I spent some time last week talking about the finer points of effective negotiation. If you read it, you know what to expect. There can be a tendency to panic when venturing into the unknown with a potential client for the first time. This week I want to cover how to initiate the process. If you use the information in this post as an introduction, and the content of the second to run the meat of the process, you should find success more often than not.
Effective Negotiation: Burgers and Big Myths
The big question is how do you start a conversation with someone you don’t know to try and sell them something you have? There is a big myth behind this issue. We tend to think we need a hook, or something even more clever, to get the client interested in what we have to offer. Thinking like this will kill your proposal before you have a chance to make the pitch.
It’s a mental barrier. If you are new, or in a slump, the mental gymnastics of scheduling a pitch meeting alone can be terrifying. You have to remember though, you have an audience. My friend, and former business partner, spent some time as general manager of a large car dealership in my hometown. He was able to motivate his sales team effectively by reminding them WHY it was okay to approach a customer on the lot.
Some of the sales staff were a bit apprehensive until he told them, “Remember, they are not here to buy a hamburger.” What a mental shift! Keep that mindset when you are in the boardroom and your jitters will subside. The only reason you are there to make a pitch is because you were INVITED.
Let that sink in. After a few calls and emails somebody is curious about your product or service. Curious enough to give you audience. Curious enough to INVITE you into their boardroom and take a bit of their most precious commodity, time. Never discount that fact.
Seeing Through the Screen
Next, don’t fall for the hype. I can’t tell you how many times I was told, “We are happy with what we have, but we will take a look at what you guys are all about.” Me and my business partner would smile when we heard that statement. They were giving buy signals without even knowing.
If they were really happy, why were we there? If they were completely satisfied, why give us audience at 9:30 in the morning? It’s not like we were taking them to lunch afterward. We were there because they were interested in our service. The statement was just commentary.
3 Fail Safe Starters
Let’s back up a bit now. You are over the mental hurdles of scheduling the meeting. You realize you are there because they want you there so all stomach butterflies are in line. So how do you start? What do you say to someone you don’t know? I have found there are 3 fail proof openers.
Personal Connection. Negotiation thrives when a relationship can be the basis. If you are in the CEO’s office, or a boardroom laden with plaques and awards, scan them. You might find a degree from the university you attended hanging on the wall. That’s a connection. Maybe you find an industry award you are very familiar with. Talk about that to put a feather in their cap. Again, a connection. If pictures of kids and family are all over the place, that’s a no brainer. You are dealing with a proud mom or dad. Speak to that accordingly. There are probably 20-30 conversation launch points in an office or boardroom if you pay attention.
Weather. Cliche? Maybe. Effective? Yes. Discussing how hot, cold or rainy it is will always generate a response, particularly if the weather on your end has been much different. Why? Regardless, weather affects us all. Talking about it creates a very real human connection. It evokes a sense of community. It gives a basis for negotiation as people, rather than one company pitching to another.
Business. This is one of my favorites. I usually couple it with one of the other two if I can. If you can not find any other point of connection, talk to them about their business. Do your homework first so you are knowledgeable. Start by saying something like, “I know XYZ Corporation is known for X,” or, “I know you guys focus on X in your industry.” Then finish with, “I’m curious though, where do you feel you make the most impact?” Then shut up and let them talk. You will undoubtedly find several commonalities you can revisit during negotiation.
People are the Point
The whole point of starting conversations like this is not to butter up your prospect. If you go in with that attitude they will spot you like a lion waiting for the one dull wildebeest who pauses too long at the water hole. On the contrary, the goal is to get to know them better as PEOPLE. You must remember that’s who you are dealing with at the end of the day.
Executive directors, board members and successful business people have a life too. Their schedules are filled with tee-ball games, ballet recitals and date nights with their spouse. Getting a glimpse into that world is pure gold. There is a new found appreciation for not just what they do, but who they are. You will find the same appreciation reciprocated on your end.
For me, the success gauge of negotiation can be felt at the end. Good negotiation creates gravity. You can feel the impact you make with someone when you leave the boardroom if you have made the connection and your solutions make sense. Just remember, you are not there because they want a hamburger.