The Negotiator Magazine

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If our sales activities are conducted with problem-solving, collaborative negotiation strategies, then we are pro-actively:

1. Improving damaged customer relationships and the business with those customers.

2. Taking outstanding customer relationships and moving them, and our business, to a higher level.

The classic dividing line between negotiation and sales becomes intentionally blurred in this perspective. We can't negotiate without strong sales and account management skills. Conversely, we can't sell without strong negotiation skills. The two go hand in hand.

The question then becomes: how do I, through my negotiations, improve damaged customer relationships and the business with those customers? Andy Ayers, one of the authors, had a customer who consistently canceled regularly scheduled appointments - not a few days in advance, but after Andy was seated in the reception area following a two-hour drive. And with this particular customer, on the occasions the appointment was honored, he wasn't able to get anything accomplished. Ideas were shot down with a terse "it's not a priority." Six months of invested time and effort yielded nothing but frustration and paranoia.

Andy consulted with colleagues, friends and company trainers. He decided his goal would be to transform the relationship from poor to positive. Instead of trying to "sell" on his next call with the customer, he decided to "negotiate." He shared with the customer his goal of changing their difficult professional relationship, and acknowledged that there were currently a lot of barriers to getting there. For one, he felt that he was wasting the customer's time. When he asked the customer for his view of where the relationship could potentially be in a year, he learned something critically important. The customer didn't think the relationship could develop because of a perceived misalignment of priorities. The customer's view was that Andy's success would negatively impact the customer's own metrics. But Andy didn't stop with this. With further problem-solving discussion the customer even acknowledged that his perception was not an accurate one. Andy and his customer then discussed what a more positive working relationship would look like for both of them and their organizations. Andy discovered that the reason his customer often canceled appointments and was curt was due to the fact that he had a management staff meeting immediately following the scheduled time for those appointments. In other words, his mind was elsewhere. They decided to change the day and time of our appointments. With this simple fix, they began creating a productive, positive working relationship that yielded additional business and higher customer satisfaction.

Andy deployed a negotiation framework that he used to identify and focus on the main issues at the time: improving the business relationship and access to the customer. He didn't try to sell anything or talk about his products. In one day, he reversed a three year history of account managers declaring that they "couldn't do anything" with this account. And the customer. s reaction?

"No one has ever spent the time to understand how I'm measured."

"I now see potential in this relationship."

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