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Traditional Buyers and Sellers

Let's consider the positions, expectations, and relationship of buyers and sellers in a traditional negotiation, beginning with the position of both parties at the start of negotiations.

Home teams, as most sports fans know, have a decided advantage. Negotiations are usually carried out at prospects' locations, so these encounters are "away games" for sellers. The seller is therefore at a disadvantage from the outset. Most of the circumstances surrounding the negotiation favor the buyer. The buyer sits in his or her leather chair, for example, which tends to be slightly higher than the cloth chair the salesperson occupies. The buyer is the host, providing all creature comforts; the seller can only accept or decline those comforts.

Buyers are perfectly willing to conclude a potential closing meeting without consummating the transaction. In fact, sometimes they prefer it that way. People buying cars in the traditional fashion understand that sometimes the best way to determine if they have gotten the best offer is to leave the showroom. (Note that car salespeople work on their home turf, which changes some of the dynamics.) If the car salesperson sees the buyer walking out the door, he or she may also see the sale slipping away—and hurriedly start negotiating downward.

Given this phenomenon, many buyers prefer to negotiate over the course of multiple meetings. The starting point for each meeting after the first is the last (lowered) price from the previous meeting. Experienced buyers are fully aware of the quarterly pressures that selling organizations face, and may time the real closing meeting to coincide with that cycle.

Buyers have the luxury of knowing that regardless of how adversarial or personal a negotiation may get, forgiveness is only a phone call away—if, that is, they award the gold medal to the seller they've been battling with. Buyers don't usually have a great deal personally at stake. Sellers, by contrast, have commissions, pride, and career paths on the line—stakes that are heightened in the case of large transactions toward the end of a quarter. The buyer can be patient, comfortable in the fact that it makes little difference to him or her whether the contract is awarded on December 28 or January 10. The buyer can sit back and see how badly the seller wants this deal to happen now.

Experienced buyers know what they want to pay and have a proactive plan for getting to or below that figure. Sellers—wanting to get the deal, and assuming that the negotiated price will be less than the initial asking price—tend to ad lib responses to the buyer's implicit strategies and explicit comments. Smart buyers have at least three vendors competing, know their vendor of choice, and rarely show their hand. Buyers try to keep all vendors paranoid, and convinced that price will drive the ultimate decision. Sellers can seldom be certain that they are Column A, which is exactly what the buyer wants.

As emphasized in previous chapters, the essence of Customer Focused Selling is shaping conversations between buyers and sellers. Not surprisingly, we view negotiations in exactly the same way. Of course, conversations about business issues (framed by title/vertical industry/goal) are very different from negotiation conversations. But the good news is that this latter kind of conversation is easier to predict and script. You have a buyer attempting to get the best possible deal and a seller trying to close the transaction and (in theory) get the highest possible price.

So let's look at negotiation as a conversation the seller has earned the right to have, because he or she has executed all the necessary steps in the sales cycle and has otherwise behaved in a consistently professional manner. While you can seldom be sure you are the gold medalist, Customer-Focused sellers can take heart in knowing that the buyer has already said yes in making commitments at each checkpoint in the Sequence of Events.

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