Most of us have at one time interviewed for a job. Did you ever think that the tactics in negotiating for a job and those for negotiating a large book sale are comparable? I wrote books demonstrating that fact. One described how to negotiate a job offer (Job Search 101) and two that explained how to negotiate a large quantity book sale (Beyond the Bookstore and How to Make Real Money Selling Books). Here are tips for negotiating a book sale — or a job.
Chemistry is crucial.
This sounds basic, but it is crucial: People will buy from you only if they like and trust you. Anything you do in a negotiation that makes you less likable or trustworthy reduces the chances that the other side will buy. This is more than being polite; it is about managing inevitable tensions in negotiation, such as asking for what you deserve without seeming greedy, pointing out deficiencies in their counteroffer without seeming petty, and being persistent without being a nuisance.
Help them understand why you deserve what you are requesting.
It is not enough for them to like you. They also must believe your proposal is worth the money you want. Never let your proposal speak for itself — always tell the story that goes with it. Do not just state your terms. Explain precisely why you request them. If you have no justification for a demand, it may be unwise to make it. Again, keep in mind the inherent tension between being likable and explaining why you deserve your request. Suggesting that your proposal is especially worthy can make you sound arrogant if you have not communicated its value.
Understand the person across the table.
Companies do not negotiate; people do. And before you can influence the people sitting opposite you, you have to understand them. What are their interests and individual concerns? For example, negotiating with a representative in an association is very different from negotiating with a corporate HR manager. Discover each negotiator’s pain points — the problems they want to solve. Your counterpart at an association may seek off-budget revenue while the HR representative may want to increase employees’ productivity or motivation.
Understand their constraints.
They may like you. They may think you deserve everything you want. But they still may not give it to you. Why? Because they may have certain constraints, such as budget caps, that no amount of negotiation can loosen. Your job is to figure out where they are flexible and where they are not. If, for example, you are talking to people in a large company they may be flexible on returns, delivery dates, payment terms or customization. On the other hand, if you are negotiating with a smaller company that has never used books as promotional items, there may be room to adjust the initial price, but not other things. The better you understand the constraints, the more likely it is that you will be able to propose options that solve both sides’ problems.
Avoid, ignore, or downplay ultimatums of any kind.
Your prospect may say that you must sign now or lose the order. Nobody likes being told “Here is my offer. Take it or leave it.” Even if you know the terms are satisfactory, resist the temptation to agree too quickly for it could be unprofitable for you. Ask for the reason behind the need to move so quickly. Your prospect may be getting pressure from a supervisor to get the campaign started. Or the prospect may be facing the end of a budget period where he or she has to spend the budgeted money or lose it. Once you know the reason you can help your prospect deal with the underlying cause.
Prepare for each negotiation.
A negotiated sale must be good for both sides if it is to set the stage for a long-term relationship with recurring revenue. There are two things you can do before you enter a negotiation that will prepare you to come away with a mutually profitable deal. The first is to know your parameters for a profitable order. The second is to have alternatives available should any negotiation deteriorate. Both serve to relieve the pressure on you to accept a potentially unprofitable transaction.
After several negotiating sessions you will be better prepared for the tough questions that typically arise. These may be about price, quality and delivery. Be prepared to handle those you anticipate as well as those you hear for the first time. Always answer honestly, but in a way that does not reduce your bargaining power.
Bring hidden objections out in the open.
Let’s say you are negotiating a large-quantity sale with a buyer at a company that wants to use your book as a premium to increase its sales. You have agreed upon a price that is satisfactory to both parties, but the buyer is still balking at signing the agreement. Uncover the hidden objection by asking a series of questions. The bottleneck may not be price or quantity, but timing. Begin by enumerating areas of agreement. “We’ve agreed that using this book as a premium can help your company increase sales significantly above its cost. Correct? And we have agreed that the price is fair, right? Is it accurate to say that the shipping charges are acceptable, and the delivery date coincides with the promotional blitz you intend to conduct in November? Then what is it that is keeping us from agreeing to this proposal today?
Here, the prospect might say, “Yes, all that is correct. But my budget is shot for the rest of the quarter. I can’t spend any more money until next quarter.” You could reply, “You mean that if we can delay payment of the books and the shipping charges until next year, you will OK the agreement today?” If the person says “yes,” you have the order, perhaps with a post-dated check.
