How to Run a Bulletproof Negotiation

Negotiation is one of the most difficult, and in my opinion, poorly understood aspects of the sales process.  If there's at least one thing I've learned about leading sales reps, epecially less experiences ones, they do not know how to negotiate effectively.  Even if they run a flawless sales process, they give up loads of value after having created so much in everything they did prior.  While the customer ultimately gets the better end of this deal, it's not effective for building a business over the long term.  Heavy discounting erodes margin and eliminates a business's ability to invest back into their own people, which in turn, limits the quality of the total customer experience.   

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Why Humans May Be the Bug in Your Company's Sales Process

That’s probably the last thing you expected to hear from a career salesman.Sure, it’s easier to claim “relationships are the cornerstone of every sale” or “there is no replacement for human interaction.” Doing so would have made me more comfortable during my time as a frontline rep. It would also be a convenient, soul-warming way to think of the value my colleagues and I provide.  But it is not true.

Forrester reports that by the year 2020, 80% of the purchasing process will take place without human-to-human contact.And no, these purchases are not all Amazon grocery orders. These days, everything from high-end automobiles to business consulting services can be purchased online without speaking to a salesperson.Enterprise software company Atlassian has operated a touchless sales process since 2002.

Without hiring a single salesperson, Atlassian grew from nothing to more than $450 million in revenue in under 15 years. More recently, we’ve seen businesses like Slack grow from nothing to a $4B valuation in just four years… without a sales team.  When I first heard of Atlassian’s business model I was skeptical. I wondered, “How many potential customers get frustrated and lost in a touchless sales process?” 

The answer is none, or at least very few. Confused buyers can reach an Atlassian team member via phone at any point during the buying process. But, as Atlassian President Jay Simons noted at Startup Grind 2014, the team records where a person was in the sales process when they called for human assistance. Then a cross-functional team of marketers and engineers go to work, removing the necessity for human contact in that step of the buying process. It’s as if…

Required human interaction in the buying process is a "bug."

Simons claims -- and I happen to agree -- that removing salespeople from the buying process decreases friction and
allows the buyer to purchase when they are ready. When buyers are able buy on their own schedules, deals flow in at a steady rate instead of concentrating around the end of a month or quarter.A great example of this is the 2013 chart of Atlassian’s average percentage of quarterly deals sold each week (below). I added the red line to show Atlassian’s linear sales cadence compared to a traditional sales model where 80% of quarterly deals are closed in the final three weeks.


Look familiar? It should come as no surprise to any sales professional that traditional sales teams close most of their deals in the final weeks of a quarter, or days in a month, because this is when sales reps feel the most urgency to hit their monthly quota.

The salesperson is the gatekeeper to the purchase -- if they are unavailable, buyers cannot complete the purchase.This model may have worked in the past -- but the internet economy has made buyers more and more impatient. A 2015 study from Fifth Third Bank found that more than half of Americans hang up the phone after being on hold for less than a minute. Imagine how many buyers are “hanging up” on drawn out, human-heavy sales processes.“But,” you might be saying, “setting up a touchless sales process requires technical tools and expertise that many companies simply do not have.

You’re not wrong.  Recent data from and the AA-ISP, shows implementing sales and automation technology has been one of the five most pressing challenges for sales managers the past three years running.

To which I say, automated sales is… a massive opportunity for technically-minded sales consultants and sales technology implementers.

Not every business is an ‘Atlassian’

Simons is the first to admit that the highly technical persona interested in Atlassian products back in 2002 was likely more comfortable with a touchless sale than many other buyers would have been. Fifteen years later, an entirely touchless sales may still be inappropriate for certain businesses or industries.  Even today, I’m not advocating for the complete and utter annihilation of sales reps throughout the sales process; instead, I’m advocating for opening up more self-selected paths for customers to engage with a business.  Specifically, for you to open up as many avenues for your potential customers to interact with as realistically possible, all while making the salesperson available at the right time.

In the hope of tempering my actions with wisdom, I vigorously debated this topic with Doug Davidoff at Imagine Business Development earlier this week. We ultimately agreed on a few specific use cases where human beings were of great, or even extreme value in a sales process.  For example, if a business sells services (not products), it’s not quite as easy to remove human beings from a sale because there is no identical concept of "trialing" a service.  Or, if a business offers a highly complex solution -- or even just sells to a non-technical buyer who isn’t comfortable “playing” with a product -- a human-free sale likely isn’t appropriate.  

But, in the age of the internet economy 70% of adults purchase online every month. You’d be hard pressed to find a single business that could not benefit from automating certain human interaction “bugs” out of its sales process.

[NOTE - If you’re easily offended by an author talking about a concept in a post and then tying it back to the work they’re doing, STOP READING HERE.  Below, you’ll see how we’re experimenting with these concepts ourselves and building a new kind of Partner Program.]

At HubSpot, my team and I are on a mission to transform the way the world does sales. We believe that lighter, semi-automated sales processes improve both the lives of consumers and the bottom lines of businesses. But for less technical businesses, the questions of where to automate and which tools to use can be overwhelming and are best answered by a technically proficient, external sales consultant.

That’s why I’m so excited about the recently launched HubSpot Sales Partner Program. The program is specifically designed to train and support sales consultants, sales trainers, and CRM implementers as they guide businesses towards a lighter sales process backed by our sales technology.

“Human-Free” does not mean “Human-Less”

Our goal in launching this program is to support sales experts -- sales consultants, strategists, coaches, and CRM implementers -- as the business world transitions to more frictionless sales processes.  But, using ourselves as an experiment, we also want to prove a partner program can be frictionless.

That’s right, we’re taking an Atlassian inspired approach to partnership. We want to empower businesses to partner with us on their own terms:

  • Eliminating financial barriers to entry. We don’t want financial restrictions to limit you from transforming sales with us.

  • Providing training resources on demand. Everyone learns at their own pace. Technology enables us to create trainings for partners to watch on-demand and revisit as they become relevant to their business.

  • Making humans available on demand. Rather than require partners to meet with us a specific number of times every month, we provide you with a HubSpot Meetings link that allows you to book time with a growth coach when -- and only when -- it makes sense for you.

  • Listening, really. This program is new and there are bound to be pain points. We’re collecting all the quantitative and qualitative feedback we can from partners so we can find the stumbling blocks -- and fix those bugs.  

Interested in learning more about partnership on your terms? There are a few ways to do so:

If I can ever help you or your business adapt to and thrive in the new age of modern selling, consider my door open.

[This article was originally published on LinkedIn, March 2017]

Brian Signorelli
ABOUT THE AUTHOR | Brian Signorelli

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