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12 Phrases That'll Instantly Sabotage Your Negotiation


Written by Aja Frost | @ajavuu

Back in March 2014, the Red Sox screwed up in a big way. They completely bungled negotiations with their star pitcher, Jon Lester, by giving him an insultingly low initial offer -- and as a result, Lester went to the Chicago Cubs.

This incident was (and still is) devastating to Sox fans, but it’s also a good reminder of how challenging negotiations are. If you say the wrong thing, the deal can be dead in the water.

Don’t lose your buyer the way the Sox lost Lester. Here are the 12 things you should never say in a negotiation.

1) “I’ll be honest.”

Some reps think saying, “I’ll be honest,” “I’ll be straight with you,” or “I’ll be blunt” makes it seem like they’re passing along valuable or confidential information. But these phrases usually backfire; after all, they imply you haven’t been honest up to this point.

What to say instead: Rather than giving your statement a long wind-up, just come out and say it. For example:

Before: “I’ll be honest, we probably won’t be able to deliver the product in less than a month.”

After: “We probably won’t be able to deliver the product in less than a month.”

2) “You won’t find a better product out there.”

It’s pretty hard to take this claim seriously; nonetheless, many sales reps still assure their buyers their product is “by far the best” or ‘the most superior offering on the market.” Don’t say this unless you want to lose credibility.

What to say instead: Emphasize your product’s unique strengths or features. Maybe yours is the only one with unlimited bandwidth -- instead of saying, “Our product beats all of the competition,” say, “We don’t cap your usage, so you can upload as much content as you want.”

3) “I’ll give you X, but only if you sign by [date].”

“The rationale behind this kind of ultimatum is that its inherent time-sensitivity will overcome the prospect’s objection and compel a purchase,” explains HubSpot sales writer Leslie Ye. “The problem is that it puts an unnecessary burden on the buyer -- buy now or lose your opportunity to buy under these conditions, forever. [And] you can’t force a buyer onto your timeline.”

What to say instead: “What’s stopping you from pulling the trigger today/this week/this month?”

Ye recommends using this question to surface the buyer’s remaining objectives -- a far better tactic if you want to reach the finish line.

4) “Trust me.”

While you might toss out a “trust me” to reassure the buyer, it can be received as fake and manipulative. Plus, trust isn’t something you can simply request: You have earn it. As they say, if you have to ask, the answer is a “no.”

What to say instead: “I’m confident that … ”

For instance, “I know a single day of training doesn’t sound like a lot, but I’m confident we can cover everything we need to in that time.”

5) “I need this deal by X to hit my quota/win a contest.”

It might seem reasonable to share your timeline with the prospect, so they’ll be motivated to move faster and help you out. Right?

If only. Buyers aren’t concerned with your agenda, they’re concerned with their own -- which means you should be prioritizing their agenda over yours, too. Mentioning your quota or contest makes you seem self-serving (not to mention desperate).

What to say instead: “To hit [buyer’s milestone] by [date], we’ll need to wrap everything up by [date].”

Showing the buyer how the timeline impacts their goals is a much more effective path toward closing quickly. For example, if they need the product on September 1st and it’ll take a month to deliver, wrapping up negotiations by the end of July is in their best interest.

6) “No.”

When you give the buyer a hard and fast no, it’s pretty hard to get the conversation back on track. That’s not to say you have to compromise every single time they make a request, but you can soften the no by using positive language.

What to say instead: “While I certainly understand, I’m afraid that’s not possible.”

Alternatively, if you are willing to make concessions, try, “We can’t necessarily do X, but we can do Y and Z, which will get us a lot closer to where we want to be."

7) “I’d [like, need to get, have to have] … ”

Whenever a rep is talking about their own needs and desires, it’s a problem. The focus must always be on the buyer -- yes, even during the negotiation. So although you should be well aware of your objectives and where you’re willing to compromise, your language should always be tailored to the buyer’s needs and desires.

What to say instead: Explain how the terms you’re proposing benefit the buyer.

For instance, you might say, “To give you the customer support you’re looking for, we’ll be in the 12 to 15 seat range.”

8) “That’s not fair.”

A conference room is not a courtroom: Appealing to your prospect’s sense of justice will only make you look like you don’t understand how business works. Ideally, you’ll come up with an agreement that makes both you and the buyer happy -- but you should never say “that’s not fair” when they propose something you consider outrageous.

What to say instead: To show you’re listening, clarify what they’re asking for. Then, identify their motivations for the request. You can use this information to float a counter-idea.

Here’s how that might look:

You: “You’d like the $500K package with 240 day payment, correct?”

Buyer: “Yes.”

You: “Tell me about how those payment terms will affect your cash flow.”

Buyer: “Well, we’re currently looking for ways to decrease our annual payables outlay.”

You: “Got it. What if we instead did … ”

9) “You want a high-quality product, right?”

Rhetorical questions like, “You care about quality, right?” or “You want the best bang for your buck, don’t you?” will make most buyers bristle. You want to focus on the value of your product, but this method of reinforcing benefits is way too aggressive.

What to say instead: Lead the other person to their own conclusion by asking a price or quality-focused question. Let’s say you provide business video software. You’d ask the buyer, “Are you interested in having an account manager? That option is only available with the package we’ve been discussing, but the training and support can help you get the most out of the platform.”

10) “I don’t usually do this, but … ”

If you’re selling to a family member or life-long friend, then sure, giving them a better-than-average deal wouldn’t be too strange. However, when you’re talking to a normal buyer, this line comes across as a seedy tactic to induce gratitude. Not good.

What to say instead: If the deal is unusual in some way, you can explain why, but be straightforward and direct. To give you an idea, you could say, “Normally, our pilot programs only last 30 days, but we can extend it to 60 days since you’re implementing the software within two business units.”

11) “I enjoy working with people like you who appreciate value.”

There are a couple problems inherent with this sentence. First, who doesn’t like working with people who appreciate value? Second, it’s far too reminiscent of the stereotypical used car salesman -- not exactly the association you want buyers to make.

What to say instead: Pay the buyer a genuine compliment. If they make an insightful comment, tell them, “That’s an excellent point.” If you’re impressed by their analysis, say, “That’s a smart way of looking at it.” By sticking to the truth, you’ll make them feel good without sounding inauthentic.

(Still not sure how to pull this off? Check out our guide to making prospects feel smart.)

12) “I’ll send over the contract right now for you to review and sign.”

Technically, there’s nothing wrong with asking the buyer to sign a contract when the negotiation is complete. But those are pretty cold terms -- “contract” and “sign” scream sleazy salesperson, not invested business partner.

What to say instead: “I’ll send over the [agreement/proposal] so you can review and okay it.”

Simply subbing in “agreement” (or “proposal”) and “okay” has a big impact on how friendly and collaborative this phrase feels.

With these phrases cut from your negotiation vocabulary, your chances of closing improve dramatically.


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