Commentary: Winning Redefined

The best salespeople don't strive for the win, but for the win-win.

I was recently at a conference where attendees were asked to come up with words that describe salespeople. The responses were 100% negative. Let’s just say the word “slimy” might’ve been mentioned a time or two. What was most interesting to me is that the entire audience was actually made up of – wait for it – salespeople.

It got me wondering: Why do salespeople have such bad reputations? No doubt, it’s because they’re viewed as always trying to pull one over on people. You can picture the car salesmen not being completely honest about the life of that engine. Or the loan officer who forgot to mention those added fees. Or the smooth-talking cable company rep who managed to cut your monthly bill – for a grand total of one month.

Whether it’s fair or not, all salespeople are grouped in with these unscrupulous characters. So how can you break this seemingly unbreakable salesperson stereotype? I believe it comes down to how you negotiate.

Let’s start by thinking about our human nature. It goes against our instincts to give in. Instead, when we’re negotiating a deal, we’re conditioned to control the conversation, apply pressure, stare them down, then make them sweat and squirm in their seat until they beg us to fleece them. Let’s face it – we’re simply wired to want to decisively win every single time we strike a deal. And yet, for salespeople, this is absolutely the wrong way to think.

Now in reality, you’re not going to run roughshod over everybody you deal with. But admit it: deep down you sort of want to. You want to walk away from negotiations with clients or suppliers or bosses and feel like you got the better of them. But if you want to reach your full potential as a salesperson, and if you want to escape the “slimy” mold, you’ve got to stop thinking this way. If you don’t, then end-buyers will see you just like they see the guy who sold them a lemon.

Truly, the best salespeople don’t strive for the win, but for the win-win. Sure, it’s rare that a deal is perfectly fair to everyone involved. The goal of deal making, though, should be to satisfy the key players – you among them. Here are a couple examples of ways to do just that.

Recently, HALO’s (asi/356000) Nina Shatz got an email from an event planner. It had a link to an online site that had a great price on beanies – so great that Shatz had no chance to make a sale and salvage any margin at all on a 50-piece order. The planner, of course, wanted Shatz to match the online price.

Many salespeople would’ve just moved on and not even bothered to make a counteroffer. But Shatz looked closer at what the Internet vendor was actually providing. She found that the lowest price was only available for an order of at least 96 beanies with a logo that required 5,000 or fewer stitches. The problem was the buyer’s logo needed about 19,000 stitches, meaning the actual online cost would be astronomically higher. Shatz explained this to the event planner, who then gave the end-buyer the real facts. In the end, Shatz got the sale, a supplier got some business and the client was happy. Nobody fleeced anybody, but everybody was satisfied.

Next, while it’s important to be fair to customers, I can’t stress enough how crucial it is to also be fair to suppliers. If you constantly lean on suppliers to give you the best pricing, you won’t be looked upon favorably. Instead, you need to give as often as you take. Josh Frey, the owner of distributor On Sale Promos, understands that.

A while back, Frey had a chance to earn a pretty significant apparel order from a pro sports team. If you’ve ever dealt with these types of apparel deals, you know how challenging the margins can be. For the order to be worth it, Frey needed to negotiate excellent vendor pricing. Fortunately, Frey’s company had a good relationship with a particular supplier. In fact, the summer before, Frey’s team held a contest that generated $85,000 worth of sales for the supplier. So when Frey asked his vendor for discounted pricing, he got it. Frey earned the pro team order, and no one involved felt slighted in the least.

These are just two examples of the right way to negotiate – built on fairness, not on a fleecing philosophy. You’ll find even more strategies like these in the upcoming April issue of Advantages. The cover story, written by Chris Ruvo and titled Inside the Minds of Master Negotiators, will encourage you to think differently about deal making, and hopefully in turn put you on a path for even greater, sustained success.