Sales Tips for the Reluctant Salesperson
Special Forces Negotiations
By Brian Sullivan
Editor’s Note: JHC readers may not work for medical products companies, but they have plenty of customers – administrators, all the people who use the products for which they contract, and the vendors with whom they negotiate contracts. Their credibility is on the line every day. Sales coach Brian Sullivan spends most of his time working with salespeople and sales executives from medical products manufacturers and distributors. But he’s got something to say to contracting professionals as well.
Negotiations with your clinicians and vendors might differ a bit from those with armed warlords, but they can get pretty hairy nonetheless. The following story was shared with me by Special Forces Green Beret Major Ed Croot, who appeared on my radio program in Kansas City.
Croot was told by intelligence in Afghanistan there was a dangerous warlord who was setting up checkpoints outside the city. At these checkpoints, the “Warlord of Gereshk” and his 1,000 men would regularly shake down and steal from the people coming into and out of town. When not shaking people down, his men would walk heavily armed through the streets providing what they called “security” to the town.
While the warlord was not necessarily anti-USA or anti-government, he was still a problem, as he was regularly interfering with the objectives of the new, legitimate leaders. Croot’s orders were to stop the warlord and his 1,000 men from setting up checkpoints, and to get them to transfer all security authority to the Afghan government.
Croot had two choices. He could assemble several hundred coalition forces, and through military muscle, force the issue. Or he could use some old-fashioned negotiation skills to meet the objective. Croot opted for option two.
To fully prepare for his negotiation, he decided he had to fully understand the culture of the man he would negotiate with. Through his homework, Croot learned that a major part of Afghan daily life is the people’s observance of the Pushtunwali Code of Honor. One ingredient of the code is known as Melmastia. Melmastia states that if somebody enters your home, the host must show the visitor hospitality regardless of ethnic or religious background. This also means the visitor must be protected from any harm. In learning this, Croot determined that if he could set up a meeting in the warlord’s house, he would most likely live through the end of the meeting.
Negotiation Lesson No. 1: Study, know and understand the “culture” of your customers and business partners before any negotiations.
After preparing for the meeting, Croot made contact with the warlord. Because Croot’s posture was non-threatening, the warlord agreed to meet with him at his compound/home. At this point, Croot had to gamble. He could show up with several hundred soldiers to protect him should something go wrong, or he could trust his knowledge of the Pushtunwali Code. To Croot, it was more important to build the trust of the warlord than it was to show force. In fact, showing force would create a contrarian reaction and most likely ruin his ability to influence the warlord. So Croot showed up with only a few men and a translator.
Negotiation Lesson No. 2: Preserve an “Attitude of Yes” in all negotiations. If the other party suspects that your intent is for them to lose and you to win, their emotional walls of defense will never come down.
Croot got out of his Humvee and approached the house while some of the soldiers stayed in their vehicles. The door opened, and Croot and his small crew entered the compound. They noticed the warlord had assembled 200 fully armed combatants. These men were not only assembled to protect the compound, but — Croot believed — to intimidate Croot and his team. Croot had second thoughts about not bringing more soldiers, but quickly realized that if he let fear control the atmosphere of the negotiation, he wouldn’t meet his objective.
The team was directed to the warlord’s chamber. As they walked through a dark corridor, Croot’s interpreter assured them that they had nothing to fear because the warlord would adhere to “The Code.”
Negotiation Lesson No. 3: Trust your preparation and don’t let fear and negative emotion change your attitude. Even when you are scared or feel pressure, remain calm.
The warlord invited the soldiers to sit in a circle and drink tea before they started their negotiation. But as Croot looked over at the warlord, he noticed his attitude slowly going from positive to negative. The interpreter leaned over to Croot and told him the warlord was not happy. He said the warlord wanted to know why Croot and his team had come to his house in body armor and Kevlar helmets. Did they not know they would be protected in his house? To him, it was an insult.
Now Croot had another choice to make. Taking off his body protection could be a death sentence. But to Croot, the only way to maintain a positive negotiation atmosphere was to trust the warlord and “The Code.” So he and his team immediately removed their gear. Croot then told the warlord that he meant no disrespect. He also told him he was aware of Pushtunwali Code but admittedly failed in his understanding of the intricacies of it. Once the warlord saw the trust Croot had put in the warlord’s ability to protect him as well as Croot’s humble and disarming attitude, the atmosphere changed.
Negotiation Lesson No. 4: When you screw up, admit it. Humility is often an effective negotiation tool.
Croot then conveyed his wish to work with the warlord to help create a safer town for the people of Gereshk. Upon hearing this, the warlord laughed, saying he was happy and relieved, because at first to him it appeared Croot’s team had come prepared to battle, not to negotiate. Shortly after, the warlord thanked Croot and his team for their effort in understanding their culture. To him, it showed respect. He also thanked the team, and said he believed that Croot’s soldiers’ plans were to help the people of Gereshk. And because of the meeting, the warlord agreed to turn over the checkpoints to the coalition and Afghan forces and team with them to create a more secure town. Croot had met his objective, and no lives were lost.
And whether you are walking through an airport or your local shopping mall, don’t forget to take a minute to thank that soldier who continues to defend our freedom, because to him or her, giving up or giving in is something that is NOT negotiable.
Brian Sullivan, CSP, is author of the book, “20 Days to the Top – How the PRECISE Selling Formula Will Make You Your Company’s Top Sales Performer in 20 Days or Less” and president of PRECISE Selling, a sales and leadership training company. To learn more about overcoming problems and low sales in a tough economy, check out his Web site at www.preciseselling.com.