Negotiating skill is partly personality, mostly hard-won experience. There are a few good books on the subject (I've found "Game, Set, Match: Winning The Negotiations Game," by Henry Kramer pretty useful, despite the silly title), but they don't substitute for getting in there across from the other party and trying to work a deal.
This is because negotiating is all about psychology--yours, of course, and the other guy's. And information is hard to come by. Negotiators hold lots of information close to the vest, and release it only when they feel it's in their interest to do so. This leaves the other party guessing about the motivations and constraints of the counterpart. All in all, it's a highly complex situation, and optimal results are rare. The best you can do is a deal you both can live with.
Skillful negotiation is the subject of "Investigative Negotiation" by Deepak Malhotra and Max Bazerman of Harvard Business School, which appears in the September Harvard Business Review (link - $$). Malhotra and Bazerman point out several skills of good negotiators--mainly their ability to probe and ask questions that illuminate areas of conflict and expose possible solutions.
I was most interested in one principle they stated: "Continue to investigate even after the deal appears to be lost." The authors write:
After being rejected, an investigative negotiator should immediately ask, “What would it have taken for us to reach agreement?” Though it may appear costly to continue negotiating when a “no deal” response appears certain, if you’re confused about the reason your deal fell through in the first place, it could be even more costly to abandon the discussion.
Even if you find that you cannot win the deal, you may still acquire important information that will help in future negotiations. By staying at the table, you can learn about this customer’s future needs, the interests and concerns of similar customers, or the strategies of other players in the industry. Keep in mind that it is often easier to get candid information from the other side when you are not in selling mode and there is little reason to distrust your motives. Next time you’ve lost the deal and been asked to leave the room, see if you can stick around and investigate further. You may be surprised by what you find out.
Good advice, though staying at the table can be difficult. If the client has made the emotional commitment to go elsewhere, they may not want to spend any more time with you, especially if they feel you're still selling them. Many clients also don't want to make losing salespeople feel bad, so their instinct is to stop talking. It takes a real professional to be able to convince the client to open up after they've already decided.
If you're interested in negotiating and haven't listened to our podcast with Barbara McFadden on the topic, please check it out.
(Photo by adamci via stock.xchng)
negotiation sales psychology Harvard Business Review