Always negotiate over the phone (or in person).
Never ever negotiate over email.
On the phone you can quickly respond, hear the other person’s tone of voice and inflection points, feel whether they’re giving you their full attention, and figure out where you can push them.
If you negotiate over email, you won’t get ANY of those clues. All you have are words on a screen.
It’s more than just talking though. Most people don’t have any negotiation plan at all. They rely on chance instead.
If you enjoy relying on a dice roll to win a negotiation, more power to you. Negotiate over email.
But if you want to CONSISTENTLY win negotiations—with vendors or anyone else—you need to create a clear strategy before the phone call even starts.
Consider this: if a vendor goes into negotiations ready for a game of Candy Land…
And you’re ready for a game of chess…
Who do you think will win?
The chess player—every time. That’s why we use scenario testing to coach our Tribe how to negotiate over the phone.
Here’s exactly how to “play chess” in negotiations…
She hung up on our scenario testing phone call and sighed.
We were prepping for her upcoming call with our printing vendor. We wanted them to drop their price by 25 percent.
She was nervous, and it showed.
Her: “That wasn’t very good was it?”
Me: “It was actually very good. That’s what I love about doing this in person—we can tweak a few small things to make your negotiation excellent.
“The first tweak: your language was too soft. You kept saying ‘I was hoping,’ ‘I was wondering,’ and ‘We would love it if.’ You believe those words soften the blow of your ask, but they’re just shaky language. Don’t hope for anything in a negotiation. Ask for it! They are also passive voice. Don’t say ‘was.’ You are still doing it. Say ‘I am’ instead.”
Her: “But what if I’m too nervous to ask directly?”
Me: “That’s a fair question, and here’s how I answer: never go into a negotiation nervous, ESPECIALLY if you have the upper hand.
“Look at this vendor, for example. They have a lot to lose if they stop working with us. Not just our business, but we can refer them to our network…if they knock it out of the park for us on this. That’s how they’re thinking about this.
“So, unknown to you, they’re more nervous than you are, because they KNOW we can take our business and our network elsewhere.”
She looked amazed, but it was true. Although we looked at our upcoming call as a “price negotiation,” the vendor had much higher stakes: they needed to hang onto a lucrative client.
It was our job to make sure they knew exactly what they’d be missing if we no longer worked with them: recurring revenue from HUNDREDS of potential clients, not just us.
Lesson: let the vendor know EXACTLY what they’d lose if you’re no longer their client.
Me: “Do you remember what your ask sentence was in our scenario test?”
Her: “I believe I said, ‘As we come down to pricing, we’re thinking you can reduce the total down by 25 percent.’”
Me: “That’s exactly what you said. It’s close, but the biggest problem is that you didn’t actually ask for the discount—you just stated that we’re thinking about it. Big difference.
“Try this: ‘As we come down to pricing, can you reduce the total cost by 25%.’ Notice that it’s a question, but you don’t ask it like a question—just state it.”
During negotiations, most people are too nervous to simply ask for what they want. They try to tiptoe around it or leave it unstated completely. That doesn’t work.
You can ask for anything—you just have to ask. You might get a “No” or even a “Hell no” in response, but you’ll never know unless you ask directly.
Lesson: ask for what you want, directly.
Her: “I hadn’t thought about it like that.” She looked amazed.
Me: “It’s okay. Most people don’t. And one final thing: your Call to Action…”
Her: “I believe I just said, ‘How does all that sound?’”
Me: “Right. That’s not specific enough. When they agree to the price reduction, say, ‘Excellent! Just send us the invoice and we have the green light to move forward.’ That projects confidence.
“You’re basically saying to them, ‘We’ve got your money right here waiting for you—are you ready to take it?’”
Most people get so caught up in their own thoughts—worrying whether the vendor will agree to new terms, or even worrying about how they come off—that they don’t even consider what to do once the vendor accepts. That leads to shaky Calls to Action.
Go into the negotiation knowing that you will get what you want, not hoping.
With that mentality, you’ll prepare for the best and be ready with a specific Call to Action. Put the onus on them, and make it easy for the vendor to say yes.
The same way your “ask” should be a direct ask, your “Call to Action” should be a direct action the vendor can take.
Lesson: create urgency by explicitly stating your Call to Action.
Her: “Oh, I love that one the most!”
Me: “Just for good measure, if you have to, tell them you spoke with your CEO and he’s considering working with them to publish materials for his speaking events. They’ll love that.”
A lot of people care about those BS three letters after my name: C-E-O. They believe it adds authority and credibility to what someone is saying, even if that person is just mentioning me.
I personally don’t care about those letters, but hey, take any negotiation leverage you can get, and say thank you very much in the process.
Mentioning the CEO or other leadership tells the vendor we’re not just talking—we have serious business for them if they can deliver.
Lesson: use your title (or someone else’s) to show you can back up your words with actions.
She Played Chess, Not Candy Land
She walked out of her office so excited I expected her to kiss one of the office dogs.
Her: “They agreed to drop their price by 25 percent!”
Me: “Nicely done, Ma’am!”
We hugged and I gave her a high five. She stepped back and shook her head like she couldn’t believe it.
Me: “Question: Are you surprised they agreed to our price?”
Her: “Yes and no. I knew we had a good plan, but I got nervous.
“They sounded so unsure at first, then I told them how we could use them to print materials for your speaking career and they practically begged me to take the discount. I’m not sure what I did, but it worked.”
Me: “I’ll tell you exactly what happened: they came in ready for a game of Candy Land. You played chess instead.
“They were nervous that we would leave, and you didn’t let them hide behind words on a screen via email. Never ever go into a negotiation nervous, especially when YOU have the upper hand.”
The negotiation tactics she used were so simple that she couldn’t fathom how they’d worked. But they did, and they will for you as well when you negotiate with vendors:
1. Let them know EXACTLY what they’ll lose if you’re no longer their client
2. ASK for what you want, directly
3. Create urgency by explicitly stating your Call to Action
4. Use your title (or someone else’s) to show you can back up your words with actions