EPISODE 462: Sales and Leadership Expert Kelly Moertle on Post-Sale Negotiation Strategies

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Women in Sales virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on January 11. 2022. It featured an interview with sales and leadership coach Kelly Moertle.]

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KELLY’S TIP: “What would be game-changing for you? Then make a commitment to putting that into action. Be intentional about it. Because listening to it and being aware of it is the first step. But if you don’t put it into action, it’s never going to help you. Every little baby step you take counts towards creating something great down the road. Take the action.”


Fred Diamond: Kelly, it’s very interesting, the topic of negotiating after the sale. This is something we really haven’t done much, but it’s really important for you to be able to get skilled at this so that you could build something that we talk about all the time, which is trusted relationships. We talk about becoming a trusted advisor, and you’re an expert on that. It’s great to see you. Thanks again for being with us today.

Kelly Moertle: Thank you for having me.

Fred Diamond: I’m excited to talk about this topic, because again, it’s one that we really haven’t touched on recently. Matter of fact, ever, but we also talked many, many times about how you can become a trusted advisor. Why is it that some people are very good and very successful at navigating demanding clients and others struggle and their relationships suffer?

Kelly Moertle: You’re right. The whole trusted advisor, that trusted partner role is something that we all strive for when we’re in the world of sales. It’s critical to our success and the success of our clients. I think when you look at after the sale, this is when so much of the opportunity for building that relationship happens. There’s a lot of situations that come up where we have requests coming in from clients or needs coming in where we can’t always say yes to them, to what their needs are. If you can’t say yes, then it becomes a negotiation, or it’s a flat out no. Hidden in those times are opportunities to really build the relationship, and build trust, and build connection.

Some of this gets down to neuroscience, which we’re going to talk a little bit about here. When you understand that, then it’s easier to drive the behaviors that are needed so that you can be that person that drives those relationships and handles those challenging situations with clients in a way that drives the relationship and the connection forward, versus diminishing or damaging the relationship. I think when you understand that, you’re one of those people that can drive the success that you’re looking for.

Fred Diamond: We’ve talked about negotiation prior to the sale, before. I just want to acknowledge for people listening today that you’ve worked with some amazing companies like SAP, Salesforce, IBM, to help them understand various aspects of the sales process, not just negotiations, but emotional intelligence and leadership and things like that. You have a nice, strong resume to be talking about this. What’s the difference, some of the major differences that we see with negotiations prior to the sale versus after the sale, like we’re talking about today?

Kelly Moertle: Well, when you think about the presale, the negotiation piece I think is pretty obvious. Everyone’s in negotiation mode pretty much throughout the entire sales cycle until that deal is signed. You’ve got a lot of energy and motivation from the people that you need at the table to make that negotiation. If you’re a sales rep, you’re there. If you’re a sales leader, you’re there. You want this, you’ve got a reason why you’re putting all your energy into this, because there’s dollars and recognition and all of this. There’s growth. There’s hitting quota at the end of the game here when we close that deal. You’ve got a lot invested and focused on this.

What happens after the sale, the sales reps, the leaders really go moving on to the next deal, the next opportunity. Because we’ve got to hit our quota or we want to exceed quota, we’re going to get into accelerators, all of that exciting stuff. The energy and the motivation for where you’re spending your time is really focused there.

For the client, this is where a lot of the work starts. This is where they now have to work with what it is they bought. They start to figure out, “Where are the differences between what I thought I bought versus what I actually bought? How do I fill those gaps?” This is where they’re really looking to see how you show up. Are you going to show up as that partner who’s going to help them? Are you going to be that vendor that just steps away because we were just interested in the sale?

I think that there’s negotiations all over the place. You can have clients coming at you asking for more of your time, asking for more resources free of charge. Asking for free product, asking for free months on a subscription. Asking for support to do more than they’re capable of doing. There are so many different things that can come at you. You have a lot of emotion coming at you sometimes, because clients are on timelines and under the gun and under a lot of pressure to get things done with projects, or whatever the products are that you sold.

The post-sale negotiation is, “How do I manage all of these requests coming at me when I don’t have all of the time to put into this? Yet I’m trying to build a trusted partnership and that trusted advisor role. It’s important that I invest some time, but I can’t say yes to everything. How do I manage that?”

