Be Careful How You Ask

Published: Oct 31 , 2013
Author: Mike Freedman

Like most sales people I talk about value first and price last. This week was no exception. My prospective client was considering courses for the company’s purchasing managers. The meeting was going very well, and when the quotation was requested I announced the total price for our three-day negotiating skills course upon which my much-interested prospective client asked…"is that the cost per day?"  

As you can imagine several thoughts went through my head all at once but I couldn't resist the role of the trainer and in good spirit and with much humour I suggested that when they sought clarification between options (here being either cost per day or cost per course) that they should clarify the option to their advantage, for example "That's the cost of the total course isn't it?"

Sometimes good negotiation means simply eliminating bad habits.

When the receiving party does not understand an aspect of a proposal, the questions they use to clarify the situation often fall into a pattern.

This is best described by a simple example...

A price quotation has been made and the recipient is unsure whether or not the price includes VAT. Almost without exception the attempt to clarify the matter results in a question that includes both options/possible outcomes, in this case… 

"Does that include VAT or not?"

This question is actually a signal, a signal that the recipient may be prepared to accept either the advantageous or the disadvantageous option. Under the circumstances even if the proposal did in fact include VAT, the proposer consciously or even subconsciously is alerted to the recipient's flexibility and may be tempted to change their position to their advantage...        

"No that's net"

The solution is quite simple if you are unsure about an aspect of the other party's proposal, simply summarise the option that is to your advantage

"So this includes VAT". 

In this way you take the initiative.

Clarifying in an assumptive manner to your advantage has quite the opposite effect of the original question, for example should in fact the original proposal be net of VAT simply saying “So this includes VAT” as opposed to asking “does it or doesn’t it?”, gives the impression that the VAT-inclusive option is your expectation and the proposer may even alter his position as a result to your advantage. 

My prospective client was a quick learner.  Even though I had quite clearly quoted in Euro they asked (whilst unable to disguise a smile) "that's Turkish Lira isn't it?" Despite the fact that it was a Euro price I couldn't resist continuing the joke and said… "no,.. Kuwaiti Dinar" (Currently at about €2,60 / Dinar)

We talk most when we are least certain and this is a case in point so keep it simple don't clarify to your disadvantage, don’t ask which alternative applies, simply summarise the option to your advantage.  

Only one word of warning, as always, be realistic! 

Mike Freedman


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Mike Freedman
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