Sidestep negotiating pitfalls

June 1, 1997

Pharmaceutical Representative

Avoid these mistakes to make the best deal.

Has this ever happened to you? You leave a pharmacy manager's office feeling on top of the world because you just closed a great deal making your product the preferred choice in its category.

But as you replay the conversation in your mind, you wonder if it was such a good deal after all. Perhaps you backed down and agreed to a concession too soon. Or, perhaps you refused to budge on a point that wasn't all that important but would have made the customer happy. You begin to think you could have done a better job negotiating.

Almost every sales situation requires some negotiating, according to Robert E. Kellar, author of the book "Negotiation Skills that Sell" (AMACOM, New York: 1996) and president of Brandywine Performance Group Inc., Wilmington, DE.

"I think for anybody to survive in sales, they inevitably have to negotiate," Kellar said. "They may not realize they are negotiating at the time, but they are."

The difference between selling and negotiating is a matter of sequence, said Kellar, who has worked with pharmaceutical companies including Ortho-McNeil, Zeneca and Wyeth-Ayerst on improving negotiating skills.

"Selling is the persuasion process, bringing the customer to the decision that they are interested in doing business with us," he explained. "Negotiating is picking it up from there and discussing under what conditions we'll do business."

Top 10 crimes of sales negotiations

Kellar identified 10 common "sales negotiations crimes" that he has witnessed in hundreds of inter-actions between salespeople and purchasers. Do any of these sound familiar?


•Â Inadequate planning time. "A lot of sales reps really don't know how to plan for negotiations," Kellar said.

In his book, Kellar outlined different tools sales representatives can use to plan the angle they will take during a negotiation. "Remember that at least half of the outcome of any negotiation is determined before anybody says a word," he warned. Even with a negotiation that you expect will be quick and routine, you're better off taking a few minutes to jot down a rough agenda on the back of an envelope than going in cold.


•Â Weak information gathering. Related to inadequate planning, this "crime" occurs when salespeople rush into a negotiating situation before understanding what the customer's objectives, demands and requests will likely be.


•Â A rigid mindset. Going into a negotiation with a clear set of objectives is good, but going in with a totally non-negotiable list of items is bad. You can end

a potentially productive negotiation before it even begins.

Instead, go in and ask for a little more than you expect to get. You may actually get what you ask for. More important, it gives the customer a chance to engage in some trading and sense small victories, which may make them more willing to give and take.


•Â Giving concessions too early. One of the most common traps salespeople fall into is granting customer demands too soon without asking for a trade-off on the customer's part.

"Time and time again, salespeople agree to some concession very early on in a negotiation without even testing it," Kellar said.


•Â Responding too quickly to each demand. This is related to giving concessions early. Try to learn what all of the customer's issues are - their "shopping list" of demands - before you respond to any one demand individually, positively or negatively. "Remember," Kellar advised, "you can disappoint a customer and miss a valuable trade-off opportunity by saying no before you hear the whole story."


•Â Failing to negotiate internally first. In other in-dustries, problems can occur when salespeople make promises or commitments to customers without first verifying what manufacturing, customer service or distribution can deliver.


•Â Not calling time-outs. Some people feel incompetent if they can't respond to every customer demand or question on the spot. Or they feel under pressure to forge ahead even though their gut feeling is that they need time to think.


•Â Letting egos interfere. The salesperson who thinks "winning" is more important than making a good deal is dangerous. Don't let your ego get in the way of making compromises, taking timeouts or letting the customer have some small victories during the negotiation process if that's what it takes to reach an outcome that's mutually satisfying.


•Â Not putting yourself in the customer's shoes. What pressures is that pharmacy manager dealing with in his or her organization? What internal issues may be affecting his or her response in this negotiation? "You'll never know all of it before you go in," Kellar said. "But take the time to find out what you can before you begin making offers and demands."


•Â Inattentive follow-through. Once a deal is struck, too many reps think their job is done. In fact, negotiations require a good deal of follow-through, including looking for negotiation problems and opportunities, renegotiating when necessary and setting the stage for future negotiations.

Don't be discouraged if you recognize some of these mistakes as your own. "Everyone is guilty of these crimes from time to time," Kellar said. "The key is to understand when it happens and why, and to do something about it before you walk into your next negotiating opportunity." PR