #4: Pause and Listen
It’s easy to talk a lot during a negotiation, especially if you’re nervous or feel compelled to justify your requests to buyers.
However, one of the simplest ways to slow down a negotiation is to pause often and listen.
As an example, here’s a hypothetical exchange:
Rep: “We offer 10 hours of complimentary training. You’ll also have unlimited access to our resource library, which has more than 300 videos on best practices, common questions, and how-tos.”
Prospect: “I was hoping we could have two seven-hour sessions, one for each of our offices.”
The salesperson could spend two minutes explaining his company’s policy and why he can’t offer 14 hours of training. There’s a strong chance the buyer will get frustrated or bored. This point may even lead to a stalemate.
Alternatively, the rep could simply say “I see” and fall silent.
If his prospect is highly invested in having two sessions, she’ll be compelled to share her reasoning. The salesperson could use this concession to request one of his own, like reduced support during the contract itself. If the buyer isn’t dead-set on the additional session, his silence will likely prompt her to backtrack. Either outcome is preferable to a deadlock.
Your instincts might be telling you to speed the negotiating process up, not slow it down. But taking your time will make a huge difference. Next time you’re sitting at the negotiation table, remind yourself slow and steady wins the race.
Originally published Jan 17, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated July 28 2017