Fred Diamond: Again, some of the companies we mentioned before that you’ve done some work with, the SAPs, the Salesforces, the IBMs. Again, at the Institute for Excellence in Sales, we work with companies like that. A lot of our members are some of the largest companies that do complex sales, enterprise type sales. It’s interesting because in the presale process, you don’t do it yourself typically. You have a team. If it’s technology like you work in, there’s engineers, you got your management, you got your finance team, maybe somebody from operations who’s going to help you with some terms. If there’s services involved, maybe you bring in professional services. It’s a team typically. Again, the customers that you’re going to be working with are also large companies typically with complex organizations.

When you make the sale, there’s a different team that comes in. Maybe the engineer might stick around, professional services might take over, or a partner, one of your value added resellers or someone like that. As the sales leader, I’m just kind of curious, what’s your mindset about bringing in that team to help with things moving forward? Because again, it’s not just you. There’s skills you want to develop as a sales professional, but you got all these other people that are going to help you build the trust.

Kelly Moertle: It is still a team, because no one can do it alone. But you’re right, the team may look a little different or maybe it’s a lot of the same players, but it’s a different balance of time. Maybe some of those players are part of the presale, but now they’re a big part, like professional services. Maybe they were in there as you were trying to close the deal, but they’re in there now implementing. It shifts. I think the mindset, and I’m so glad you used that word, because mindset is everything. All of our success ties back to our attitude and our mindset. The mindset is one of being open and understanding what each person’s roles are and having that common vision of what we’re trying to achieve here with the client. Us as a team, as well as with the client, and understanding who’s responsible for what, and then ensuring that there’s accountability for that. I think there’s that collaborative spirit that when that is there, you deliver a better experience for yourself and your team, as well as your client.

Fred Diamond: We have a question here from Barron. Barron says, “What are some of the mistakes that you typically see sales professionals making in this regard?” Mistakes, pitfalls, what are some things that you see happen time and time again?

Kelly Moertle: Barron, good question. Well, I think some of the pitfalls are obvious. Sometimes people ignore requests coming in. They just hope it goes away, or they get busy and they forget about it. You may be working really hard to address a need of a client coming in, but you’re not communicating with them while you’re working on it, so a lot of time goes by. Meanwhile, the client’s sitting there with all these emotions, not knowing what’s going on, getting frustrated, and meanwhile, you’re working on it, but they don’t have a clue that you’re working on it. Keeping that line of communication open while you’re working on it, even if you don’t have a lot to tell them, letting them know you’re working on it, is important.

Another one is feeling like you need to say yes to everything that the client asks for. There’s a fear based piece in this where people feel like, “The client’s asking for this. If I don’t give them what they want, then the relationship is at risk, or we’re going to lose this opportunity. They’re going to go to the competition.” When really what they’re looking for is wanting to know that you’re in it with them, that you’re going to step in here and help them, even if you don’t have the full yes that they want. There’s a whole way of handling that discussion, but you don’t have to say yes to everything.

When I was in corporate, before I started my own business, that was one of the things I was seeing a lot with my team, was clients coming in with really unrealistic expectations and demands, and my team feeling the need to say, “Yes, we’ll do that for you.” It wasn’t a good business decision and it wasn’t really necessary for us. There’s ways of getting in there and learning what’s really needed and having the conversation in a way that you’re not saying yes to everything. You’re saying yes to what’s reasonable and you’re doing it in a way that’s moving the relationship forward and building connection, even though you’re not saying yes. Because sometimes people feel they have to give away the farm to keep the relationship. That’s not true.

Fred Diamond: Nick says, “We’re a team with our customer, so it shouldn’t be a problem.” I like what you just said there, Kelly Moertle, is the fact that when you’re dealing with these types of things, the customer wants you to help them. Especially in the enterprise type sales and some of the companies that we have as members of the Institute. Some of the customers, they want to achieve their goals and they think that you’re going to help them achieve their goals. Yeah, maybe they want to get a win or two to show that they can save some expense or something like that. Maybe they can get something extra that makes them feel good. But for the most part, they’re engaging with you because they have something they need to address and you’re the option that they’ve chosen.

