Good News if you Don’t Like Negotiating – 3 Step Process

There’s a classic sales adage that “you don’t sell the steak, sell the sizzle.” This is attributed to Elmer Wheeler, who taught sales training about 100 years ago.

I don’t think Elmer could have imagined what a sizzle-happy world we now live in. It’s not just the marketplace either.

In fact, when most of us hear the word “negotiation,” we hear loud sizzling:

  • bluffing
  • good cop/bad cop
  • hidden agendas
  • surprise information
  • threats and ultimata (that’s the plural of ultimatum, I think)
  • the silent treatment
  • pounding your shoe on the table

 This is all great stuff for TV shows, but not so helpful when we think of negotiating in real life.

For one thing, most of us have anxiety about that kind of high-drama confrontation. (Maybe we’ve watched too much TV?) That’s probably why many people fear and avoid negotiating.

That anxiety is unfortunate and largely misplaced, because the sizzle part of negotiation is AT MOST only one-third of the process. It is usually less, and sometimes doesn’t happen at all.

So if negotiating isn’t high-stress and intrigue, what is it?


Three Steps of Negotiating

The process of successful negotiation includes three basic steps:

  1. Understanding what is important to you.
  2. Developing your options.
  3. Getting the deal you want. (That’s where the sizzle might come in.)

Starting with step three is fine – if all you want is a great price on a specific purchase. But the greater goal of negotiation – and of buying in general – is to capture the most value from your purchases and investments. (As a side note, that includes your investment of TIME – your most precious currency.)

For value, we need steps one and two, which may never appear on a popular TV show. In our online course Negotiate Value (currently offered for free!) we label these steps (1) Know Thy Benefit and (2) Push the Potential.

Here’s the very good news for most of us: you can consistently get great VALUE if you are deliberate about steps 1 and 2… even if you are weak at step 3. That’s right, great lifetime negotiators can be below-average actors at the bargaining table if they do their prep.

How does that work? Am I suggesting that you can be a great negotiator even if you’re a bad negotiator? Well, not really. I’m trying to say that you can have a great steak even if you don’t hear the sizzle. Let’s illustrate: 

Imagine marching into your local Toyotathon and hammering out a legendary deal on a loaded, top-end Sienna minivan. By the end of your session the salesman is sniveling in the corner, having lost both the battle and his confidence. You frame the receipt as a trophy. Good car, great price.

Now consider a different scenario. This time, instead of practicing your tough guy stares in the mirror, you followed another route of preparation:


Step 1 – Know Thy Benefit

This is asking the question: What’s really important to us? That often shows up in the answers of more specific questions, such as: Where will we drive this car? Do we care what it looks like? Do we want the seat-back video, or would we prefer to not have it (and – dare I say it – talk in the car?) How long will we probably keep this car? Who will ride in it?


Step 2 – Push the Potential (or, develop your options)

Now that we understand what we care about, are we sure we want a van, or would an SUV or wagon be better? In this step we look at different options and gauge how well they meet our needs and desires. Then we can start to bring in the price information, and make some initial value judgments:

  • The Volvo wagon isn’t quite as good for us without a 3rd row, and it’s more expensive
  • The Honda SUV is less expensive but also less roomy
  • The Nissan Quest is comparable, plus we’ll be able to find it in the church parking lot because there aren’t 90,000 of them in the county!

From this process, can you see how you might end up with more value, even if you don’t squeeze that last $300 out of the sales manager in Step 3?

(In case you were wondering, this is a personal story. Yes we’re very happy with our Nissan.)

Try this with your next purchase, at work or home. Before you think price, define the benefits and build options. These are the two central skills of long-term negotiation and buying success.

For more on improving your negotiation skills, see, a Buying Excellence course (currently offered for free).

Please pass this article along to someone who might not like the sizzle of negotiation, but who wants to get more value out of their purchases consistently.

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