Why Negotiating A Large Book Sale Is Like A Job Interview

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Selling books in large quantity to non-retail buyers may be new territory for you, but you can rely on the same tactics you would in a job interview to help craft your approach.

However fantastic your book is, your target audience is not “everyone who reads” or even “everybody who likes my topic.” Defining your primary target readers and buyers is a basic requirement for selling books, but if you limit your marketing exclusively to those people, you are limiting your sales and revenue potential.

Suppose you have a book to help divorced parents deal with their children’s trauma of being bounced back and forth between mother and father. Divorced parents would comprise the expected target segment, however, the actual market is much larger. You can expand your sales opportunities by seeking buyers among people and groups that help divorced people, including divorce counselors, attorneys, mediators, and marriage clinics.

The point is, look for sales in places you may never have considered. Many independent authors and publishers try to sell their books only to bookstores and other retailers. Others realize the vast opportunity of selling books to non-retail buyers.

As a general rule, these non-retail buyers do not purchase books to sell off a shelf. Rather, they’ll use your book’s content as a tool for selling more of their products or as content to motivate, educate, or reward employees.

Large book sales are like job interviews

Publishers typically make these sales’ calls themselves or work through promotional-products salespeople. In some cases, a few hundred books may be ordered in the first meeting. But for larger orders, the sales’ process takes a considerable amount of time.

Not familiar with the process of pitching your book in this environment? You can liken it to interviewing for a job — the tactics for negotiating for a job and those for negotiating a large book sale are comparable. I wrote books demonstrating that fact. One described how to negotiate a job offer (Job Search 101) and two that explained how to negotiate a large quantity book sale (Beyond the Bookstore and How to Make Real Money Selling Books). Here are tips for negotiating a book sale — or a job.

Chemistry is crucial

This sounds basic, but it is crucial: People will buy from you only if they like and trust you. Anything you do in a negotiation that makes you less likable or trustworthy reduces the chances the other side will buy. This is more than being polite; it is about managing inevitable tensions in negotiation, such as asking for what you deserve without seeming greedy, pointing out deficiencies in their counteroffer without seeming petty, and being persistent without being a nuisance.

Help them understand why you deserve what you are requesting

It is not enough for them to like you. They also must believe your proposal is worth the money you want. Never let your proposal speak for itself — always tell the story that goes with it. Do not just state your terms. Explain precisely why you request them. If you have no justification for a demand, it may be unwise to make it. Again, keep in mind the inherent tension between being likable and explaining why you deserve your request. Suggesting that your proposal is especially worthy can make you sound arrogant if you have not communicated its value.

Understand the person across the table

Companies do not negotiate — people do. Before you can influence the people sitting opposite you, you have to understand them. What are their interests and individual concerns? For example, negotiating with a representative in an association is very different from negotiating with a corporate HR manager. Discover each negotiator’s pain points — the problems they want to solve. Your counterpart at an association may seek off-budget revenue while the HR representative may want to increase employees’ productivity or motivation.

Understand their constraints

A company or organiation may like you and think you deserve everything you want, but they still may not sign the deal. Why? Because they may have certain constraints, such as budget caps, that no amount of negotiation can loosen. Your job is to figure out where they are flexible and where they are not. If you are talking to people in a large company, they may be flexible on returns, delivery dates, payment terms, or customization. If you are negotiating with a smaller company that has never used books as promotional items, there may be less flexibility. The better you understand the constraints, the more likely it is that you will be able to propose options that solve both sides’ problems.

Avoid, ignore, or downplay ultimatums of any kind

Your prospect may say that you must sign now or lose the order. Nobody likes being told, “Here is my offer. Take it or leave it.” Even if you know the terms are satisfactory, resist the temptation to agree too quickly, for it could be unprofitable for you. Ask for the reason behind the need to move so quickly. Your prospect may be getting pressure from a supervisor to get the campaign started. Or the prospect may be facing the end of a budget period where he or she has to spend the budgeted money or lose it. Once you know the reason, you can help your prospect deal with the underlying cause.

Prepare for each negotiation

A negotiated sale must be good for both sides if it is to set the stage for a long-term relationship with recurring revenue. There are two things you can do before you enter a negotiation that will prepare you to come away with a mutually profitable deal. The first is to know your parameters for a profitable order. The second is to have alternatives available should any negotiation deteriorate. Both serve to relieve the pressure on you to accept a potentially unprofitable transaction.

After several negotiating sessions, you will be better prepared for the tough questions that typically arise. These may be about price, quality, and delivery. Be prepared to handle those you anticipate as well as those you hear for the first time. Always answer honestly, but in a way that does not reduce your bargaining power.

Bring hidden objections out in the open

Let’s say you are negotiating a large-quantity sale with a buyer at a company that wants to use your book as a premium to increase its sales. You have agreed upon a price that is satisfactory to both parties but the buyer is still balking at signing the agreement. Uncover the hidden objection by asking a series of questions. The bottleneck may not be price or quantity, but timing. Begin by enumerating areas of agreement. “We’ve agreed that using this book as a premium can help your company increase sales significantly above its cost. Correct? And we have agreed that the price is fair, right? Is it accurate to say that the shipping charges are acceptable and the delivery date coincides with the promotional blitz you intend to conduct in November? Then what is it that is keeping us from agreeing to this proposal today?”

Here, the prospect might say, “My budget is shot for the rest of the quarter. I can’t spend any more money until next quarter.” You could reply, “What if we delay payment of the books and the shipping charges until next year? Would that make it possible to OK the agreement today?” If the person says “yes,” you have the order, perhaps with a post-dated check.

Consider the whole deal

Many authors think negotiating a large sale and negotiating the highest price are synonymous. Do not get fixated on the initial order. Focus on the value of the entire deal. Think in terms of a long-term relationship. The buyers could purchase additional titles from you or hire you as a spokesperson. Chart a course that may pay less handsomely now but will put you in a stronger position later.

Negotiate multiple issues simultaneously, not serially

If someone makes you an offer and you are legitimately concerned about parts of it, you are usually better off proposing all your concerns at once. Do not say, “The price you suggest is a bit low. May we discus that?” Then, once you have worked through that you come back with “Thanks. Now here are two other things I’d like to discuss.” If you keep saying “and one more thing…” your prospect is unlikely to remain in an understanding mood.

Do not over-negotiate

There may be times when you feel you are “on a roll” as your prospect acquiesces to all your terms. You may feel the urge to ask for more, beyond the initial scope of the prospect’s needs. Do not do it. Resist the urge to press for more when you have reached an agreement.

Similarly, you may call on a prospect who requires only a small quantity of your books and is ready to give you a check during your first meeting. Do not give in to the need to push for more. Take the order, follow up properly and return for another possible sale when appropriate.

Think through the timing of the deal

There will be times when all the details seem to fall into place and your enthusiasm leads you to accept an order before you have thought it through. Can you really deliver the expected quantity on time, with the requested customization at the agreed price? Is there a penalty if you do not? Can you fill an additional order quickly if the initial quantity moves faster than expected?

Continue to probe after a deal is lost

If you lose the order, follow up by asking why you did not get the order. Always ask for constructive feedback by saying something like, “What would it have taken for us to reach an agreement?” It might be something you can accommodate, such as providing the content in another form, making the books returnable, or offering a larger quantity discount. Sales pro Guy Achtzehn looks at this from a different perspective: “When prospective buyers say, ‘I’m not interested,’ that doesn’t mean they won’t buy. It means that you didn’t create a sales pitch that was interesting enough.”

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