I will take this question from Diana. She says, “I’m about to close my biggest deal ever. What should I be thinking about to ensure that we’re successful?” That’s a pretty loaded question, there’s a lot of ways you could go there. But since she’s on her way, and I hope we don’t jinx you here, Diana – I’m sure we won’t, but what’s some of your advice, Kelly? From a salesperson’s perspective, what are some of the things that you should be preparing so that you get a nice five-year run, 10-year run with the customer?

Kelly Moertle: I have a couple of ways I’ll answer that, and congratulations, Diana, I’m excited for you. I remember my years in sales and closing big deals and it’s incredibly exciting and a lot of hard work, so good for you for all that you’re doing in there.

One of the first things I would say is talk to your customer about what success looks like for them. What do they need from you for them to be successful? What do you need from them for you to be able to support them in their success? Have a very open and honest conversation. You don’t have to guess what’s important to them. You might be able to anticipate, I would share those ideas with them. Like, “Here’s what I’m thinking. What are you thinking? Let’s get on the same page and let’s do check-ins along the way to make sure that I’m meeting those needs, because I really want to be that trusted partner, that trusted advisor for you. I am in this with you.” I want to explain why this is so important. I mentioned before the neuroscience piece.

Our brains are wired to keep us safe. I’m not a neuroscience expert, but I do a lot of reading and studying on this. Our brains have a very low threshold for what’s considered a threat. If a project might be going off the rail, you feel threatened. If someone looks at you the wrong way, the brain takes that as a threat. As soon as that happens, a part of our brain gets hijacked, and it’s called the amygdala, this is basically our stress zone. This is where all of the emotional reactions and all of that live.

When someone’s there, they’re not in a place where they’re doing their best work. It’s not where creativity and innovation live. They need to be operating in a different part of the brain. That’s called the prefrontal cortex. What you need to know about that is the brain needs to feel safe to live there. This is where great collaboration happens, great partnership, great innovation and connectedness and all of that.

For you as a salesperson, you always want to be creating what feels safe for your clients, so you’re not triggering or stepping into triggering that stress zone, where they’re going to react and come at you with a lot of emotions. The way you do that is by letting them know you care. By letting them know you care basically is saying, “I’m in this with you. Tell me what’s important to you. I’m going to tell you reasonably what I can offer back.” Just because they’re asking for it doesn’t mean you can do it, but you can negotiate what that looks like.

That psychological safety place is where we all want to be. That’s where you’re going to have your best relationship. That’s where trust is formed. That’s where connection takes off. That’s where amazing things happen. When you’re mindful of that, if you see someone coming at you with a lot of emotions, they’re not in the right part of the brain. Just keep that in mind and it can help guide you in what you need to do to keep things moving in the right direction.

Fred Diamond: Something you just mentioned, I want to go back to this a little bit, about the mind of the customer. Once again, we have a lot of people who are relatively early in their sales career who listen to the Sales Game Changers Podcast and come to events held by the Institute for Excellence in Sales. You need to understand why the customer is investing with you and you need to understand how big of a risk that it typically is for the customer to make a decision. You go buy a burger somewhere, not a whole lot of risk. But if you’re going to be buying some of the stuff that a lot of people who are members of the IES, we’re talking deals that are hundreds of thousands, if not millions.

Talk about for a second, what is going through the customer’s mindset? I know you just made a great suggestion, talk to the customer, be honest, get through. But I think we need to know, even before we start asking those things. Again, you’ve worked with some amazing companies. You’ve held some amazing sales jobs. Now you help companies all around the globe understand emotional intelligence, sales process. Kelly Moertle, just give us a little bit of insight into what customers are typically thinking about to ensure that we can hit the ground running.

Kelly Moertle: I think it’s always important for us to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes. Not only look at things through our lens, but then say, “Okay, let me look at this through the customer’s lens. What would I see? What would I be caring about? What would I want to focus on?” They want success. They want success for themselves, they want success for their company. There could be a lot of different motivations behind why they want that success. Maybe there’s a promotion on the horizon for them. Maybe there’s some big monetary reward for them. Who knows what it is? But I think taking the time to think about what’s important to your clients and get curious about that.

