Fortunately, adversarial negotiators are easy to spot if you know what to look for. Once you recognize their tactics, they quickly lose power. Below are some common adversarial negotiation tactics you might encounter in the course of closing a sale along with some brief countermeasures.
Adversarial Negotiation Tactics & Solutions
1. False Deadlines: Pressuring you to agree to terms before you are ready.
Solution: Don’t allow yourself or the sales process to be rushed. If you’re forced to fast-forward through demonstrations and explanations, you could be accused of glossing over important details later on. Be prepared, and test the reality of the deadlines with questions. Remember that everything (including time) is negotiable.
2. Delaying a decision and ignoring deadlines: This is designed to create anxiety and pressure you to make concessions. Makes you wonder, do they really want to buy? Is this a priority, or are they just fishing?
Solution: Determine what’s causing the delay. Perhaps other projects have gotten in the way. Politely remind them that your time is also important. Probe initial deadlines and what may have changed. Do not feel pressured to make concessions due to the buyer’s (lack of) movement. Protect yourself (C.Y.A.!) by documenting your communications, being sure to note deadlines and key steps in any voice mails or e-mails left for the client, as well as the consequences from any delays.
3. Starting over in the middle of negotiations: Reversing progress to keep and gain position.
Solution: If one term is to be changed, reopen all the terms. Fair is fair, and both seller and buyer should feel like winners.
4. Surprises: Bringing up new issues when you think everything has been settled.
Solution: It could be an oversight that something wasn’t brought up sooner, but it could also be a sign of other problems to come. Do not handle the issue there and then. Call time, or table it until you are prepared. Remember the old commercial tagline: “Never let them see you sweat.” Turn the tables on them to delay your reaction or response.
5. Demanding price up front: Asking you for an estimated price or ballpark and then holding you to the lower figure.
Solution: Say that you want to provide pricing information, but ask for data so that you can give specific, accurate pricing. Begin the trading process — give information to get information. You might also provide general high-, medium-, and lower-priced options before you know what’s to be included in the sale and committing to a price.
6. Negotiating the future: Using a possible later deal as a bargaining deal for the current deal.
Solution: Get specifics from the client in writing; in effect, make the future deal a formal part of the current deal. If something seems too good to be true, assume that it is. What you do on this deal will set parameters for the next one. Yes, perhaps a concession now could yield a larger opportunity down the road, but get authorization from your sales manager before committing.
7. Creating an uncomfortable environment: Trying to gain an unfair advantage by methods such as sunlight in your eyes, hot room, long hours, no food or break, and changes in negotiators.
Solution: If this is done intentionally, then that’s pretty low and speaks to the type of person you’re dealing with. Confer with your team to verify that it’s not just you feeling under the weather. Ask to change the environment (turn down the temperature, adjust the seating, move rooms, or whatever is needed). Don’t be afraid to call for a break or reschedule the meeting.
8. Suddenly losing interest: Making you think you will lose the deal in an attempt to gain better terms.
Solution:Don’t panic. Ask what changed, and recognize that it may be a tactic. Use emotional muscle, and be patient. Don’t nag, but stay in regular contact, and document your communications, key milestones and decisions, and consequences for the sale if delays persist.
9. Outnumbering you: Attempts intimidation through a large contingent of buyers in the meeting without letting you know before the meeting.
Solution: Ask for clarification of attendees’ roles in advance of the sales meeting. If the sale will affect other functions or areas of the business, it is logical that the buyer may want to include his colleagues in the sales meetings. If the sale or delivery is large or complex, consider expanding your sales team accordingly — match numbers with numbers. However, if you find yourself being bullied during the meeting, hold your ground, and schedule a follow-up meeting when you can return with reinforcements!
10. Playing dumb: Attempts to get you to back down by feigning a lack of awareness, expectations, or assumptions.
Solution: Do not allow the buyer’s “not knowing” to impact your thinking or terms. You should not have to alter the deal or make sacrifices due to your client’s lack of knowledge or attention. But you’re the expert, so it is incumbent that you clearly and thoroughly spell out each step along with pricing, timing, delivery, etc., to avoid any misunderstanding.
11. Using past experience against you: Trying to make you feel guilty or less confident in an attempt to tip the scales in his or her favor.
Solution: Acknowledge past situations, such as customer loyalty or delivery-gone-bad, but keep your eye on the ball and stay in the present. You shouldn’t feel as though you owe the client anything. See through any such emotion by thinking of how you would explain a discounted or padded sale to your boss. If you can’t easily justify it, then move on. If it’s a reasonable request, offer to check with your boss, but make no promises.
12. Using silence: Pressures you to concede — the first to talk after the price or a demand is on the table is the first to fold.
Solution: Keep quiet! The first to speak is the first to fold! Be silent after you state your price. Don’t stammer on, making excuses or explaining this or that — you’ll only be feeding them ammunition that can be used against you. Silence is also a weapon you can use.
13. The “Broken Record:” Wearing you down by repeatedly barraging you with demands, concerns, budgets, limitations, or expectations.
Solution: Be a “broken record” yourself and ask questions. If you don’t receive a satisfactory answer, ask again until you’re comfortable. Call them out by acknowledging that, “You’re obviously concerned about xyz, yet you still haven’t answered my question. I’m trying to help you, but you either don’t know or don’t want to tell me the answer. Let’s resolve this so we can move on.”
14. Using the “Nibble:” Trying to get last-minute concessions.
Solution: Do not let down your guard at the end of the negotiation when you think you have a deal. Don’t let that feeling of elation that the deal is done make you agree to a concession no matter how small it may seem. Ask yourself: “What does it do to my profitability and future deals?”
Many of these issues, and others that might arise, can be managed through clear communication and by documenting the sale and negotiation process. Both sales reps and buyers should operate under the assumption that they are building a long-term vendor relationship and not just making a one-time transaction. When making a purchase of any kind on any scale, both seller and buyer should feel confident in the deal. When something goes awry, it might be unintentional and easily explained — see my opening paragraph — but it could also signal larger problems to come down the road. Your bottom line is to be willing to walk away if you feel that the client is intentionally employing adversarial negotiation tactics, and let the client know it.