George Robertson, CFP, CRPS, AIF

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Becoming a Better Negotiator

Whether closing a sale, haggling over a price with a supplier, or discussing a raise with an employee, business owners use their negotiation skills nearly every day. While you may already be an effective negotiator, you may want to consider some strategies that can help you maximize the chances of achieving the results you desire in business negotiations.

Negotiating should not be seen as a zero-sum game. When two parties enter into negotiations, they are both looking to create something of value that did not exist before. Instead of taking an adversarial approach, think about how both parties can arrive at a place that is mutually beneficial. Without abandoning your own interests and objectives, take into consideration the interests of your negotiating partner. Reflect upon what your priorities might be if you were in your partner's shoes and how you can best meet those needs.

Before pulling up to the bargaining table to negotiate an important deal, make sure you are fully prepared. If, for example, you are attempting to sell a product at a certain price, have plenty of evidence on hand to justify the price you have set, such as information or testimonials about the quality of the product relative to similar products in the marketplace and about the prices of comparable products offered by competitors. Practice with a business partner or co-worker, asking for feedback and advice on how you can improve your arguments and presentation.

Find out as much as you can in advance about your negotiating partner so that you are better able to explain in detail why your offer is ideally suited to meet his or her specific needs. It may be tempting to fall back on clichéd phrases about the virtues of your company or product, but many clients will see through a one-size-fits-all sales pitch. In the course of your presentation, concentrate at least as much on your individual client's needs and wishes as on the product or service offered.

If you are the customer, come to the negotiating table with a set of questions about the offer and information about the prices for similar products or services available elsewhere. Have in mind an ideal price and the degree to which you would be willing or able to deviate from that price if, for example, you were offered a volume discount, a maintenance contract, or free delivery.

Listen carefully to what your negotiating partner has to say, and think about whether you can offer a greater degree of flexibility than you initially anticipated. If necessary, ask for additional time to think about any new demands for concessions before entering into a firm agreement.

The deal you are negotiating may be large and complex. Be alert to any hidden agendas, and do not allow yourself to be pressured into signing a contract you do not understand. If you are attempting to close a sale, do not insist that a client make an immediate decision if he or she feels uncomfortable doing so. While using strong-arm tactics to get the customer to sign on the dotted line may be effective in the short term, exerting too much pressure could jeopardize your relationship with the client and may even damage your reputation for honest business practices.

Inevitably, some bargaining sessions come to an abrupt halt when neither side is willing to give any more ground. This may not, however, be the end of the story. Avoid showing anger or irritation if you are unable to strike a deal. Prepare yourself mentally for the possibility that the initial round of negotiations will not go your way, and imagine yourself accepting gracefully a negative outcome. When talks appear to have broken down, let your negotiating partner know you appreciate the time he or she has taken to discuss the transaction, leaving the door open to talk again. Even a session that ends at an impasse can be useful in building a relationship that could result in cooperation in the future.

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