Consider the whole deal.
Many authors think negotiating a large sale and negotiating the highest price are synonymous. Do not get fixated on the initial order. Focus on the value of the entire deal. Think in terms of a long-term relationship. The buyers could purchase additional titles from you or hire you as a spokesperson. Chart a course that may pay less handsomely now but will put you in a stronger position later.
Negotiate multiple issues simultaneously, not serially.
If someone makes you an offer and you are legitimately concerned about parts of it, you are usually better off proposing all your concerns at once. Do not say, “The price you suggest is a bit low. May we discus that?” Then, once you have worked through that you come back with “Thanks. Now here are two other things I’d like to discuss.” If you keep saying “and one more thing…,” your prospect is unlikely to remain in an understanding mood. Furthermore, if you have more than one bargaining point, do not simply list them. Describe the relative importance of each to you. Otherwise, the buyers may pick the two things you value least, because they are easy to give you. Then you will have a counteroffer that is not much better than the initial one.
Do not over-negotiate.
There may be times when you feel you are “on a roll” as your prospect acquiesces to all your terms. You may feel the urge to ask for more, beyond the initial scope of the prospect’s needs. Do not do it. Resist the urge to press for more when you have reached an agreement.
Similarly, you may call on a prospect who requires only a small quantity of your books and is ready to give you a check during your first meeting. Do not give in to the need to push for more. Take the order, follow up properly and return for another possible sale when appropriate.
Think through the timing of the deal.
There will be times when all the details seem to fall into place and your enthusiasm leads you to accept an order before you have thought it through. Can you really deliver the expected quantity on time, with the requested customization at the agreed price? Is there a penalty if you do not? Can you fill an additional order quickly if the initial quantity moves faster than expected?
Understand delays from the buyers’ perspectives.
It takes time for relationships (and sales) to develop, perhaps a year or more. Also, the purchasing process in large companies can be ponderous. Let the system unfold without trying to force the issue. A factor contributing to a lengthy decision process is that corporate buyers have to go through a formal purchasing process. They cannot make decision like an entrepreneur would because they have to talk to their bosses and plan the timing to coincide with budget periods or product launches. Work with them to set up a timeline to introduce your proposal, and then help them abide by it. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The game requires coolness, right reasoning, promptness and patience in the players.”
Commit to a solution only after it is certain to work for both parties.
Be careful of what you wish for. If you want a large-quantity, non-returnable sale you can generally get it. But it may not be profitable for you. A sale is only good if both parties profit.
Invite the other people to help shape the solution. Ask questions to get them to participate in finding the answer. A question such as, “If you could wave your magic wand, how would the perfect campaign play out?” This will give you insight into their interests.
Do not concede too quickly on any issue. Even if it is of little consequence to you, make it appear a weighty issue. For example, you might say, “I agree to do X provided we can come up with a suitable agreement on Y and Z.” Ask for an equal quid pro quo that will lead to your mutually profitable closure.
Continue to probe after a deal is lost.
If you lose the order, follow up by asking why you did not get the order. In a bidding situation, you may have had the low price, but did not mention some needed service or feature. Always ask for constructive feedback by saying something like, “What would it have taken for us to reach agreement?” It might be something you can accommodate such as providing the content in another form, making the books returnable, or offering a larger quantity discount. Sales pro Guy Achtzehn looks at this from a different perspective: “When prospective buyers say, ‘I’m not interested,’ that doesn’t mean they won’t buy. It means that you didn’t create a sales pitch that was interesting enough.”
Evaluate each negotiation.
If you got the order, what did you do right? What can you do to improve next time? If you did not get the order, what did you do wrong? What could you have done better? How can you eliminate any gaffes in the future? Review each negotiation, learn from it and improve your skills for next time.
This article describes how to apply to selling books what you already know about negotiating for a job. Or, if you are looking for employment, you can use what you already know about negotiating the sale of your books. In the latter case, simply do a universal search to substitute “job” for “sale,” and “interviewer” for “buyer” and “offer” for “sale” and you will see what I mean.
Brian Jud is the author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books, the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS – www.bookapss.org), and the administrator of Book Selling University (www.booksellinguniversity.com) Contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.premiumbookcompany.com.