Recently, I read the book Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, a former FBI hostage negotiator, and elements of it really resonated with me. It hits on some fundamental principles of negotiation that are important to remember, principles which are particularly relevant for Challenger sellers.

When someone says the word “negotiations,” people often think of ZOPA, BATNA, and the give and take that is part of any deal, generally with the terms and conditions of a contract. But what Voss points out is that a good negotiator asks a lot of questions. Voss calls these “calibrated questions,” and when asked well, they further the discussion, help a negotiator understand what’s driving their counterpart’s behavior, and what it’s going to take to get to a “Yes.”

Good negotiators evaluate the situation from all angles, either by asking their counterpart or analyzing the situation themselves. Some of the elements a negotiator is dissecting include: Who can make the decision or who is influencing it?  What might really be going on beneath the surface of this request? Why is the other party asking for what they are asking for even if it might seem irrational?  This examination of all angles Voss calls tactical empathy, which goes a step beyond just putting yourself in someone else’s shoes or seeing a situation from a different viewpoint. Tactical empathy is about understanding the feelings and motivations of another human being and really hearing what is behind those feelings. As much as humans like to believe they are rational, emotion drives a lot of decisions. When a customer responds in a way that seems surprising or even irrational to you, put yourself in their shoes. What do they believe to be true to have that response? It may not make sense to you, but it makes sense to them. So, figure out why. Without a good question that drives dialogue, you may never understand.

In the same way, Challengers have a hypothesis about what a customer doing, and why they are doing it that way, and seek out to prove or disprove that hypothesis. Challengers think not just about what they want their customer to do, but about the beliefs, assumptions, and values that drive the observable behavior of the customer today. Challengers ask hard questions of their customers, but in a way that is curious and inquisitive, not accusatory, to engage the customer in conversation. And, as a note, Voss recommends avoiding “Why?” questions almost entirely for this reason. Good questions lead to a conversation that reveals information about the customer’s goals, challenges, business operations and thought processes. Armed with this information, a Challenger can confirm or re-evaluate their hypothesis about the customer and tailor the conversation and insight to get the customer to act.

So, when “negotiating” with a customer, use powerful questions to better understand the customer’s beliefs that are driving their actions, engage them in dialogue, and paint yourself a better picture of how you can reframe the customer’s thinking and help them change.

Becky Abraham

Becky Abraham

Becky Abraham is now the Director of Product Management at Challenger, after helping implement Challenger at organizations in industries including Financial Services, Pharmaceuticals, Manufacturing, and Technology.