Achieve win-win together with the customer?

How do you close win-win deals with your customer and business partners? Too often we are left with a lose-lose feeling. Kevin talks about it with expert Bart Provost.

Kevin Van der Straeten
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How do you close win-win deals with your customers and business partners? Too often we're left with a lose-lose feeling. I'm talking about it with expert Bart Provost.

Hi Bart, welcome to our studio.


Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.

You're welcome. Today we are going to talk about win-win deals. To me, that sounds like bargaining or something.

Well, it's what most people think. It's like: when I'm visiting a customer, what I want to do is get the best deal out of it. So, I'm going to bargain with the customer. To make sure that I twist his arm enough, that he pays me what I would like to have. So I maximize my interests and what I need out of it. And that's the deal. That's okay. What is being called in many cases: a good compromise.

Now, a good compromise is what we call a lose-lose strategy. Either of the people, either of the parties, they lose. And that sounds strange. I see you frowning. The funny thing is like...

Just imagine: we're selling a second-hand car. Right? I'm selling it and you're trying to buy it. Or you want to buy it. And I'm selling it to you for eight thousand euros. And you want to buy it for six. Well, what do you think is going to happen?

Seven sounds fair.

Seven sounds fair enough.

Which means that you lose one thousand and I lose one thousand euros. So, what...

And this is what we call positional bargaining. Like: you have your position, I have my position. It's one dimension. Which is, in this case: just the price. One dimension. So, the only thing we can do is, like, agree on : where are we going to land between either your proposition, or proposal, and mine? So, and it's somewhere...

Most people feel it would be fair to say, like: okay, let's take seven thousand then. Or then, the typical thing, like: well, maybe six thousand two. Well, no, maybe seven thousand eight. And then, somewhere halfway, we meet. But, it's a lose-lose. Because you have lost as well as I have lost.

It's because we start reasoning from a one-dimensional view point. And the main key, if we want to get to a win-win construction, is to do something completely different. There are some other strategies as well. You have the lose-win and the win-lose. Like: I lose, you win or I win, you lose. Let's take these ones out of the equation for now. So, we're going to focus on the win-win solution.

So, just imagine that I want to sell you something. You probably want to gain as much as you can. You probably want to satisfy the maximum. Like, let's say, 100%. Your preference would be to have, like, 100% satisfied of your desires and needs. Hey, the case is: that's the same thing for me as well. And instead of thinking...

It's what we call exclusive reasoning instead of inclusive reasoning.

It's like: okay, there is a pizza and you want half of it and I want half of it. But, oh my God, if I give you one inch more of my pizza, then I'm going to have less. Well, you know what? Let's bake a larger pizza. And then both of us, we win. Right?

Now, in order to do that, you need to go further. You need to go beyond just the typical questions like: okay, and what 's your budget? And: what is it worth to you? And so on.

It's like digging a bit deeper. And going down, below water level. Going down to needs, desires, interests of your customer.


But how do you do that? You just ask?

Well, it sounds so simple. But it is. But asking questions is an art. It's really a skilful art.

And Mother Nature gave us two fantastic tools to do that. We got two ears, one mouth. For a reason. Because it indicates the priority. So, if we're going to ask questions, we should ask questions with our mouth and then listen with both our ears.

There lies the problem.

Yes, most people, they listen for a reason.

They listen because they want to hear an argument, to which they have an absolutely fantastic, wonderful answer. So, they can kick the argument out of sight and then go like: your argument isn't valid. And now, are you going to buy it now?

Or I'm going to listen in a defensive way: it's not true what you say, because our product doesn't do that. There is no backside. And so on, and so on.

Or I can listen in a very selective way: hm, everything he says...

Like: the fiscal year is taking an end, let's say the 30th of June. Oh, so it's not the end of the calendar year. Okay, which means that he must have some budget. And if he doesn't spend it now, he's going to lose it. Ah, that's good for me.

So, that's what we call selective listening. It's like only listening to what the other one says, in order to use it, almost like, against him. To make sure that I sell.

Now, it's far more important to start using some different strategies. With what we call the active listening. You could even say, just to have a percentage, about 78-80% of the time, you're listening to the customer and the customer is speaking. You're only speaking for about 20 to 30% of the time. Which means you're going to ask wonderful and brilliant questions. About: oh, and what's the added value? Because the customer's asking something. Yes, I want to have this kind of thing. Let's take an event agency.

