“Buyers are liars,” is a term some salespeople use to describe their customers. They believe prospective buyers distort the truth to put themselves in a better bargaining position. Regrettably, in some cases they are correct, so be on guard when negotiating the sale of your books to some corporate purchasers.
According to studies among business buyers (Harvard Business Review) about half of people involved in corporate negotiations lie when they have the opportunity to improve their potential outcome. Fortunately, there are things you can do to prepare for — or even prevent — this intangible trickery.
In most cases, book salespeople rely on their ability to detect obvious deception. Darting eyes, perspiring brows and broken eye contact are some obvious signs of potential untruths. However, imperceptible signals are often overlooked or unnoticed, placing you at a disadvantage. Focus on prevention instead of detection to level the playing field. Here are a few techniques to improve the likelihood of a win-win agreement.
Build relationships. Corporate buyers are spending tens of thousands of company dollars to purchase promotional items such as your books. They want to make sure they are spending that money in the most effective way from people they trust. Their egos and perhaps careers are at stake for making wrong decisions.
A large-quantity, non-returnable sale of your books takes time — perhaps years — to unfold. Do not begin the sales discussion by talking about your book and how great it is. Present yourself as a consultant — not a publisher — seeking to help buyers solve a business problem. Lead them to understand that you are not just another vendor, but someone seeking a long-term mutually profitable partnership.
Your potential buyers are understandably reluctant to disclose information that could undermine their competitive position. They wait for you to demonstrate the degree to which you will maintain confidentiality, and then they may reciprocate when comfortable. If you say, “To tell you the truth …” or, “To speak frankly …” they may wonder if you have been completely candid up to that point.
Get them to reveal hidden information. If your prospects answer all your questions honestly, but do not volunteer pertinent facts, they are not in their minds lying. But the result is the same. And this can happen in many situations. Andy Kessler wrote in The Wall Street Journal, “(Steve) Jobs emanated what became known as a ‘reality distortion field. His overpowering charisma would convince workers, developers and investors to come around to his view.” He added, “Sadly, the journey from charisma to coercion to lying is quick and often complete.”
Follow the “Ask, don’t tell” philosophy and use questions to bring truthful, relevant information to the surface and develop rapport at the same time. Only then can both parties accurately determine and evaluate potential solutions.
Phrase questions to disclose valuable information in an unthreatening way. “You don’t want to buy any books today, do you?” will rarely yield a positive reply. Ask open-ended questions that get people to talk freely.
A question posed to reveal pain points is, “If you were to hire an assistant today, what would you want that person to accomplish in the first 90 days?” The answer reveals your prospect’s top priorities. To discover their objectives, ask, “If you could wave your magic wand, what would you want your next promotional campaign to accomplish?”
When questions are poised in a casual tone, people are more likely to divulge their true feelings. You could say, “We all know there are millions of books out there. Any chance you might be considering any of them for your campaign?”
Listen to the answers. Stephen Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand. They listen with the intent to reply.” When you ask a question, actively listen to the answer. Nod your head in agreement, if that is the case. Raise your eyebrows if you question a comment. Do not interrupt or change the subject, but listen intently while processing the information to your advantage. Take notes and write key words to remind you of issues to bring up later.
Listen to buyers’ questions for hints on what they are really thinking. Your prospects may nonchalantly ask, “What happens in the event of a late delivery?” This signals their concern about on-time delivery.
If it becomes obvious that your prospect is being less than truthful — and they know you know that they are — give them a face-saving way out by using the feel/felt/found technique: “I understand how you feel. Others have felt that way, too. But when they found out … ” Your prospects will appreciate your willingness to let them off the hook, and rapport increases.
This article is not intended to portray all corporate buyers as liars or that your negotiations are likely to be held under deceptive conditions. In the overwhelming majority of selling situations you will deal with professional people who are trying to create win-win conclusions. Just be conscious of the possibility that there are some less-scrupulous people out there who want to win at all costs — especially yours. Do not assume buyers are trying to take advantage of you, but do not be caught unaware if they do.
Brian Jud is the Executive Director of the Association of Publishers for Special Sales (APSS — www.bookapss.org) and author of How to Make Real Money Selling Books and Beyond the Bookstore. Contact Brian at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.premiumbookcompany.com.