Everybody knows it – the critical centerpiece of a great customer relationship is always that fragile element: trust. Trust is never something that comes easily, but it has many payoffs, including customer loyalty. However, it can sometimes be tough to maintain if a difficult negotiation is taking place.
To build and sustain trust in a negotiation, follow the Reciprocity Rule. The Reciprocity Rule consists of two parts: (1) consistently exhibit trust yourself, and (2) expect others to be trustworthy and tell them when they’re not.
This sounds simple enough, but in major account negotiations there are many barriers to forging and sustaining trust. Here are three.
- First, failing to separate relationship issues from business issues. Handle people issues separately – do not attempt to solve relationship problems through business concessions. Relationship problems stem from misperceptions, poor communications, or general lack of mutual understanding. Giving the other party a better deal is unlikely to solve issues stemming from these reasons. Plus, giving a concession always has a financial cost. The worst possibility is giving something away and not gaining anything in return.
For example, frustrations can run high when communications are poor in a negotiation. A concession about delivery dates is unlikely to resolve a fundamental communication problem; it may even make it worse. Instead, search for ways for all parties to surface and explain their frustrations as a first step towards addressing the situation.
- Next, failing to use and build common ground. All negotiations take place because there is some lack of agreement around an issue that is important to both parties. On the other hand, every sales negotiation also involves some common ground – the customer wants something that you can provide. Common ground creates trust. So leverage common ground to build the relationship and to provide a foundation for addressing unresolved issues.
If the negotiation involves four tough issues and you and the other party have managed to resolve three of them, leverage what you have accomplished.
For example, “We’ve come a long way – those were tough issues we managed to resolve – so let’s tackle that one last issue where we still need a creative solution.” An opening statement like this one in a customer meeting can go a long way in setting a positive tone for the negotiation session.
- Failing to be up-front about difficult issues is the third barrier. Most negotiations involve multiple issues. On one issue or another, one of the parties will often have no or limited negotiating flexibility due to constraints related to legal, regulatory, or fundamental company policy reasons.
Top sales performers share these issues early, and equally as important, they help the other party do the same. By sharing these constraints, you can reset expectations, avoid last minute surprises that will probably look like a trick to the other party, and build trust
One of the most effective ways for two parties to create value is to share information in an open and truthful manner. The value created by sharing information with your customer will usually outweigh the risk of having that information misused.
A salesperson might say, for example, “As we start to get into this negotiation let me share that gaining access to your senior leadership will be an important consideration for us.” Hopefully the customer will in return share an important piece of information. If they do not, it is legitimate to ask a question such as: “Can you tell us some of your major concerns?”
If the initial trust between the parties is low, then this sharing of information should occur in a series gradual steps starting with information that has a small probability of being misused.
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