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The Illusion of Sales Negotiation Mastery: Unveiling the Truth About Some Sales Professionals

The Illusion of Sales Negotiation Mastery: Unveiling the Truth About Some Sales Professionals


Overconfidence in Negotiating: A Common Pitfall

Many sales professionals believe they’re top-notch negotiators; however, are they?  This article explores why some people, especially those in the sales profession, tend to overestimate their negotiating skills.  Shockingly, eighty-seven percent of salespeople and sixty-seven percent of procurement and supply chain personnel never receive formal, in-depth negotiating skills training.

Negotiating is a crucial skill for salespeople, and while many salespeople claim they have sufficient skills, overconfidence can be their undoing.  Let’s dive into some common reasons why some salespeople and sales managers think they’re better negotiators than they actually are.  In this article, I’ll also provide some recommendations and strategies to address the pitfalls.

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Lack of Self-awareness

A lack of self-awareness is one of the primary reasons some sales professionals overestimate their negotiating abilities.  Some salespeople and sales managers often fail to recognize their weaknesses, which leads to inflated self-assessments of their skill level, competency, and abilities.

Recommendation: Regularly assess your negotiating skills and seek peer and senior management feedback (only if the management has the expertise to provide effective coaching.)  Consider professional negotiating skills training to improve individual and organizational performance and business results.

Limited Understanding of Negotiation Strategies

Some salespeople mistake “bargaining and haggling” for negotiation.  Negotiation is not only about negotiating volume commitments, prices, discounts, volume rebates, and promotional or merchandising programs.  Negotiating is a complex process that involves various interdependent variables, moving parts, and strategies like careful needs assessment, value creation, problem-solving, and relationship-building.

Recommendation: Expand your knowledge of negotiation strategies, tactics, techniques, phrases, questions, and questioning techniques to enhance your skills.  If your company is not investing in professional development and training, take the initiative and enrol in a negotiating skills training seminar or workshop.  While reading a book on the topic might help – live training programs are more effective and beneficial.

Ignoring Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence plays a crucial role in effective negotiation.  Sales professionals who focus solely on facts and figures in discussions, presentations, and price- or solution-based proposals may miss the emotional forensic clues of their counterparts, leading to suboptimal outcomes in negotiations.

Recommendation: Develop your emotional intelligence by practicing active listening, empathy, and understanding the emotional aspects of the negotiation.

Underestimating the Importance of Preparation and Planning

Many negotiators, especially in sales, need to pay more attention to the importance of preparation and planning.  Some salespeople believe their ‘charisma, natural charm, and historically based instincts’ will carry them through, neglecting to invest the time and effort into the groundwork for successful negotiation.

Recommendation: Invest the necessary time and effort in thorough research and preparation before each negotiation.  Knowing your client’s needs and potential objections can give you a significant advantage.  Unfortunately, doing live, in-person role-playing involving real-world scenarios scares the daylights out of most salespeople.  However, role-playing is an effective way to practice new skills, learn more, and adapt.

Our Negotiating for Sales Success training seminars, workshops, and coaching sessions focus on having situational application discussions using real-world negotiating scenarios facing sales organizations.  We don’t believe in artificial role-playing or telling silly stories irrelevant to the industry the salespeople work in.

Sometimes entertaining stories are fun and suitable for people to listen to, and they may help to provide context or examples of how a negotiating strategy or tactic might work; however, I’m not sure what a story about a hostage situation has to do with critical commercial negotiation involving a large club or home improvement channel customer!

Failure to Adapt and Learn from Experience

Some sales professionals fall into the trap of using the same negotiation tactics (tricks or gimmicks) repeatedly, even when these tactics consistently yield subpar results.  Some salespeople think they’re skilled enough – but most fail to adapt to different and increasingly complex negotiation situations.

Recommendation: Always do a forensic autopsy (no, not that kind of autopsy) and analyze your negotiation outcomes, learn from your mistakes, and adjust your approach based on each unique scenario.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias where individuals with low ability at a task overestimate their ability.  This is particularly prevalent in negotiations because those with the least competence often need more knowledge to evaluate their performance accurately.

Recommendation: Stay humble and always be open to feedback.  Be aware of the Dunning-Kruger effect, and only assume you’re a good negotiator through continual training, self-assessment, practice, and improvement.

The Role of Sales Managers in Negotiation

Competent and experienced sales managers with the right expertise are essential for developing their team’s negotiating skills; however, familiar challenges arise in this context.

Ineffectiveness of Some Sales Managers as “Coaches”

One common issue I encounter during our negotiating skills training workshops and coaching sessions is that some sales managers, despite their years of experience, may not possess the coaching skills necessary to help implement and reinforce the new learning with the members of their sales teams.  Some sales managers might excel as negotiators themselves; however, teaching and mentoring their salespeople in this complex skill can be an entirely different challenge.

Recommendation: Sales managers must coach their people using a proven negotiating methodology.  Sales managers need to coach using a negotiating ‘playbook.’  The negotiating playbook includes best practices and easy-to-use tools, templates, scripts, phrases, questions, and questioning techniques.  The playbook provides the foundation for effective coaching and mentoring by sales managers.  Nothing is worse than salespeople or sales managers with fifteen years of experience – one year at a time!

The Bad Habit of Taking Over Negotiations

Another problem is that some sales managers, eager to secure a deal, often take over negotiations their salespeople should be capable of handling.  This habit has nothing to do with the use of the ‘Higher Authority Gambit’ in a negotiation.  When a sales manager takes over a negotiation, it not only robs the salesperson of getting valuable experience but also sends a message that the manager may not have confidence in their team’s abilities.

Recommendation: Sales managers should empower their team by allowing salespeople to lead negotiations.  They can provide guidance and support from the sidelines.  The salesperson should have the opportunity to learn and grow through practice.  I realize valuable deals are in play, and some sales managers may be unwilling to risk blowing a deal so that a salesperson can get some much-needed experience.

Conclusion: Empowering Sales Teams for Negotiating Success

To address these challenges and maximize the potential of your sales team, it’s crucial to strike a balance.  Sales managers can become more effective negotiation coaches by improving their understanding of negotiating, mastering their coaching skills, and empowering their salespeople to take the lead in negotiations.

In the competitive world of sales, self-awareness and constant improvement are essential.  By addressing the challenges within the team and providing the proper fundamental training and guidance, sales professionals and their sales managers can collectively work towards becoming exceptional negotiators.  This approach will lead to better results and foster a culture of continuous learning and growth in the sales organization.


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