If you haven’t scooped Chris Voss’ 2016 bestseller “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It,” you’re missing out on a treasure trove of insights from a former FBI hostage negotiator that can be directly applied to enterprise sales. Don’t see a connection between two such radically different worlds? Consider the following tips from Voss for talking down the armed and dangerous: 

  • “‘Why’ is always an accusation, in any language.” 
  • “A person’s use of pronouns offers deep insight into his or her personal authority. If you’re hearing a lot of ‘I,’ ‘me,’ and ‘my,’ the real power to decide probably lies elsewhere.”
  • “Negotiation is not an act of battle; it’s a process of discovery.”

If that hits close to home, it’s because Voss views negotiation as the cornerstone of any engagement, not just in hostage situations. Whether you’re building a relationship with your prospects at work or your partner at home, getting the outcomes you want hinges on your ability to negotiate effectively. The good life, per Voss, isn’t the examined life, per Socrates, but the effectively negotiated one.

Whether you agree with that or not, Voss’ thought-provoking ideas can empower enterprise tech sellers to have better conversations with prospects. Let’s look at three of the big ones.

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“No” can help you understand 

After years of experience as a hostage negotiator, Voss believes people have a basic need to feel they’re in control. There is, he writes, a “deep and universal human need for autonomy.” And nothing demonstrates that need more clearly than the act of saying “no.” 

But, according to Voss, “no” can be an opportunity—it’s the impetus for clarification and a chance to see your prospects’ true needs and goals. In fact, in Voss’ view, “no” is the sign that productive negotiations have begun.

“No” can also break down barriers, as you’ve probably witnessed in your own conversations with enterprise buyers. The mood in the room sometimes palpably changes when you demonstrate that you have heard their “no,” understood their objection, and are now calmly seeking clarification to arrive at common ground.

The takeaway? In enterprise sales, what “no” signifies couldn’t be farther from failure or rejection. Instead, it’s an opening. And if you can train yourself to hear it as such, you’ll do a far better job of understanding and overcoming your prospects’ objections.

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Needs are seeded in wants

Have you ever noticed how, in conversations with enterprise decision-makers, they’re far more inclined to frame business priorities in terms of wants than needs. We want more actionable sales intelligence from our MarTech investments. We want a SaaS solution that gives us greater data security. We want to enhance our cloud capabilities. And so on. 

There’s an easy formula to explain that, according to Voss: Wants are easier to talk about than needs. But you can work backward from the former to arrive at the latter. At the same time, the conversation about wants will necessarily come first—you have to establish that baseline level of comfort and connection for a conversation about true needs to follow. 

And to help establish that rapport, Voss suggests that even the most basic mirroring technique can be highly effective. His advice: summarize and rephrase the information you’ve been given in the form of a question—”It sounds like you’re looking for an end-to-end, integrative solution for tracking qualified leads during the sales cycle, is that correct?”—then pause for a deliberate, long silence.

Why? Because no matter who you’re talking to on the org chart, Voss noted that people can’t help stepping in to fill the silence you’ve created—and they’ll likely provide information that further clarifies the nature of their organization’s needs. 

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Make implementation your lodestar 

Effective enterprise sellers recognize the importance of forming long-term relationships. Rather than making pipe-dream promises they know they can’t keep, they’re candid about what their solution can and cannot do. As a reward, they not only take home more revenue, but find opportunities to grow accounts down the line. 

And that’s because they operate with a different set of goal posts in mind. Instead of treating reaching an agreement as the end goal, these value-adding partners focus on ensuring that the agreement can be successfully implemented, too. In other words, if you think your job ends when the deal closes, you need to rethink your approach. 

To circumnavigate potential implementation pitfalls, Voss underscores the importance of strategic “how” questions. How are you planning to measure the value of this technology investment? How will the implementation phase affect various teams within your organization? How does this solution fit with your existing enterprise tech stack?

These “how” questions, Voss suggests, can even engineer a miraculous bait-and-switch in the minds of sellers. Using “how” questions, you can force prospects to walk you through all of the steps involved in implementation, which requires them to imagine your solution as if it were already in place—and eventually, they may come to believe that the solution was something they came up with in the first place. 

The bottom-line is that your buyer’s implementation journey should be in sight as a lodestar during all stages of the sales cycle. Swap your dumb discovery questions for smart ones starting with the word “How,” too, and soon you’ll be in a strong position as a value-added partner. 

Executive Insights 

Chris Voss’ 2016 bestseller”Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It” might not seem like a go-to resource for enterprise sellers seeking actionable advice. But its surprising insights, drawing on Voss’ years of experience as an FBI hostage negotiator, bring out universals of human behavior and motivation that should enrich any enterprise sellers’ toolkit—and lead to more conversions when you connect with prospects. Ready to reposition yourself from, in Voss’ terms, a “problem solver” to a “people mover”? Here’s how the conversation begins.