The Negotiator Magazine

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"This account will teach you all about dealing with adversity."

"Whatever you do, don't trust them."

"If you can handle the people in this account, you can handle anyone."

No doubt you have had the experience of having to take over damaged accounts from colleagues. When confronted with particularly difficult bargaining tactics, the easiest thing to do is simply to respond in kind. In early parts of our careers, rarely do we have the strategies or skills to match the seasoned purchaser. Thus, we resort to trying to convince our own companies that in order to get the deal done, we have to match the customer's demands: a daily routine in corporate America and across our global accounts as well. Some of the following may sound familiar, either because you. ve overheard them, or because like us, the thought crossed your mind or your lips.

"All they want is for us to extend the date of the contract."

"We're going to lose this account unless we give them a large discount."

"Let's just get this over with, we've been working on it for a year."

The underlying assumption in these words, and the actions that come from them, is that as salespeople, our principal activity is to sell. At the end of our sales work, we "negotiate" or, rather, we haggle. We act as if there were a measurable gap between the two concepts. Worse still, our negotiations are not strategic or skilled, but rather reactive and tactical. After years of dealing with people in this way, one yearns for a different way of doing business. Check back to the definition you filled in above: Did you define negotiation as something you do apart from or related to your sales work? It is not surprising that many account management professionals define these as distinct, though somewhat related activities. How are they different or similar in your view?

As account managers we often complain that we do not have enough leeway to negotiate. What we really mean is that we want to be able to discount more. Unfortunately, when sales people have this freedom, it creates agreement discounts that are all over the map. This often reduces profitability without a commensurate gain in market share or other strategic goal. It can create arbitrary differences in client agreements, if discounts are provided haphazardly. Clients, in turn, can start becoming difficult simply in order to hold out for deeper discounts. A further danger is that once word gets out this creates peer envy. One well-known Silicon Valley company had a discounting scheme that went from 1% to 90% and everything in between. When customers began learning what the "best" customers were getting, nearly all became unhappy with their deals, regardless of deal size, actual discount and other interests.

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