One of the enduring myths of negotiation is that it is a back-and-forth struggle with your customer that occurs in the final stage of the sale, the "close." Negotiation, at its best, consists of open, honest, and straightforward communication based on mutual respect and mutual trust.

When you recognize it in this form, it begins with the very first conversation and is continuous throughout the relationship. We refer to it as the "diagnostic process." When you are using this process, there is no need for high-pressure, last minute bargaining; there are few, if any, objections; and there is no need for "arm-wrestling" in the eleventh hour.

This is difficult for salespeople to grasp. "What? No objections?" "No negotiating?" "No closing?" Please note that I'm not saying "no negotiating." I'm saying no negotiating in the 11th hour.

Negotiation takes on a new definition in the diagnostic process, which centers on clear and precise communication and collaboration—a continual series of "mutual agreements and understanding." This collaborative approach eliminates the dependency on traditional closing and objection-handling skills.

By the time a customer receives your proposal, you and your customer have come to common conclusions and understanding of all the key elements that would otherwise be subject to objection or negotiation when there are surprises in the 11th hour. You will have agreed on the nature and financial impact of their problems, your mutual expectations, the financial value of that solution, and the selection criteria for a high-quality solution.

In short, the customer has agreed to each element of a quality decision process and is not seeing any new "terms" in the proposal and so has no reason to object.

Let's take a deeper look at this quality decision process. The first decision element revolves around customers' recognizing that they are experiencing some consequences due to the absence of the value that your solution could provide. Consider a feature of your solution that you think has the most value and strongest competitive strength. Ask yourself, "What would the customer be experiencing without this feature? What would they physically be able to see in their business that would show you and them that they are experiencing the absence of this value?"

Think of yourself as a doctor. You are looking for the symptoms of the absence of business health in your patient. Relative to negotiations, the symptom either exists or it doesn't. You and your customer will reach agreement on that quickly; and if the symptoms exist, you move on to the next decision, "What are the consequences of the symptoms?" or "How bad is it?"

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image of Jeff Thull

Jeff Thull is president and CEO of Prime Resource Group ( and the author of Exceptional Selling: How the Best Connect and Win in High Stakes Sales (September 2006), The Prime Solution: Close the Value Gap, Increase Margins, and Win the Complex Sale (Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2005) and Mastering the Complex Sale (2003).