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The Fine Line Between Selling and Negotiating

hand-457335_1280A client asked me, when should you sell and when should you negotiate? My answer: They go hand in glove. Sometimes you are selling someone on a product, then you might switch to negotiating when the price and terms are discussed. The differences between selling and negotiating are very subtle.

The very subtle difference between selling and negotiating

Great sales people and great negotiators are alike in that they try to convince people to take a certain course of action. There are two subtle differences, however, between selling and negotiating.

tick-305245_1280Weighing the Agreement Against Other Options

The purpose of negotiating is to determine whether you are better off continuing to negotiate an agreement, or whether you are better off pursuing some other course of action, like walking away. A BATNA is a Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. The BATNA analysis is an essential tool in a savvy negotiators toolbox. To start thinking about alternatives ask yourself, what are my options and what can I do that would be better than negotiating with them?

Too often, people walk into a negotiation with the intention that they must convince or be convinced; in other words, prove that their way is right or lose. Rather than going in thinking that you must convince someone of something, enter a negotiation with the intention of exploring your options. Sounds very sales like I know. But wait, there is one more thing to consider.

When you are negotiating do not try to overcome obstacles. Instead, weigh your options of working this agreement out against other options, like pursuing other business opportunities.


Negotiations traditionally come some time after the buyer has decided to purchase. Now that the buyer has made her decision, she will need to work with you to create an agreement to meet some very specific needs, such as price, payment terms or delivery scheduling.

When you are negotiating terms and conditions, it is no longer appropriate to sell the buyer on how wonderful your product or service is; it is time to sync your delivery and billing with the customer’s accounts payable and receiving schedule.

This can be a perilous time in the process. You are feeling confident that you can provide a great service or product, yet there are all these nit-picky details that seem to create tension, and anyway, you are off to another prospect anyway. STOP. Negotiating requires that you have the back and forth conversation to reach an agreement. Do not rush through this part in the sale with assurances that your product or service is terrific because that is not what the buyer wants to hear. She wants to know that you and she are on the same page with all the details.

It’s a Fluid Process

The sales/negotiation process is very fluid and you could find yourself using sales techniques one minute and negotiation techniques the next. Keep two things in mind though: Negotiation is about weighing options against your BATNA and it is about timing. Be sure to know yourself well enough to know when you need to shift from selling someone on something and negotiating a profitable deal for your company.