Curiosity is a super power. I think in sales, a lot of times we think we need to go in with all the answers and tell what we know. I will tell you, if you go in with a curious mindset and ask really good questions, and be really interested and be experienced for your client and why that’s important to them, you are going to be far more successful in the world of sales than you will be if you’re just going in and telling and spewing things.

Getting curious, and when you say, “How can I be curious?” The questions will come. When you think, “How can I ask the next best question?” Then you can trip yourself up. But when you say, “How can I get curious about what this is like for them?” Then ask them. Again, so many people, I can’t tell you in my world of coaching how many times people will say, “Well, I’m not sure what I should do here. I’m not sure what they need. Should I do this? Should I do that?” I’ll say, “Have you asked them?” “Wow, I didn’t even think about that. Yeah, I guess I should ask them.” They will appreciate you asking. That builds that trust. It builds that connection. It builds that psychological safety.

Fred Diamond: One thing that we’ve learned a couple of times, we’ve had some guests on who have been with their companies for decades. Companies like Oracle, and Microsoft, and IBM, where they’ve grown their sales profession. But here’s the thing, most customers don’t want to leave their jobs. They want to grow within their jobs as well. Which means if I’m going to be, let’s say, an IT director, or someone in finance, or operations, or manufacturing, you want to hold on to that job for typically as long as you can, so that you get to build whatever it is you need to build. The way that you do that is by avoiding risk for the most part. It’s by continuing to help your company grow. Salespeople need to understand that mindset. A sales professional might move from place to place if there’s a better opportunity, but customers typically don’t, especially if they work for markets like government or education.

You talked about sometimes where it may go off the rails. Something happens. You talked about how the brain works and fight or flight and all those kinds of things. We talk about neuroscience a lot on the Sales Game Changers Podcast, so I’m glad you brought that up. But sometimes things just don’t go well. Sometimes things go off the rail for reasons that you could see or not see. What happens? What do you suggest that people do, or sales professionals do, if a customer, for some reason just gets emotionally charged? Maybe it’s out of the blue. Maybe there’s a genuine reason, maybe not. What are some of your suggestions on how to handle that and how to deescalate things like that?

Kelly Moertle: This is one of my favorites. Not favorites to have these situations pop up, but one of my favorite tools and techniques that is powerful and can be a game-changer. If you have something going off the rails and you have an emotional client, and this can work at home, it doesn’t have to just be at work. But if you have an emotional client coming at you, and they could be showing up with a lot of blame and criticism and attacking, because they’re triggered. There’s some things going off the rails for them and it’s at risk. Fred, you were just talking about they’re trying to mitigate risk.

We may want to get defensive. Sometimes we may want to cast some blame back on the client. Or we might want to jump right into problem-solving mode. The first thing I’m going to tell you to do is to acknowledge and validate. This is a powerful tool. Acknowledge what’s being told to you, that you’re hearing them. You’re going to listen to what they say. You’re going to hold your emotions back. You’re not going to return emotion with emotion. You’re going to listen to what they say, acknowledge what you’ve heard, and then validate the feelings that you’re hearing from them. Even if you don’t agree with them, what they’re feeling is real to them.

You may say, “You know what? It sounds like you’ve been through the ringer here.” Client comes to you, “I’ve been trying to get support for five weeks. My project’s failing and no one’s responding. No one cares. I’m tired of this. I’m going to go to the competition.” I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I’ve had those kind of calls. “You know what? It sounds like it’s been really rough for you these past five weeks. If you’ve been trying to get with support for five weeks and no one’s responded, it’s understandable that you’re frustrated.” You’re acknowledging what they’re saying, and validating their emotion. That takes them from here to here. It deescalates the emotions because they feel heard. That is the first thing you want to do. You will have a different conversation with the client.

Then you can say, “I want to help work through this with you. Let’s talk about how that can happen.” You can just feel the energy changing when you say those words. It may take a minute. It may take a day for the client to calm down. But if you do this, I promise you, it will be a different conversation, and you’ll be shifting their brain from the stress zone to the zone where they can have a constructive and reasonable conversation with you. If you jump right into problem-solving while they’re still in that stress zone, it’s going to be a very different conversation.