Yes, that's a good example.

Now, an event agency.

So, I'm trying to sell you an event. You're my customer, you're my prospect up until now. And I could ask a lot of things, like: oh and what do you want at this event? Do you want some catering? Do you want a DJ? Do you want people to dance? What do you want? These are simple questions. Anyone knows that. And anyone knows how to ask these questions.

Far more interesting is to dig a bit deeper and to go like: and what's the reason why you want to have this fabulous DJ? What's the reason why you want to have these cocktail waitresses, dressed up all like, I don't know, Hawaii-style. Why is the Hawaiian style so important? What's the added value? What's the underlying promise that you deliver to the visitors of your event? By having Hawaiian dressed-up cocktail-waitresses? What is that?

And then we're talking more about, like for instance, brand value. We're talking, in fact, a bit about the pain of the customer. And that's the nice thing about it. I mean...

When I start using the word pain in a sales context, people are looking: pain? There is no pain. There's just a question of demand of the prospect.

And he won't hit you.

No, no physical violence.

Just listening very carefully to what the customer or the prospect says. Because every company, how small or how big it is, they have a pain. It might be: I'm not the only one in the market. I can be easily replaced by other competitors. It might be: my suppliers have an enormous power over me. Because, globally speaking, there's only two or three suppliers that can supply my raw material. So, they're pulling the ends and I'm like the puppet on a string. Just like all my other competitors are. Or: we're in a mature market and everyone is just stealing away customers from someone else.

So, at that moment it's important, it's interesting, to see: okay, what's the pain? Okay and how do you think this event will answer or be an answer or be a solution to your pain? Okay.

Now, of course, if you start using the word pain, a lot of customers go like: pain? I don't have any pain. So, try to avoid that. It's like: what's the biggest obstacle in your business? And how is your business, in fact?

So, what you're trying to do is to get under their skin. You're trying to start thinking like them. This is what we could call empathy, right? Sympathy is not only understanding the other one, but feeling alike, thinking alike. That's not what we're going to do.

You don't have to, in this case.

You don't have to. I mean: just imagine that I would be a female salesperson. And I sit together with my customer and he says: I want to have cocktail waitresses. Hawaiian style. With bikinis. And I could even consider that to be sexist. It's okay, it's my values. But I have to leave them a bit on the side. For now.

It's for me more interesting to know: okay, and why the Hawaiian cocktail waitresses? What's the added value of that? What brings it to you? So, what is the real plus for your company, organizing an event with Hawaiian cocktail waitresses? And then you get the interesting answers.

And then you can go, version 2.0, even beyond that point. And you're like: hm, interesting.

So, if I understand you correctly, you start rephrasing what the prospect said, if I understand you correctly, it means that for you it's really important to give people a very good feeling about your company, so that just hearing and interacting with your company makes them feel happy. It must feel light. Because apparently for you it's important to let them know that working together with you shouldn't be a hassle. It should be lightweight, should be easy-going, should make you happy. Right? Oh, so it's more about the no-hassle feeling. Okay. And what do you want your visitors to your event, your prospects and your customers, what do you want them to tell each-other when they get in the car, drive away, back home, from your event? What do you want them to tell each-other about your event?

Nice question as well that reveals a bit like: hm, what do you want to linger on? How do you want to linger on in their minds?

And then you can ask, like a check, an easy check question, like: so, customer or prospect, if we agree on this, if I understood correctly...

For you it's important that people have the feeling: working with this company means hassle-free. It means like: oh, it's easy-going. It's fun. It's lightweight. It makes me a happy customer. Right.

So, just imagine that we could come to an event, that can create this feeling, this perception. Maybe even more than just with cocktail waitresses.


Or without them.

Or even without them. Doing something completely different. But would you agree with me that if we work out an event proposal that is maximizing your interest, your underlying needs, and going a bit away from what you originally had in mind, would that be okay for you?

And by asking these kinds of questions, you also invite the customer to open up their minds. And to think along with you. And to open up much more of their desires, interests, needs. And underlying pains. And at that moment, when you have targeted their pain and needs and interests, your proposal will far more be beneficial for the both of you. Because you might be proposing something completely different than what the prospect had in mind. Which is answering even much more to what the prospect had in mind. As underlying needs. Than what he thought of, in the beginning. And you might even come out with a bigger proposal.

