Conflict Resolution in Sales

Conflicts are an inevitable part of our work today. We’ve all seen situations where people with different goals and needs have clashed, and we’ve all witnessed the often intense personal animosity that can result. Conflicts are especially commonplace for sales professionals. To my understanding, conflicts lie at the core of the sales process. So, let’s dig into this and understand why.

WHY SO?

There is essentially a conflict of interest between a buyer & a seller whenever the sales process is set into motion. A buyer would primarily want to buy a service or a product at a minimum price possible whereas the seller would want to sell the product/service at a maximum price possible(maximum price is like an MRP set by the manufacturer beyond which a specified unit of the product cant be sold anywhere in a specified region or geography). Thereby, setting into motion an endless series of negotiations.

Regulations exist to secure the interest of the buyers in order to curb malpractices by sellers in various industries & sectors. Keeping this aside, at the core of every negotiation lies two important aspects, trust & leverage.

RESOLUTION

Negotiations often lead to a deadlock even after prolonged efforts from the seller. So then, how to find a resolution with two opposite dimensions in play?

Trust plays a pivotal role in human relationships in general and so it does in the case of a seller and a buyer. A long & strong relationship is what every seller eyes for while dealing with its prospects. As a buyer, the selection of the right partner among a sea of vendors is all about trust. Therefore, once a seller establishes a trust enveloped in commitment, genuineness & integrity, the sale comes easy.

Let’s take an example, Foxconn is one of Apple’s biggest contract manufacturer. When it came to the iPhone, Foxconn not only handled production and met tight deadlines but also played a crucial role in realizing Apple’s aesthetic vision. The contract manufacturer was able to seamlessly combine aluminum parts with frictional heat, and used a technique called anodization to process the surface of the metal. It is no exaggeration to say the success of the iPhone depended on Foxconn, and Foxconn’s growth hinged on the iPhone.Since 2000, the ties deepened over the course of time, when Foxconn Technology Group landed an order to produce Apple’s iMacs.(Foxconn’s first big deal with Apple).It’d be safe to say that Foxconn is not just a subcontractor but also a business partner to Apple.

Trust is an underlying aspect which solidifies business relationships and leads to mutual growth of a buyer & a seller in a long term. The Foxconn & Apple story is a prime example of it.

Leverage is another aspect that plays a decisive role in negotiations. Many a time, a buyer leverages its position to sever a deal if its terms are not on its conditions and a seller has to oblige, but, so is not the case always. As a seller, being distinct & premium is key. One can set itself apart from the competition and that at times tilts the leverage in the favor of a seller over a buyer. The most important thing about leveraging is that it takes a certain amount of time and resources to build to such a position.

Let’s understand this through an example, Qualcomm, known by many for its role in the growth of smartphones over the last decade,i.e, primarily due to its key technologies that allow smartphones to send and receive data. If you want to sell a phone capable of connecting to the internet at high speeds, you need a license from Qualcomm. Cell phone manufacturers refer to it as “the Qualcomm tax,” and the practice has been investigated by regulators in China, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, the European Union, and the U.S. A few phone makers, including Nokia OYJ and Ericsson AB, have unsuccessfully taken Qualcomm to court.

Qualcomm has set itself apart from the competition by the sheer virtue of its technology and therefore it exercises leverage over many big & powerful smartphone manufacturers around the world like Apple, Samsung etc(not going too much into the detail of current legal battles that Qualcomm is facing from Apple & many other companies). Qualcomm’s is definitely not an ideal example & a lot of sellers might never be able to set themselves in such a prime position as it comes with a huge investment of time & resources.

What is the key learning here though in terms of sales?

Conflicts are a norm and not an exception while doing sales and rather than being stuck in endless series of negotiations, it's better to hone key attributes as a seller,i.e, to build trust among existing clients & prospects and slowly progress towards a leveraged position.

So what is it that sales pros can do at an individual level to efficiently deal with conflicts and win deals?

BE A CONSULTANT

Very often sales professionals get so embroiled in their targets & numbers that they lose sight of their client’s problems. This is where sales pros should step up their game, try to better understand the nature of the problem that their clients face and offer a solution that not only rectifies their current concerns but paves the way for future growth.

Having said this, many organizations today use the consultative approach to do sales, but the desire to complete a sale is way higher in the priority of sales reps than weighing in options, understanding the complete problem and giving genuine advice.

To sum up, conflicts can be an opportunity rather than adversity and can serve a way to strengthen the bond between a seller and a buyer. A sales professional’s desire to do build a bond of trust with buyer should be of ultimate importance, along with a way to differentiate itself from the competition over the time by building a unique position in the environment.

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