In an ideal world, negotiations would always happen face-to-face, allowing for immediate responses and a clearer read of the room. However, as virtual communication becomes the norm, negotiating via email has become increasingly prevalent. Customers, especially, are opting for email negotiations. Why? Because email offers them a distinct advantage. By negotiating through email, customers can:
- Create a virtual barrier, making it easier for them to conceal their true reactions from sellers, who would otherwise glean valuable insights.
- Extend the negotiation timeline, effectively applying pressure strategically.
- Third, the time gaps between email exchanges afford customers opportunities to research and wield competing offers to their advantage.
These unique characteristics bring a new layer of complexity to the already challenging task of negotiation. Sales professionals must equip themselves to thrive in this evolving landscape.
In this article, we’ll delve into essential strategies sellers can use to master email negotiation.
Create a Strong Draft by focusing on Tone, Brevity, and Clarity
Sellers know that to draw a customer in, they need to grab their attention from the get-go. In person, a seller’s presentation and confidence are enough to begin the conversation. However, email negotiation requires sellers to translate this into text. Sellers can do this by focusing on three areas: tone, brevity, and clarity.
The structure of an email wields significant influence over the way we communicate, often in subtle and unnoticed ways. When traditional cues such as inflection, intonation, and cadence are absent, there’s a higher likelihood of misinterpretation on the part of the customer when trying to discern the seller’s tone. In essence, people tend to overestimate the reader’s ability to accurately decode the intended tone within written text. As such, it becomes imperative for sellers to exercise caution and craft their messages in a way that minimizes the risk of miscommunication.
In the context of negotiations, the optimal tone to strike is one that conveys a genuine interest in achieving a mutually beneficial outcome. This approach not only helps diffuse tension but also lays the foundation for future opportunities in the business relationship.
Keep email text brief. Negotiations are inherently demanding, and the burden is amplified when the information must be digested from lengthy messages. Simplify comprehension for the customer by employing concise and straightforward sentences. This becomes particularly crucial when presenting your offer. Sellers should steer clear of compromising language, as it not only extends the message unnecessarily but also implies a readiness to haggle, which may not be strategically beneficial.
Prioritize clarity in every email you send. Failing to do so not only confuses the customer but also erodes the trust and openness essential for a successful negotiation. To uphold clarity, sellers need to convey the full terms of the offer within a single email and establish a direct connection between the value of the solution and the customer’s expressed requirements.
Remember that written communication provides a chance to construct deliberate and considerate responses. Use this to select the most effective wording and steer clear of the pitfalls and run-on sentences that can arise when facing the pressure of immediate, on-the-spot replies.
Use Extra Time Between Emails to Track Customer Changes
One of the greatest challenges in selling and negotiating today is the need for quick responses as the customer’s needs change by the minute. However, email communication offers a solution to this challenge. It provides sellers with the time they need to adapt and respond as the customer’s motivations evolve. During this time, sellers can dig into the changing factors that drive stakeholders’ decisions. Often, monitoring the customer’s online presence, such as their website and social media, can provide valuable insights into their latest initiatives. A skilled sales professional can use this information strategically throughout the negotiation process, making it more dynamic and effective.
This approach becomes even more powerful when dealing with multiple stakeholders. In such situations, each stakeholder has their own unique perspective on value and their own specific set of needs. The breaks between email exchanges give sellers the opportunity to understand these different viewpoints and requirements. With this understanding, they can advocate more effectively for the relevance of their solution within each stakeholder’s individual context.
These email intervals also provide a chance for a more precise and strategic trading approach. Instead of making one-sided concessions, effective negotiations often benefit from mutually beneficial trades, especially when both sides aim to bridge a gap. With time on their side, sellers can carefully assess the assets they have available for trading, ensuring that what they offer is of equal value to what they receive. This thoughtful approach to negotiation uses the gaps between emails to create a fair and balanced negotiation environment.
Maintain Momentum by Ending Each Email with a Next Step
During email negotiations, maintaining a smooth transition from one message to the next is pivotal. Failing to establish a clear next step at the conclusion of each email can lead to stagnation in the negotiation process. These gaps provide openings for competing priorities and unforeseen developments to disrupt the proceedings. To keep momentum through an email negotiation, sellers should use the following tactics:
Establish Knowledge-Based Trust
The subsequent move in your negotiation need not always be a direct request from you to the customer. It can take the form of you committing to providing specific information within a defined timeframe. This presents a valuable opportunity to establish “knowledge-based trust,” where trust emerges from the alignment of your statements and actions. Building trust based on experience and evidence increases the likelihood of the customer following through with the purchase, knowing they can rely on you during solution implementation.
Uncover Customer Needs
The next step also serves as a chance to inquire about the customer’s motivations behind their negotiation demands. Understanding the “why” behind their requests allows you to eventually transform a mere demand into a genuine need. This approach is pivotal for successful negotiations because needs are typically easier to fulfill than demands. The rationale is simple: non-financial solutions often suffice to meet a need, preserving the value of the sale.
Use Open-Ended Questions Strategically
While open-ended questions are exceptionally effective for this purpose, they can be challenging to employ in email due to the limited space for in-depth exploration. To navigate this constraint, consider presenting questions alongside brief examples of occasions when you addressed a customer’s demand by fulfilling the underlying need. This tactic propels the conversation forward by demonstrating the versatility in addressing the customer’s demand.
Finally, when you find yourself without a clearly defined next step, a straightforward approach involves summarizing your understanding of the customer’s needs and seeking confirmation that your interpretation is accurate. This ensures that both parties remain on the same page and allows for the negotiation to progress with clarity.
Progress to an In-Person Conversation
While these techniques provide sellers with a strong framework for email negotiations, it’s equally important to recognize when to shift to a live conversation.
This shift is often advisable when a customer makes demands that cannot easily be transformed into needs or when the customer’s responsiveness diminishes. Additionally, live conversations prove highly effective in de-escalating situations where a customer becomes overly aggressive.
Continue Building Your Negotiations Skills
Effective negotiating is what empowers a seller to capitalize on the full scope of work they have put into the sales pursuit. Learn how Richardson Sales Performance can help your sales organization learn and apply the Sprint Negotiation™ methodology. Visit Richardson.com for more.