5 Ways to Prevent Buyer Brinkmanship – “ABN” Always Be Negotiating©

Walking in hot coalsAt the 11th hour, the customer throws us a big curve. We invest months and years developing new business opportunities. We brainstorm with our clients to create valuable insights for them. We research their market conditions, customers, competition and their business plans. We help model ideal outcomes for them and mitigate their risk. We spend our company’s valuable resources only to find our feet in the customer’s fire.

For years, brinkmanship frustrated me and challenged my sales. I did not know how to circumvent or manage this tactic. By questioning my mentors and managers, reading, taking courses and teaching my own teams, I learned how to negotiate from the beginning of the sale throughout the buying process to position myself at the end of the sale and minimize the heat on our feet.

The following story is abridged to illustrate my point.

We had taken a large, complex piece of equipment in trade for new equipment that we prepared to receive into our warehouse. We scheduled and coordinated the millwrights, trucking company and shutdown of the production line at the facility for Monday morning. My customer Andy dragged his feet for months up until the Friday before the move. At 4pm, he called to schedule an inspection.

Andy and I had been working on this deal for months and I wanted to chastise him for his tactics. He shifted the blame to his customer for moving slowly on their contract. There was no doubt in my mind he was holding my feet to the fire as a negotiating tactic.

“Have your plane pick me up and take me to see the machine on Saturday,” Andy dictated.

His brinkmanship and toughness were common.  This behavior is a buy sign. When a buyer creates conditions to negotiate price, a purchase is imminent. Recognizing the meaning of these strategies and tactics will increase your confidence.

We discussed our price, terms and conditions early in the opportunity and presented them clear and simple in our proposal. Reiterating them now disarmed the ineffectiveness of his tactics. “Let’s go over the price and terms one last time Andy.” The price of $249,500 is non-negotiable and good through Monday. Once the equipment leaves for our warehouse, this offer is null and void. Are we good to go?”

Andy agreed. Bill and his pilot picked up Andy in Philadelphia Saturday morning, flew to the facility in Michigan, and dropped him off in Philadelphia afterwards. Bill called me with an uninspiring short, ambiguous report, “We went, we saw, we left. Good luck Gary!”

10am Monday morning, Andy called. “There’s tooling we do not need. I’ll give you $239K.”

I was not surprised and waited silently. Andy pressed, “What do you think?”

I could have argued with him that we were crystal clear about the terms that he agreed to, but that is what precisely what he wanted. He expected me to get angry, upset or both. I refused to give him the pleasure of rattling my cage and disappointed him with my response “Andy, if I understand you correctly, we keep the tooling and you pay $239K. Is that correct?”

“No, we get the tooling,” Andy insisted.

Inside, I was annoyed. I’m a high-spirited person who speaks his mind. Instead, I worked uncharacteristically calm, polite and firm, and spoke very little. It took years of training and practice to remove my emotions from negotiations. I’m not perfect and occasionally slipup. It takes extreme discipline for me to keep my fiery side cool.

“Well Andy, I wish we could do that but unfortunately we cannot. The decision is out of my hands.” You can have everything for $249K as we agreed or $239K without the tooling. Which do you prefer?”

Andy became irritated. Andy is a brilliant engineer who thinks logically. His case was illogical and he knew it. He tried putting my feet to the fire, but he was the one walking on coals. He tried to engage me in a debate, but I held strong. He knew he hit a brick wall when I let him sands of time were running out, “We have little time left to divert the truck to your facility. What do you want do?”

We hit an impasse. To his surprise, I tabled the negotiations and ended the call. I based my decision on the intimate details I learned about his company’s needs during our early conversations. They were heavily invested in their project. My downside was he sticks to his guns and allows the clock to run out. If he did not call back in 1 hour, I would cave in and accept his offer. But Andy called back quickly and closed the sale.

Brinkmanship is a common buyers’ ploy. Buyers know we have quotas. Buyers know we are dependent on our commissions. Buyers know the longer we work, the more invest, the more we have to lose. We they put our feet to the fire.

1. Remove time from your side of the equation.  

Present yourself with the patience of Job. Let your clients know you will give them as much time as possible for them to make a good decision. You want your customers to believe know you are not dependent on the sale and that you have nothing to lose.

2. Present the impact of your customer’s timeline on their purchase.

Create urgency with a delicate touch. You do not want to create pressure. You do want to motivate. Present time as an opportunity. How does dragging their feet affect their company? Can you show how much money they lose daily by not making a decision? Do you have an upcoming price increase? Are you running a limited promotional discount or upgrade?

3. Regularly review price, terms, conditions and other agreements as needed.

Never assume a customer knows the effect of their wish list or changes. Getting to the end of the sale to learn you are unable to meet your customer’s expectations is a difficult situation to resolve. Address potential conflicts as they arise.

Call planning is invaluable. Prepare for as many contingencies as possible. Build a library of objections and create strategies to address them before they arise. Clearly define objectives, price and other conditions as you go. Transparency limits the power of brinkmanship and minimizes difficult negotiations at the end of the sale.

4. Keep your pipeline filled with opportunities.

Nothing makes a sales professional more confident than a healthy pipeline. When your forecasts are strong, you can afford to be a little cavalier – but not arrogant.  Review your pipeline regularly and prioritize your sales activities to keep it filled with good opportunities.

 5. When your pipeline is lean, act as though you’re overflowing with opportunities. 

Slumps happen. Sometimes we fall behind our goals. It could be the economy, market conditions, industry changes, bad luck or something in our execution. The important thing is, only you and your company know when you’re behind in your numbers. Keep it that way! Professional buyers and procurement officers smell your fear and take advantage of it.

Fire fighter Buyers thrive on your confidence, which is not to be confused with cockiness. Your self-confidence breeds their confidence in you. Your great attitude is a top sales skill that sells. Every morning, I thank God for another day with the belief this is going to be the best day of my life and that I am going to surpass my goals. If you are confident in your sales skills, the company you work for, your products and services, and most of all, what you do for your customers, you will overcome 11th hour negotiations.

From the moment the game is afoot, negotiations begin. Only you can prevent the wildfire of brinkmanship.

 ABNAlways Be Negotiating©

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