I used to be a strong advocate of aiming high—making an outrageous offer so that I’d have plenty of room to come down when the buyer made a counter offer. Besides, I believed, low offers signal weakness.
I eventually learned that if the first offer was too high—outside the realm of what’s reasonable to the buyer—then the buyer just might not make any counter offer at all. Then where was I? If I lowered my offer to try to re-start the negotiation, I was really signaling my desperation and letting the buyer know that concessions could be won.
The first step in the Creative Selling System is gathering information about your prospect. And one of the key pieces of information is an estimate of the prospect’s spending potential. This not only gives you a goal to shoot for and an idea of how to structure your proposal, it gives you a good guideline for where to start your negotiations. As long as you begin with a proposal in the ballpark your prospect is used to playing in, you’re not likely to scare them off.
Take the time to do your homework and use one or more of the estimating methods I covered in The Dynamic Manager’s Guide To Sales Techniques. Even if you didn’t use those figures to structure your proposal in the first place, they will give you a sense of what’s possible for your negotiation.
Judge the reasonableness of your opening offer carefully. My rule now is that my opening offer is one at the high end of what the prospect could accept with no further changes if they were so inclined—and one I could defend without stretching my credibility.
It’s also good to practice a little mental discipline. Right at the beginning of the negotiation, establish in your own mind the lowest acceptable offer you’ll take. That way, you have a sense of how far you can go before you start cutting into profit margins, production capacity or whatever benchmark your company uses. As the negotiations proceed, you know where you are at all times. That sense of security gives you greater confidence during the process.
Establishing the lowest acceptable alternative in advance does something else. It keeps you in a win/win frame of mind because you don’t have to worry about losing! As long as you know the point at which you will walk away (and stick to it) you can’t lose anything.
As you may have noticed, we’ve now set an upper and a lower limit to pricing. This range makes it much easier to build a few small concessions into your proposal, or plan some value items you can add as the negotiations proceed. This helps you avoid making that big concession all at once, leaving you with no place to go if the buyer rejects it.
Dave Donelson distills the experiences of hundreds of entrepreneurs into practical advice for small business owners and managers in the Dynamic Manager's Guides, a series of how-to books about marketing and advertising, sales techniques, motivating personnel, financial management, and business strategy.