Negotiating a large-quantity book sale is a little like playing poker, requiring both hard and soft skills. To be good at it you need practice and experience. You also need a little chutzpah, the creativity to recognize alternatives, the ability to assess odds, the willingness to take calculated risks and the confidence to bluff when necessary.
But unlike poker, selling to a corporate buyer is not a winner-take-all game. It is not zero sum activity where one’s slice of the pie is increased at the expense of the other. Negotiating is a give-and-take exchange seeking a larger pie to split.
Pursuing that end can cause consternation among the participants, particularly if they have not dealt with each other before. Both sides enter the negotiation with various degrees of tension or anxiety. If you manage the emotional tenor of a negotiating session you can be more successful bargaining and bring it to a win-win conclusion.
Inexperienced book salespeople ignore this responsibility. Instead, they wear their bargaining blinders and focus on substance issues like price, terms and shipping costs. Experienced negotiators also attend to the process, the path leading from the initial meeting to the close. Typically overlooked is how emotions impact what is happening around them. The psychological lens through which the parties view a negotiation session has a significant effect on where they end up.
Those on both sides generally experience neutral or positive emotions at the bargaining table. These are easily recognized and contribute to a successful conclusion. On the other hand, people attempt to hide or deflect the negative emotions that can deteriorate the process if not handled deftly. This attempt at deception can make your task of managing them more difficult.
The most likely negative emotions that you will encounter are anxiety and anger, either in the other person or in yourself. Anxiety is usually internal to the salesperson and anger typically displayed by the buyer. Your job is to be aware of your feelings, recognize the other’s emotional position, and then respond accordingly.
Managing your anxiety
Anxiety is a trait common among inexperienced negotiators and can result in suboptimal outcomes. It makes them uncomfortable and can trip the “flight” switch of the “fight or flight” syndrome. Anxious people may be more interested in ending the session than confronting their feelings. If they remain longer at the table, they may be taken advantage of especially if the other party senses their distress. Either situation is counterproductive to successful negotiating where affability and cooperation are essential.
A little tension is actually beneficial to keep you alert, but it behooves you to avoid extreme anxiety. How do you do that? Learn more about the process, work with a coach and rehearse regularly. Practice your newly learned negotiating skills when you are in less-stressful, personal negotiating situations (making a large purchase, planning a family vacation).
While practicing, notice the emotions of others. Establish a base position and recognize changes to it. The more familiar you become with negotiation strategies and skills, the more comfortable you will feel when in a major book-bargaining position. It eventually feels routine and no longer an anxiety-inducing experience.
People prone to being anxious under pressure should take steps to limit their nervousness and make it less obvious to their adversaries. Minimize the outward appearance of anxiety by having a firm handshake with a dry palm, talking slowly, maintaining eye contact and having good posture. Know what you are going to say so you do not fumble for words. Have a ready answer for difficult questions or objections. Communicate effectively as the discussion unfolds and you can feel your confidence building.
Another technique for reducing apprehension is to go into the meeting with another person on your side. This could be a colleague from your firm, the author, your designer or a representative from your printer. Having someone else on your team can go a long way to reducing nervousness.
Additionally, you could employ a third party to represent you in the negotiating session. Outsourcing this service is done regularly. Examples are having an agent represent you to a publisher or having a salesperson represent you to the corporate buyer.
Dealing with the buyer’s anger
Anger is a negative emotion that is usually directed at another person. It can trip the “fight” switch of the “fight or flight” syndrome. Anger can evolve from miscommunication, especially if people feel you are trying to take advantage of them. Infrequently, buyers feign anger, thinking it makes them appear more powerful, especially if they feel you are inexperienced.
Angered conflict, whether real or contrived, can irreparably damage the negotiation process. It decreases trust and cooperation, intensifies competitive behavior and makes it more difficult to reach and equitable conclusion.
It is not difficult to recognize anger in others, and it is important to deal with it quickly. It is fruitless to continue selling until you have eliminated wrath. Here are a few techniques that can help you do that.
Let them get it out. Your buyer’s body language or your intuition will tell you something unstated is amiss. In this case, bring it out in the open so you can understand and deal with it. Say something such as, “I get the feeling that there may be a question in your mind. Is that the case?” Do not say, “You really look mad. What’s the matter?” That may trigger an emotional outburst.
Make it as easy as possible for people to disclose their feelings. Let them state their case without interrupting or being defensive. Do not try to match their anger with equal force. If you attempt to retaliate, they may escalate their emotions by saying, “That was only one of my concerns. In addition…”
Listen. At times, the protesters simply want to be heard. They may state their case vehemently, and sometimes just getting it out in the open is their objective. Actively listen without judgement while maintaining eye contact. Do not allow your body language to show how ridiculous you think their outburst is, if it is indeed unfounded.
Allow retreat without humiliation. People may realize the folly of their anger as they disclose it. Or, they may agree with the logic of your response but not be willing to say so if it means losing face in front of their colleagues.
Make your reply and take responsibility for the missing information. “I’m sorry I didn’t make myself clear when I covered that point earlier. Here is what I meant to say.” And then restate your point and summarize facts that remove the opposition. This allows the previously angered person to extricate himself harmlessly by saying, “Well, if I had only known that I would not have objected.”
There are certainly other emotional positions to consider while negotiating, and each has varying degrees of strength at any given time. Just be aware of yours and theirs and changes in base positions. Reinforce positive emotions and try to eliminate or control negative ones. Prepare for the emotional side of a negotiating session as you would for the substance and process. It will be time well spent.
For more negotiating tips, check out our related post Win More Book Orders Before You Begin Selling.
Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books.