Fred Diamond: Dennis says, “What’s a habit that I should put into play to get better at this?” The question basically is, from your experience, you’ve worked with thousands, if not tens of thousands of sales professionals, and you’ve dealt with hundreds, if not thousands of buying customers. What would be something, if someone were to say to you, “Kelly Moertle, what’s something I really need to work on to get better at this side of the professional sale?” What might be some things you’d suggest for them?

Kelly Moertle: Well, I probably have three answers to that. If I were to pick one, acknowledge and validating is huge. I would put that into practice immediately. It will change your life, and not just at work. Another way I’d answer that is be curious. Turn curiosity into a skill for yourself. How can you get curious? “Instead of getting into problem-solving mode, how can I be curious first?” Practice that. Then third one, this is a bigger one, but your own attitude, your own mindset is ultimately going to drive your results. Getting really clear on that and practicing having an attitude that propels you forward is going to serve you very well.

Fred Diamond: You brought up curiosity a number of times, and curiosity comes up a lot. I’ll ask the sales leaders we have on the show, “What is something about you that has made you successful?” A lot of times they’ll say things like, “I’m a great listener,” or, “I love my customer’s mission.” But curiosity is one that comes up a lot. If you don’t mind, let’s talk about curiosity for a minute before I get your final action step. Is that something that you’re just born with and you’re never going to be able to build? Let’s get a little deep into curiosity. What would be some of your advice on how to make that rise with the sales professionals? I agree with you, if you don’t have that, and empathy of course is another one, if you don’t have that curiosity, then the customer’s going to question if you even care. Talk a little about, Kelly Moertle, about how do you bring that? How do you make that rise so that it really is evident and true?

Kelly Moertle: Good question, Fred. I do think some people are born with it. I don’t think you have to be born with it. It’s a skill that you can learn. Like any skill, first you need to be aware that this is something you want to work on. You need to be intentional about it. I think it’s very simple. I think it’s in every situation you’re in, before you jump in and start talking. I’ve put a little acronym up here called WAIT, like, “Why Am I Talking?” Think about, “Why am I talking? Let me stop. Let me get curious. What can I get curious about here? Where can I be more curious? If I were to be more curious, what types of questions would I ask? Where am I not being as curious as I could be?”

I think it’s simple questions, but when you sit back and ask yourself, “Instead of me telling them something here, where can I be curious?” You’ll be amazed at what you will learn from the questions you ask. When you’re in a problem-solving mode, the customer may plant some seeds around what some acceptable solutions may be that look different from even what they’re asking you for. It’ll serve you well.

Fred Diamond: WAIT is brilliant. Actually, one thing that we learned a long time ago from a speaker we had named Tom Snyder is that customers find more value in what they discover versus what you tell them. As sales professionals, we have an agenda of course, because we have a quota and we have things we need to meet for our company. I’m not even talking about the show up and throw up. I’m talking about the fact that we want to get our messages across. But in reality, it’s the value that the customer can find by you asking them the right questions. You coming to the meeting with information, like, “Hey, Customer, what do you think about this? I read about this trend in your industry. How is that affecting your company?” Which goes into a little bit of preparation. We got a comment here from Dennis here who says, “Great answer.” We got a comment here from Diana who is working on that big deal, who said, “I love WAIT.” That’s a fantastic one. Really, “Why am I talking?”

Kelly Moertle: I need to give credit. That’s not mine. That came from an organization called KickStart your Edge. Got to give them the credit, but I love it, because it’s so true.

Fred Diamond: We’ll send them a cheque for 10 cents for your referral to them [laughs]. Leanne says, “Thank you so much.” Kelly, I just want to acknowledge you again for the great insights that you’ve brought on. You’ve worked with some amazing companies. We mentioned them before, SAP, and Salesforce, and IBM. Congratulations on the success that you continue to bring to your customers. Give us one final action step. You’ve given us 20 great ideas, but give us one specific action step people should do right now to take their sales career to the next level.

Kelly Moertle: Well, my suggestion would be to pick one thing from this discussion that could be game-changing for you and the work that you’re doing. You know that better than I. In turn, each individual listening to this knows better than I what you really need. Of what we’ve talked about here, what would be game-changing for you? Then make a commitment to putting that into action. Be intentional about it. Because listening to it and being aware of it is the first step. But if you don’t put it into action, it’s never going to help you. Every little baby step you take counts towards creating something great down the road. Take the action.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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