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16 Negotiation Tactics Buyers Use (and How to Respond)

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Written by Mike Schultz
President, RAIN Group

Buyer and seller negotiations are a fun dance. While these negotiations are usually partner-focused (win-win), buyers often use standoffish tactics to gain an advantage in the negotiation at the seller's expense. Even if you—as the seller—have a win-win mindset and approach, you need to know how to maneuver the situation when buyers throw you curveballs. You need the right negotiation skills to bolster your success.

Responding to Common Buyer Negotiation Tactics

Below we share 16 of the most common sales negotiation tactics buyers employ, and how to respond effectively to reach the best deal possible—for both you and the buyer. 


1. Going, Going, Gone

"I'm talking to [name of your competitor] later. I think they'll go for this. If they do, I'll go with them."

What it means: This is a form of time pressure where the buyer brings your competition into the ring. Essentially they're saying, "If you don't accept the agreement, somebody else will."

How to respond: Decide if it's a bluff or the truth. The buyer could be having conversations with your competitors and employing this tactic with them, too. Or not. Also, the other seller may accept it, but you may offer more value than they do, and the buyer might go with you anyway. The point is, sometimes Going, Going, Gone is more posturing than fact.

Avoid conceding too much just to make a deal by keeping your BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) in mind. If you find you're talking in circles with a prospective buyer, consider making a Best and Final Offer, which may include one further value add or a concession.

But always be willing to walk. It's better to leave a deal on the table than to agree to one that'll hurt you.

2. Red Herring

"We're really concerned about [huge issue]..." (But, in reality, they're not.)

What it means: The buyer is trying to distract you from the negotiation by introducing an unimportant issue to negotiate on. They make it seem important and then battle you on it, ultimately offering you what they'll claim is a 'big concession.' Then they'll ask for something they do actually care about that might be a big deal for you to change or give. When you say you won't, they'll say, if they're using Red Herring, "But look at the huge concession we just gave you! Be reasonable."

How to respond: A Red Herring is a ruse where the buyer puts up a stink (and, yes, the smell of the fish is where the term comes from) as a diversion to get you to give them something else.

To stay in control of the negotiation, deal with issues separately. Don't let them conflate one with the other.

3. Pencil Sharpening

"You're going to have to do better than this. We'll need to sharpen the pencils at some point."

What it means: This is a common pushback strategy to intimidate sellers into dropping the price, or to corner sellers early in the process to agree to eventual price negotiations.

How to respond: First, don't just cave! Ask them "Why?" You might catch your buyer off-guard if they didn't come prepared with a valid explanation. It's important to respond quickly that your expectation isn't to simply drop price for no reason. Don't get cornered.

Focus on your differentiation (what makes your solution the best choice) and have value-adds ready to bargain to help them save face. It's often better to add more than to drop the price. And if you do drop price, trade, don't cave.

4. Good Cop, Bad Cop

"I've brought along my colleague, [The CFO!!!]…"

What it means: Introducing a "bad cop" late in discussions is a buyer's way of trying to lower the price, change the agreement, and/or reopen closed issues.

How to respond: To counteract this tactic, consider bringing your own bad cop! If they're calling in backup, you can too. Don't appear intimidated (frequent blinking is often a giveaway) and stick to the objectives, possibilities, requirements, and alternatives.

The bad cop will test all the boundaries, closed issues, and question everything, looking for soft spots to exploit. Be ready for it, hold your ground with confidence, and don't let them push you around.

There's no need to rush, either. Stay present and wait it out. Putting vendors through the ringer might just be a step in their common procedure.

5. Split the Difference

"Just meet me in the middle and let's call it a day."

What it means: You offer a price. The buyer suggests a lower price. Then says, "Okay, let’s meet in the middle."

By suggesting you meet in the middle, they make it seem like it’s a win-win, even if meeting in the middle isn't fair to you.

How to respond: Make it clear that meeting in the middle isn't necessarily fair. You gave them your price. What they've done is counter with a lower price even if it is "the middle." If they want to alter things, you can talk about what might change, but meeting in the middle doesn't make sense for you.

Plus, if you meet in the middle, then the buyer will expect that in the future. This isn't a good precedent to set.

6. One Last Thing

"I can get that signed today if you give us [one last concession]…"

What it means: In this situation, the buyer is trying to catch you at your most vulnerable—right before the deal is signed. They want to take advantage of your eagerness to close the deal to squeeze out final concessions.

How to respond: Stay strong—don't be tempted to cave! Respond with additional questions and offer a trade if they throw "one last thing" at you.

7. Cherry Picking

"I know I said our initial order would be 5,000 units and A-B-C services, but we'll just need 1,000 at first with no services…"

What it means: Here, the buyer is trying to unbundle a solution and assumes everything will remain the same price…even though it won't. And shouldn't.

