Negotiation Bluff — Poker & Selling

Bluff­ing is the most excit­ing topic in poker. It is the art of win­ning with­out hav­ing the best hand.

Wikipedia defines “a pure bluff, or stone-cold bluff, is a bet or raise with an infe­rior hand that has lit­tle or no chance of improv­ing. A player mak­ing a pure bluff believes he can win the pot only if all oppo­nents fold.” A semi-bluff is when you have decent cards but you are act­ing and bet­ting as if you have the best cards.

As sales peo­ple, do we get bluffed in a nego­ti­a­tion? You betcha, all the time.

Buy­ers will often try to sell us that the com­pe­ti­tion is offer­ing a bet­ter price. It could be true or it may be a slight exag­ger­a­tion designed to get you to lower the price. A bluff is all about whether you are will­ing to make the call or fold.

In sales, buy­ers want us to fold and cave in on con­ces­sions. They make demands and give plenty of rea­sons for why we should do what they ask.

So how do you spot a bluff? In poker, the bluff­ing party often will not look at you. Also, the bet is larger than the sit­u­a­tion calls for. When you real­ize that bluff­ing is part of the game, you come to expect it.

In sell­ing, there is an old phrase “buy­ers are liars.’ It smacks of cyn­i­cism and when I first heard it, I took excep­tion. That was years ago and I was young and naive. Now I look at it as Buy­ers are bluffers and they will bluff you right out of your commissions.

In an inter­est­ing arti­cle on bluff­ing by Lee Childs – founder and lead instruc­tor of Acu­men Poker. Lee says your bluffs should “tell the right story.”  If things don’t add up – the player is bluff­ing you.   That’s a key point when the you need to ‘add up’ all the things your buyer is telling you.  If they don’t, they may be bluffing.

On one recent sales call, we were late in the sales process. When I stopped by an account to answer a few ques­tions and close the busi­ness, it appeared that I would get the order. When I pulled out the paper­work, my buyer said that the price was too high and he would have to shop around. It did not feel like an objec­tion. It did not sound like a stall.  I guessed it was a bluff and he wanted a bet­ter price. So I just asked him: “do you really want to shop or do you just want a bet­ter deal?” Shocked, the buyer asked me to ‘sharpen my pen­cil’ and he would con­sider my proposal.

We pulled out the pro­posal and reviewed the incen­tives cur­rently in the pack­age. I began to pack and said sim­ply – I guess this isn’t going to work out. I added that I was dis­ap­pointed because we really wanted their busi­ness and I was so sure that he was going to love it – maybe this wasn’t meant to be.

It wasn’t the take away – I was walk­ing away.

As I began to walk away, my buyer said “wait – let’s go ahead and get this thing started.”

Yes – it could have gone south and the order could have gone to the com­pe­ti­tion. It was my abil­ity to spot the bluff in poker that trans­lated to get­ting the accu­rate read in this sell­ing situation.

Read­ing a bluff is more about obser­va­tion than it is about sell­ing skills. There are lots of tells (signs that a player or buyer is bluff­ing). There is a time tested way to really dis­cern whether some­one is bluff­ing. Look them in the eye and hold the gaze. Get a read on them. Do they look away or smile? Do they look down or away?

This is the moment of truth – make your deci­sion to con­cede or walk away. If you think they are bluff­ing – call them on it (nicely) and see what they say.

Let’s part with this thought — We all get bluffed – it’s part of the game! Learn out to read and you’ll win the hand.

Edi­tors note: Tuna’s day job is  to cover his  multi-state ter­ri­tory.   On nights and week­ends he is an accom­plished semi-professional poker player.  This is num­ber two in his  series in the sim­i­lar­i­ties between of Poker and Selling.

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