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Have you ever been sitting during a negotiation wondering why you have no leverage and your prospect can push you around and beat you up for better terms, lower price and more? You wonder how that weak positioning suddenly manifests itself during a critical stage of the sales process?

It didn’t manifest itself. You created that condition.

How you position yourself early in a sales conversation is as important as anything else you’ll do in pursuing a client, and in staying on a level playing field with them. Most of the conditions you will be dealing with in the final negotiations are established very early in the process of prospecting and meeting with your client. You set the tone and hence create your own negotiating environment, good or bad.

That means that the setting of the initial conversation (starting with how you prospect that client) is going to have a lasting effect, beyond them even buying, into the fulfillment/renewal/referral stages. Setting that foundation correctly is key.

To do that, whenever possible you should position yourself as a buyer and not as the seller.

What does that mean? That means that your prospecting should be done with a focus on disqualifying them as a prospect, not qualifying them as a customer.

Read that last sentence again. It’s key.

It is a highly counter-intuitive thing to do, and initially it may feel dishonest to some sales people, but if you really think about it, it is in fact accurate that your customer needs to be qualified into the business conversation as much as you do. That comes from the assumption that you are seeking a win-win fit, instead of just “selling something”. It actually makes you more of a professional to be concerned that the customer is a fit and not just assume that.

Think of the professions that require a lot of professional skill and training, like a doctor or dentist. Would you consider it professional and ethical of a doctor to allow you to walk into their office and just buy something because you think you want it? If you walk in and ask for a triple bypass, doesn’t a professional’s ethics require that the doctor start asking you questions to make sure that a triple bypass will actually help you? Or should he just assume that you already know what you need and provide it without further conversation? After all, they have the rent and payroll bills coming up at the end of the month, so they need to make their numbers as well, right?

Your role as a professional in your industry is no different.

  • Is it OK to sell someone advertising that you know will not reach the right audience for them to get results?
  • Is it OK to sell someone a car that doesn’t fit their family needs?
  • Is it OK to sell someone a software that doesn’t fix the issue that made them seek software to begin with?
  • What if they tell you that they really think they need it?

Whatever it is you sell, chances are that you know more about the subject than the buyers do. Even if you are new, your company (management and colleagues) know more about it than buyers. Buying accounting software, for example, is just one thing they do during the day, but for you, it’s pretty much all that you do. Even over just one year, you’ve seen more case studies and mistakes made then they likely have over their career. You have expertise that pretty much requires that you steer them towards their needs and not just their wants.

Prospect from a mentality of “being the buyer” and making sure the customer actually needs what you are selling first. It is the right thing to do, and it also creates and maintains equal leverage as a party in the business conversation. When negotiations are based on confirmed need, there is a balance that prevents either party from bullying the other one.

It’s what professionals do.