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For B2B Transactions, the Best Word Is "No"

Most of us were taught negotiating strategies that were designed to get the client to say yes. We learned how to dress and speak to impress. We mastered the art of a dynamic presentation to showcase our consulting services, and we had charts and case examples to demonstrate our prospective client's ROI. We learned how to persuade and how to spot that exact moment when the opportunity to close the deal presented itself. "Yes" was the deal clincher, the heart stopper--the triumph!

I'm going to show you a better way. Starting with "no" works as well for cold calls to a prospective client for your coaching services as it does for nailing down a six-figure, multi-year service contract for an employee assistance program. B2B service professionals are engaged in hundreds of negotiations, big and small, every year. Here are a few new strategies to gain the advantage.

Start with No.

Forget what you learned about win-win solutions, the art of compromising, and getting to yes. A negotiation is the effort to bring about an agreement between two or more parties, with all parties having the right to veto, or say no. In other words, if you don't like what's happening in the negotiation, say no and we'll go from there. If I don't like what's happening, I'll say no and we'll go from there.

The word "no," as any toddler can tell you, signals the beginning of a negotiation, not the end of it!

Let's say you're a sales rep for an accounting firm looking to get new clients for your company. It's time for the dreaded cold call. A good script begins with a calm invitation for the prospect to say no, such as, "Well, Ms. Smith, I have no idea whether what we do has any relevance for your business. I just don't know. Maybe it doesn't. If not, just tell me and I'll get off the phone. Is that fair?... Ms. Smith, who handles your accounting services? I'm with Acme Financial Services, and I'd like the opportunity to sit down with you and allow you to discover the opportunities."

By inviting her to say no from the get-go, you put your prospect at ease and make her feel in control.

Don't Be Needy.

Consider this more common approach: "Ms. Smith, I'm with Acme Financial Services. Can I get ten minutes on your calendar to show how we can work with you in the future?"

What's wrong with the above cold call? The sales rep is more or less begging for this appointment. It leaves a poor first impression. In addition to inviting no, you need to get rid of any hint of neediness. Being needy makes you vulnerable to the other party's predatory instincts. You don't need this client. You need food and water.

Neediness is a deal killer. Don't show or feel neediness. When emotions start to run hot and heavy in a meeting with a client or in a contract negotiation--and this includes emotions such as excitement, fear, and hope--take a breath, slow down your speech, and lower your voice. You do not need this deal.

Staying emotionally neutral will keep you focused on the one thing you can control: your own behavior. You cannot control what the other person feels, does, or says. You can only control your behavior and actions in the negotiation.

Shape Their Vision.

Ask the customer lots of questions--do more listening than talking. Begin questions with who, what, when where, how, and what, so you get the other party talking and revealing their problem. What is the biggest issue you face? How might our service fit your needs? Based on what the customer has revealed, help the customer envision his or her problem clearly, and see that you provide the solution to his or her particular problems and business challenges.

If you're a salesperson, your mission and purpose in this negotiation should be based in the other person's world. A valid M&P might be to provide your customer with dependable IT services that can sustain their company's profitability well into the future, assuring their staying power and market share. This M&P is about how your services, expertise, and proposal will benefit them.

Having an M&P set in your customer's world keeps your actions and behaviors focused on shaping your customer's vision. Spend all of your time getting information about his or her world, understanding the anticipated challenges and problems--so you can present yourself as the solution.

Invite no again.

As the conversation is winding down, invite your prospect once again to say no. Let your prospect know that there will be no hard feelings if the company decides your services are not right for them, or that he or she does not want to schedule an in-person appointment. You'll be amazed at how inviting a customer to say no relieves pressure and turns skeptical prospects into willing customers.