What can a person learn about sales from a former FBI hostage negotiator? Quite a bit, it turns out. I am reading Chris Voss’s book, “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As if Your Life Depended on it.” It’s a great title and many salespeople may feel they live that way each day.
Voss now heads up his own company, Black Swan, teaching companies and organizations the skills that made him successful in negotiating life-and-death situations. I was pleasantly surprised to learn how much he uses emotional intelligence skills, such as emotion management and self-control, in teaching people how to be more effective at negotiation. When training new negotiators, self-control is one of the first things he discusses.
Voss gives a great example in his book about the importance of emotion management and self-control. He coached a client, who wasn’t getting paid by one of her clients after delivering good work. Voss designed tactical questions that would lead this customer to pay up. He role-played with his client to make sure she understood how to ask the questions.
The questions were perfect. Voss’s client called her late-paying/no-paying client and started asking carefully calibrated questions. Then she blew it. Upon hearing her client’s patronizing voice, she allowed herself to get emotionally triggered. Instead of asking the well-designed questions, she defaulted to a fight response in trying to prove to her client that he was wrong and she was right. You know the ending to this story: She didn’t get even half of what was owed to her.
This is a great lesson for all of us in sales. To paraphrase Voss, you can be armed with your list of calibrated questions for a negotiation or high-stakes conversation, but the reality is that without self-control and emotional regulation, it doesn’t work. If you let emotions take over your sales conversations, you will get derailed. All your good pre-call planning and provocative questions will go right out the window.
The best salespeople recognize and develop both their Sales EQ (emotional intelligence skills) and Sales IQ (consultative selling skills). When preparing for a high-stakes sales conversation, they invest time to raise their self-awareness and self-control for the meeting. They visualize the various responses from prospects or customers that could trigger a response they regret. They role-play with someone on their team that will throw curveballs and counter tactics in order to make sure they don’t get triggered during the crucial sales conversation.
If you want to be more effective at negotiations, start by working on the soft skills, your emotional intelligence skills. As the late John Wooden said, “Manage your emotions or they will manage you.”