Because: well, okay, if this new proposal, that I'm drafting up for you now, is more answering your needs, then maybe you're more willing to pay me a higher fee. For instance. And that's the main thing.

It's like: asking questions. So, be very open. Have a lot of empathy. Try to get under the skin and in the brain of your prospect. Try to understand. Where is their pain? Where are their needs? And then: how can my proposal offer maximally, to your needs?

Yes, that's a totally different approach than just bargaining about the price.

Absolutely, yes. If you want I can share an easy example of what I did in my past.

Yes, that's good to conclude with.

So, I work for a company, purely B2B. A publishing company. And purely B2B, for a very specific target group, namely fiscal and financial professionals. And all the fiscal and financial professionals, it's mandatory by law, they have to have a membership of a larger organization that represents them. Like a representative organization.

Now, most of these accountants and fiscalists and tax consultants, they don't really like the fact that they are being obliged, legally obliged, to pay such an annual amount to be member of an organization. Because they don't consider that organization to do much for them. Right?

So, I got a price request, a request for proposal. Where it said: we want for the 5.000 members, we want 5.000 tax law books. Legal books. Just the law. Law and regulation. Which is of course like...

This is just a common product. There is no added value. It's just, like, the texts. The legal texts.

Like they are.

Yes. As they are. No comments. No jurisprudence. Nothing added. It's just like...

It's a book like this, right?

Now, I knew that the company I worked for, we had a huge overhead cost and so, we could never win this. If indeed, we just had to submit a price for 5.000 of these books, nothing would happen. We would lose majorly, in comparison with our competitors.

So, I went beyond and I said: okay. And the real reason why you want to offer each of your members one of these textbooks with just law about VAT? What's the added value for your organization? And he said: okay...

By asking questions and by listening actively, he started to explain more. He said: well, they consider us to be overpaid. We have, in their eyes, way too luxurious cars. And our office is way too luxurious as well. So, they see what we spend on cars and salaries and an office building. And they don't see anything in return. So, for us the real pain is: we want to prove that we have a reason to exist.

An added value for them.

Yes, absolutely.

So, what happened is that, while talking about it, we said like: okay, but...

So, if I could offer you a proposal that would give you far more added value for these customers. Than what you have in mind, namely 5.000 of these books.

Because I knew my customers and I know that some of these customers, they received a book like that. All of them had already ordered 1, 2, 3, 4 copies with us. So, what do you think is going to happen with the fifth copy? I even saw a customer...

Yes, just paper trash or whatever. So, I said like: just imagine that...

If you want to create added value, wouldn't it be better to have added value every two weeks? Twenty-two times a year. Rather than just once a year.

Oh, that would be amazing.

Right. And would it be amazing if it could be branded content? Highly paid, high quality content. Not only legal text that you can download everywhere, if you want to. But high quality context. Twenty-two times per year. In an electronic newsletter in their mailbox. With your branding. How about that?

That would be great. Is it possible? Wouldn't it be too expensive?

And that's the nice thing. That was a win-win for both of us. Because what we did...

Like: we don't have to make these costs for printing and publishing a book. Because that's hugely costly. Having an on-line newsletter is hardly any cost. The content existed. The only thing we had to do, is: put a frame around it. Two hours of work. Branded with their brand and logo. And that was it. So, we got the deal. Our competitors didn't. And that continued for over years.

So, that's a typical example of a win-win. By going beyond what the customer, at face-value, puts on the table. Like: this is what I want. It's: go beyond it and ask: but why? What's the reason behind: you want this? In which way do you think this proposal will meet your needs and interests behind it? And how do you think it will maximally answer your needs? And would it be okay for you if we come up with a new solution that you haven't thought of? Yet. So far. And that would more maximize your interests and needs. Would you be interested?

And then you get other things on the table, like their pain, like their interests, their needs. And that is what makes it really interesting. So, it's only your own creativity that limits the mind at that moment.

Bart, thank you very much for sharing your thoughts on making a win-win deal.

My pleasure. Thanks for having me here.

And you at home, thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.