How to respond: Address this issue immediately and communicate to the buyer it's not going to work that way. Explain that pricing on proposals assumes "this solution, volume, terms, and conditions" and changes will affect the overall price structure. Initiate a discussion to work out appropriate pricing.

8. "We're Done."

"We can't move forward with what you're proposing…"

What it means: This is often a scare tactic. The buyer is attempting to get you to cave and give into their "threat" of walking away from the deal.

How to respond: If you have an inclination your buyer is being insincere, don't cave. Ask them their reasoning for being unhappy with the proposed solution. Focus on opportunities and possibilities you can bring to them from listening to their explanation. Remember Rule #5 of the 6 Rules of Sales Negotiation: Trade, Don't Cave. Consider changing the scope of the proposal instead of just dropping the price.

Download: 6 Essential Rules of Sales Negotiation

9. Anchoring

"We're looking to spend no more than $500,000 for this…"

What it means: Sharing a target number, such as a budget cap, is a buyer's way of anchoring the bargaining range on the low side.

How to respond: Don't wait for the buyer—go first with price. If they go first (or even second), find out whether their target number is an honest budget or a ploy to drive your price down. Understand what their possible alternatives are, and don't fall victim to meeting in the middle or dropping price because they countered.

10. Temper Tantrum

"I can't believe it, that's outrageous!"

What it means: Cue the dramatics. Occasionally, you'll be faced with a buyer who expresses a (sometimes-planned,) heightened emotional reaction to price or a specific term in the agreement in hopes of evoking a response from you.

How to respond: Don't let them rattle you. Instead of responding with the counter-constructive behavior the buyer is trying to arouse from you, remain professional. It's clear the conversation has reached an unproductive level, so suggest taking a short break. This allows the parties involved to cool down and refocus on objectives and possibilities when the discussion resumes.

11. Outlast

"This is too much right now, and I'll be out of office soon for some time. Let's re-engage in two months…"

What it means: This buyer is keen on trying to outlast you and wear you down with constant delays.

How to respond: Hide your excitement about moving forward and communicate your willingness to work with them to come to an agreement more quickly, or that you'll stick around until their timing is right. Ask questions that focus on urgency on their end. If there doesn’t seem to be any urgency, don't rush it.

If you don't sense urgency and you want to create some, offer a trade you think might get them to move.

12. Selective Memory

"I don't remember agreeing to that…"

What it means: How convenient! Your buyer has "forgotten" what they agreed to!

How to respond: Avoid the possibility of this issue altogether by keeping and sharing notes with your potential buyer after all meetings. If you do encounter this problem, let them know that if they agreed to it, they agreed. Stick to your convictions if they're trying to eliminate a crucial part of the deal.

Better yet, stick to the notes you share with them immediately after discussions.

13. Closing Window

"We have a few things we need to meet with you about that'll take us to 4:30 p.m. Then you'll have until 5 p.m. to give us your best and final offer..."

What it means: Buyers know if they limit your time for deal making, you might rush and make bigger concessions. This happens often in RFP processes where the buyer gives you "24 hours to respond" or something similar.

How to respond: Sometimes buyers will try to stall or waste time so, at the end, you have to rush. Get to key business issues first so you can maximize the time you need to think and build the right offers.

14. Whack Back

"Your price is too high…"

What it means: This is one of the most common negotiation tactics. Buyers push back on the first price offered.

How to respond: "Why?" is a great question to ask here. Often, the buyer's response is faulty logic. Focus on the objectives and possibilities at hand, and make sure to follow the RAIN process for responding to objections.

Whatever the case, react calmly and evenly with their price-drop request, and let some time pass. Again, they're often just testing you. Don't cave and wait it out, and you'll pass the test.

15. Theater of the Absurd

"We've revised our agreement. We want [a completely unreasonable and out-of-the-question request], too."

What it means: Even though they're aware it's absurd, your buyer comes to you asking for everything under the sun anyway. They know they'll appear reasonable once they begin lowering demands even though they're still unreasonable. Think of Theater of the Absurd as a form of extreme anchoring.

How to respond: Use reverse direction to take back control by giving them an example of why what they're asking for is silly.

16. Sticker Shock

"It costs HOW much?!"

What it means: Ah, Old Faithful. Another common example of price pushback. The buyer appears to be shocked by the cost. However, it's often an orchestrated reaction.

How to respond: Ignore their outburst and wait for the theatrics to die down. Question why it seems high to them. Often, they don't have a valid explanation for why you should discount. Get back on the same page by explaining the value of your solution. Buyers need to understand the positive effect your solution will have on them to justify the investment.

Looking for a visual tool to help you quickly reference these essential negotiation skills? Download our infographic, 16 Tactics Buyers Use in Sales Negotiations.

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RECOMMENDED READING >> The #1 Way to Decrease Anxiety and Gain Leverage in  Sales Negotiations


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Topics: Sales Negotiation