5 Negotiating Mistakes: Stop Compromising Your Standards

Article by Joan FriedlanderYou’ve been in business for a few years (or 20) and have earned a certain degree of respect from your customers and colleagues. While some people struggle, getting new business is as easy for you as breathing. Yet you sometimes find yourself beholden to clients and customers that make your life miserable.

No matter how methodical and professional you are in your work, or how much you plan, you sometimes find yourself at the mercy of their ineptitude. How does this happen? Can you predict it ahead of time? Can you prevent it?

Unfortunately, without some preemptive strategies you may find yourself at the whim of the moment — and your prospect — with your guard down. As with any “bad” relationship, hindsight may reveal early warning signs. The most likely culprit is insufficient preparation for the sales part of the marketing/sales conversation during which you have the greatest opportunity to establish clear guidelines for working with you.

It’s easy to see that proper preparation is important to the impression you make with prospective clients. Perhaps the bigger payoff for such planning is the circumvention of your (sometimes) fickle mind, the one that will periodically sell you short, even if it means sacrificing your standards!

5 Negotiating Mistakes

1. No clearly defined pricing structure
2. Discounting your services
3. Failure to effectively interview the prospective client
4. Failure to outline and communicate your policies and procedures, your standards, and your expectations
5. Ignoring the early warning signs

While these 5 negotiating mistakes are characteristics we might attribute to newer business owners I’ve seen the same issues arise for seasoned, successful professionals too.

The Cost of Working with Difficult Clients

Setting and maintaining clear standards is as important to your business as good customer service. While it’s easy to see that taking good care of your customers is essential, it’s not always as easy to see that taking good care of yourself through well-established guidelines is essential to your success, too.

If you can’t see it for yourself, try seeing it through your clients’ eyes. If you compromise your standards — or fail to set them — your “good” clients suffer just as much as you do. If an errant client takes up more time and energy than contracted for, it increases your stress level and decreases your productivity, and eventually, the quality of your work. Not good for you and not good for your clients.

Preemptive Strategies: Antidotes to the 5 Negotiating Mistakes

If you’ve never created a Policies and Procedures manual for your business this may be a good time to start. This section of the manual might be called: “The Way We Do Things Around Here,” “Prospect Documents,” or “Sales Documents.”

1. Create your pricing structure. Even if you never show your pricing structure to prospective clients, if you don’t write it down and include it in your policies and procedures you run a much greater risk of compromising your standards at the negotiating table.

This one step will help you more consciously make decisions about discounting packages for new clients. Every time you do, you’ll know you’re compromising your standards and you’ll be more likely to stop. And, if you do want to periodically work with a (great) client at a reduced rate, you’ll do so consciously and without that feeling in the pit of your stomach.

2. Develop a list of characteristics of your ideal clients. Just like a well-run job search, speaking with prospective clients is a two-way street. Just as they’re learning about you and how you may be able to help them, you’re learning about them and assessing not only your ability to help them but also your interest in doing so.

Your characteristics list might include things like: professional attitude, responsive to inquiries, generally within ___ hours, shows up on time to meetings, is prepared for meetings, does their “homework,” seems calm and organized, flexible without being scattered, runs a successful business, is open to constructive feedback. The important characteristics of your ideal clients will depend on what’s important to you and the services your offer.

3. Clearly defined working policies and procedures — a working contract. Many professionals start the working relationship with a contract. In some professions a contract or signed agreement is mandatory. In others it may be a matter of form.

Even if a contract isn’t required in your profession it might be a very good idea to prepare a one-page information sheet to review with new clients to let them know how you work and what you expect. It can include the following: hours of operation, turnaround time, impact of delays and extensions on payment and terms, deliverables, objectives, pricing, scope of work, etc.

4. Proposal template. Though it takes some time to prepare written proposals, especially the first few times you do it, doing so can go a long way towards organizing your thoughts, outlining the scope of the project and creating a professional image, thereby attracting higher-end clients.

Your proposal template can be organized into 5-7 sections, depending on what you include. You might consider the following sections: introductory program material, client objectives, service package options, fees and structure, payment policies, testimonials from other clients who’ve used your services for similar objectives, and your bio. What you include will depend on what you’re offering.

If you’re uncomfortable with the end of the sales conversation, a written proposal gives you a way to gracefully step away from the sales conversation, gather your thoughts and prepare a professional document that serves you and your prospect. It gives your prospect time to review your materials out of the heat of the sales conversation and gives them a sense of comfort. Rather than closing them on the spot, you both may feel more comfortable with the process. (See the notes below for more on proposals.)

5. Pay attention to your gut responses. If you’ve ever said to yourself, “I knew they were going to be a problem,” you failed to pay attention to your intuitive wisdom. Perhaps your ideal client checklist should include an item that asks you to check your gut: “Am I excited when I think about working with this client, or do I have a sinking feeling?”

Proposal Notes:

1) At times a prospect is ready to buy on the spot and a proposal isn’t necessary. In this case, use your “working contract” to establish guidelines, and as a back-up to a verbal conversation about the highlights any new client should know.

2) If you use a written proposal, be sure to set up a time for a follow-up conversation before you leave the sales meeting or the phone call.

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