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Process pathThe circumstances surrounding every selling situation are different, but there are two parts essential to them all: substance and process. Substance is made up of objective elements such as price, terms and shipping costs. Process is the path you take from your initial meeting to the close.

One of the costliest mistakes in negotiating a large book sale is focusing primarily on the substance of the deal and not enough on the process and the players. You can be more successful if you understand each distinct process since it is more likely to differ than the substance of any selling event.

Substance issues are necessary but not sufficient to close any major book sale. But if they are not delivered strategically to the right people and in pursuit of the proper objectives these facts will rarely lead to a sale. Situation dynamics are equally important to creating a win/win conclusion. There are at least four things you can do to prepare for and stay on track to a successful bargaining session.

1) Understand the unique process of each negotiation.

Each negotiating journey is influenced by a range of factors, and their unique combination can impact the outcome. In your early information gathering, uncover topics that will help you understand the distinct path each discussion might take. Ask questions such as, “What is the timeframe for making your decision? What worked well for you in previous marketing campaigns? What didn’t work well for you in previous marketing campaigns? What is the outcome you most want to see?” Seek to clarify as many process elements as possible before you come face to face with the decision makers.

2) Manage realistic expectations. If either party does not understand the other’s normal operating procedures, trust can deteriorate. Buyers may not realize the time it takes to design and reprint a book with a custom cover and tip-in page, or the difficulties of printing 10,000 books each with a unique code number. If delays or additional costs occur (unanticipated from their perspective), they may overreact by thinking you are incompetent or trying to extract additional money from them.

Normalizing the process can prevent misunderstanding and erosion of relationships. Shape how they interpret a negative event by anticipating uncontrollable delays or disruptions and communicating their possibility.

Encourage the other side to do the same for you by explaining that in your experience, deals with so many parts have potential for mishaps (avoid words such as calamities or disasters) that are best dealt with before they arise. This also positions you as an experienced, knowledgeable and understanding salesperson.

3) Identify all decision makers and influencers. Consider this negotiating event. During the first few meetings with your prospect you have been holding back a few final allowances that you can use to overcome any last-minute objections and close the sale. During what you believe to be the final session you offer these concessions. The other side responds favorably with, “Excellent. Thank you. I’ll run this by my boss to get her OK.”

This can be a surprising turn of events if you did not know there was a higher authority in the equation. You have just played what you thought was your trump card, and now you have nothing more with which to respond if the process comes back to you for further negotiation.

Before you enter the first meeting, find out who will be involved in the final decision and what factors are important to them. In most cases, their criteria for a profitable sale are the opposite of yours. You want a short discount, little customization, and a long delivery period. They want a low price and a unique product with just-in-time delivery.

4) Set the tone of the discussion.

Buying decisions occur with some combination of rational and emotional elements. The weight of either depends on the individuals involved. Some evaluate your proposal with Mr. Spock-like rationality. Others emphasize the sensitivity of a Mr. Rogers approach. Neither is a good or bad frame of reference – just human nature. As a general statement, people buy emotionally and justify their decision rationally.

It is unlikely that you can control your prospects’ perspectives. But you can be more effective if you quickly adjust yourself to the mental frame of each session. Give them a sufficient amount of rational criteria to justify their decision, but emphasize (not overtly) emotions for the stronger buying motivation. Here are three ways to influence the tone of a meeting for your benefit.

a. Value vs. price. Your content can provide tremendous value for your customers, but in most cases it will cost them more than competitive promotional products like coffee mugs or key chains. Your higher price will be justified in your value proposition, but it could still meet opposition when your buyer says, “You are charging twice what I normally pay for promotional items. I’m not going to pay that much.”

Inexperienced negotiators quickly offer a lower price or apologize by saying, “Yes, it is pricey, but it costs more to make it.” Buyers do not care what your costs are. They are concerned only with their price. Either approach reduces the likelihood of a sale and frames the discussion around price when you really want to discuss value.

Instead, justify — do not apologize for — your offer. Restate their question in a way that is more favorable to your position. You could say, “What you seem to be saying is that no one will pay more for something than it’s worth to them. I agree. So let’s discuss the value we bring so that you can decide if that is good for you.”

b. Alternative opportunities. You can add unnecessary pressure on yourself if you enter the negotiation consumed by the thought, “I have to get this deal or I’m doomed.” That forces you to think about the minimum terms it will take to get the order.

There are at least two ways to positively redirect your thought process. First, have other options available. Through consistent prospecting, you should have other buyers lined up, ready to purchase your books. That knowledge will release some of the tension you feel. Second, think of the negotiation in terms of what happens to them if no deal is reached. Shift your strategy to the unique value that you offer, and it becomes easier to justify in your mind why you deserve a fair price.

c. Equality vs. dominance. If you propose a deal to a Fortune 500 company to buy 50,000 copies of your book, you might feel that they hold all the cards. In most cases, you will meet professional buyers who treat you as a valuable supplier. But there are times you will find people who think you should feel lucky just being in their presence. The latter may impose demands on you that why would never require from those they consider their corporate equals. Make it known that although your firm is much smaller, you are colleagues in this negotiation because of the tremendous value you offer.

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu insists that preparation for battle is critical and that the outcome is decided before it even begins. This sentiment applies to negotiating book sales, too. Attend to the factors discussed here to prepare for each unique path that will increase your chances of creating profitable, large-quantity sales.

For more negotiating tips, check out our related post Dealing With Emotions While Selling your Books.


Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books.