Next Time You Negotiate, Don’t Go for the Win-Win

It doesn’t ever happen between two parties with competing needs.

Written by Michael Hinkle
Published on Feb. 02, 2024
Next Time You Negotiate, Don’t Go for the Win-Win
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Sales professionals constantly talk about practicing the art of win-win negotiation, but is that truly what happens in the process? I think not. 

While a win-win appears to be a positive result, it will never be realistic. A win-win approach implies that both sides will achieve everything they want in the process. Yet when two organizations each have their own needs to meet and their own priorities, a win-win will never be achieved.  

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How to Approach the Negotiating Process 

The reason I say win-win is never a reality is simply that both sides are seeking different results. The company needs to be able to sell a product at a reasonable price so that it realizes a reasonable profit. Of course, I am assuming that none of my readers are working for a nonprofit organization. If you are, then we can discuss this more offline and I have other things to share.

3 Steps in a Successful Negotiation

  1. Make sure each side has a clear goal of what they want to achieve in the process.
  2. Have a complete list of priorities and needs ranked by level of importance.
  3. Be ready to allow lesser-ranked items of importance to be used as items to give back in the process to achieve high-level items necessary for success.

But for now, let’s assume we all work at for-profit companies. Your client also works for a for-profit company, and dare I say they have the same exact goals at a reasonable price at a reasonable profit.  

Establish the deal parameters

As we begin the process of negotiating the deal, we have to start off by getting an idea from both sides as to what the ultimate goal is and what deal parameters cannot be altered. This is where you, as a sales professional, need to be well-versed in active listening and have a great ability to focus on open-ended questions. 

During the heat of negotiating, many people are reluctant to give out too much information in the beginning because they do not want to feel like they are selling themselves out in advance. As sales professionals, that is why we need to be pro-client in front of clients and pro-company in front of the company.

In addition to active listening skills and good communication skills, you also need to remember that you have no vested interest in the deal. If the client believes that your focus is getting them to sign the deal no matter what they need to give up, they will never believe that you are on their side. If the company feels you are avoiding sharing realistic information with the client, then they will feel that you are not very good at your job and unwilling to have hard conversations.

To avoid this from occurring in my career, I never use these two letters at the end of any statement: no. That's right, I never end a sentence with no, but I have started many sentences with those same two letters followed up with But we can do this if that works for you. People and companies always appreciate it when you give them options to achieve their goals, but will never forgive you for closing a door on them with no explanation.

Keep asking questions

The art of negotiating is very fun, the way I see it. As a sales professional, your part in the process is like solving a word puzzle in school. You will be given a lot of input from both sides and there will be a lot of posturing on both sides in order to achieve the oft-unstated goals of each side. That means you need to keep digging and asking questions as to what those exact issues are. 

Keep your energy up

Sometimes it can be a little like teaching a new trick to a puppy. I have always had Labrador Retrievers, and their ability to stay focused is actually less than my ability to stay focused. You reward them, work with them, and again and again they lose focus as you watch them fade away. 

That’s what clients do when you do not stay on top of things. While you are working with them, you need to keep the energy level up and the end goal of a successful deal in sight. This deal is not putting itself together, and if that is how you approach it, two things will happen. Your client will lose faith in you, and the company will realize it does not want to pay you because you add nothing to the process.

That is why your client and the company are both counting on you staying involved in the process. Let’s say you work for a company that is having a bad first quarter and the difference in posting profits or posting a loss comes down to the profit they may or may not make on any deals closing in the month. 

I believe that a win-win negotiation should be considered give-a-little and get-a-little negotiating. 

However, your client has been loyal to you and in fact uses your company exclusively. The client needs a fairly good discount from you and believes they have earned it due to their loyalty. Both sides have a really good reason for insisting that the results of the deal go their way. 

You, however, due to your ability to understand the pain points from both sides, see a solution. During talks with your client, you discover that the client does not need your services in the first quarter. You already know that the second quarter for your company is already looking good and forecasts are showing a fairly substantial profit margin. 

Okay, solution found. You propose delivery of the product to your client early second quarter, and the company now has the entire quarter to make up profit margin and not show the downturn in  revenue. It’s not rocket science, and also exactly why I say there is never a win-win in any negotiation.  

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The Real Art of Negotiating

The win-win scenario of negotiating implies that each side got everything it had hoped to receive out of the deal. The real art of negotiating is to make everyone feel that what they gave up is okay in lieu of what they received as a concession to their original request.

When that happens, both sides feel a little tinge of regret that not all things on the original list were realized, but everything critical to the success of the project was indeed achieved.

In summation, I believe that win-win negotiation truly at best should be considered give-a-little and get-a-little negotiating. 

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