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Negotiation made easy - How to Squash the Frustrating Hardball Tactic of the Little Nibble

Updated: Sep 10, 2023

Imagine this-

It's late December, and Alex, a medical salesperson, is ten days away from the end of the year and is on the cusp of reaching his annual sales quota. It's been a challenging year, and meeting this target is critical for his personal goals and the company's success. Alex has been working tirelessly to close deals, and he has one potential sale left that could put him at the quota number for the year.

Three women at the beach with arms raised in victory
Photo by Becca Tappart, Unsplash

Today, Alex is meeting with his customer, Emma. They've had numerous discussions, product demonstrations, and price negotiations. This deal could be the one that secures his quota. Ignoring the beads of sweat forming on his forehead and his racing heart, Alex sits down with Emma for what he hopes will be the closing conversation.

Emma says, "I think we are ready to write the P.O., Alex. We have been a demanding customer for sure. Thank you for all your patience."

Alex is excited, his pulse throbbing. The P.O. is coming.

"We loved the support you provided throughout the product demonstration sessions," Alex responds with a genuine smile, "and answered all our questions."

Emma nods, her expression turning appreciative. "Your responsiveness has been outstanding. We put you through quite a rigorous evaluation process."

Alex leans in slightly, eager to seal the deal. "It's been a pleasure working with your team, Emma. Your questions and scrutiny have only helped us better understand your needs."

Emma leans back, contemplating, "And your pricing is competitive. That's crucial for us, especially in this market." Alex nods in agreement, emphasizing the value proposition. "Absolutely, Emma. We understand that the market is evolving, and we want to ensure you get the best product and the best value for your investment."

Emma smiles, her confidence in the decision evident. "Well, Alex, we've found the right solution for our needs. Let's move forward with that P.O."

Alex's excitement peaks. "Fantastic, Emma. I'll have the paperwork ready for you within the hour. Once the P.O. is finalized, we can start working on implementation."

Emma extends her hand, and they shake on the deal. "Thank you, Alex. Looking forward to a successful partnership."

Alex returns the handshake with a firm grip and an even firmer commitment. "Likewise, Emma. We're excited to be part of your team's journey." As they shake hands, his mind does a silent victory dance, imagining the celebration at the office.

Emma says, "Oh, Alex, one more thing... before we write the P.O., we need you to include three years of warranty."

Alex is momentarily taken aback; his mental celebration abruptly halted. "But, Emma," he stammers, "One year is the standard warranty that comes with this equipment."

Emma remains unflustered, her posture poised and confident. "I understand that, Alex. However, I can only sign off on the P.O. if the warranty is extended to three years."

Alex is in a precarious position now.

The weight of his year-end quota bears down on him like a leaden cloud. He understands all too well that failing to close this deal might jeopardize his performance and potentially his job.

And Emma knows the stakes, Alex thought bitterly.

This is the essence of a nibbling tactic—an artful maneuver designed to elicit last-minute concessions, exploiting the pressure and urgency of the moment. It's a tactic that, as you can see, can be remarkably effective.

However, we must recognize that nibbling, while achieving short-term gains, can be detrimental to the foundation of a long-term business relationship.

The Hardball Tactic of Nibbling

"One more thing…" These small words can cause you to make significant concessions in a negotiation. Nibbling, a hardball tactic, is like a relentless mouse nibbling away at a piece of cheese, one small bite at a time, until completely devoured. It's a tactic that can throw even the most seasoned negotiators off their strategy.

And why is nibbling so effective? The answer lies in how it exploits the constraints and the patience of the other party. Each request made during the nibbling process is small, almost negligible, making it incredibly tempting to concede and move forward. Your counterpart, in turn, appears appreciative and thankful for your flexibility. It's a move that can be deployed when you're eager to reach a final agreement.

How to spot a nibbling tactic: Imagine you're finalizing a significant deal, and your counterpart, with a seemingly genuine smile, says, "Oh, there is just one more thing – would it be possible..."

The question is, how do you defend and handle the nibble hardball tactic?

1. Reopen the Entire Negotiation

When I encounter the nibbling tactic, I counter by reopening clauses that we considered close that were important to me. By doing so, you communicate that if they need to ask for one more thing, they should be willing to provide concessions on matters that are important to you.

However, a caveat is that you must prepare your team for the additional time this approach may require. Rushing through this process could lead to more concessions due to mounting time constraints. This goes back to the want portfolio preparation I explained in previous posts.

2. Set Clear Boundaries and Expectations

To combat nibbling effectively, establish clear boundaries and expectations from the outset of the negotiation. Make it known that you won't entertain last-minute requests for concessions without a reciprocal gesture. This preemptive strike can deter your counterpart from attempting to nibble in the first place.

Granted, practicing this with customers can be challenging for salespeople. However, the more consistently you apply this principle, the less probable it becomes that you'll concede on critical matters at the eleventh hour.

3. Buy Time Strategically

If you sense that your counterpart might engage in the hardball tactic of nibbling, ensure you have some time on your side. Rushing to a conclusion under time constraints can put you at a disadvantage. Be prepared to request a brief recess to evaluate their request thoroughly.

4. Call Attention to the Hardball Tactic

Call attention to it if you recognize nibbling happening right before your eyes. Politely but firmly point out that the negotiation had appeared to be on the verge of a resolution, and this new request is, in essence, changing the terms. This tactic can make your counterpart reconsider their strategy.

5. Create a 'No Surprises' Environment

To avoid nibbling altogether:

  1. Foster a 'no surprises' environment at the beginning of in your negotiation.

  2. Ask for a list of all concessions and requests to be presented upfront.

  3. Encourage open and transparent discussions throughout the process.

Back to Alex. How did he "win" in the negotiation? What did he do? Did he concede and meet his quota? What strategy did he choose? Let's find out.

Alex, recognizing the critical juncture he was at with just ten days left in the year, made a decision. Instead of hastily conceding to the extra years of warranty, he asked for more time. Emma was surprised. She did not expect Alex to ask for more time because she was sure this deal was his last hope to close out his year successfully. But she allowed it.

The extra few days allowed Alex to conduct a thorough analysis, considering the advantages and disadvantages of extending the warranty by two years. Moreover, he took a broader perspective by examining his future sales prospects for the next 2-3 years, which revealed that his pipeline was thinner than he would like.

Alex devised a counter plan – proposing a 5-year contract to Emma. This option guaranteed consistent sales for both him and his company. He didn't know whether Emma would go for it.

So, he met with Emma one more time.

With a curious tone, he inquired about the number of contracts she typically negotiated each year. Emma, displaying a hint of frustration, admitted that she had to deal with an overwhelming volume of contracts, approximately 50 of them annually. This insight gave Alex an invaluable opportunity to present his counter plan.

Recognizing Emma's weariness from the relentless negotiation cycle, Alex proposed the 5-year contract in exchange for the additional years of warranty. Emma agreed to this proposition, seeing it as a practical solution that would significantly streamline her workload and provide long-term stability.

As we've seen, nibbling can be a highly effective negotiation tactic. To successfully navigate the hardball tactic of nibbling, take a step back and reevaluate your priorities and those of your counterpart.

Start by revisiting your "want portfolio" – a comprehensive understanding of what you seek to achieve in the negotiation. In parallel, ask curious questions to gain insight into your counterpart's desires and objectives. With this knowledge, you can strategically devise countermeasures that not only safeguard your interests but also have the potential to expand the overall value of the deal.

In the context of Salary Negotiations

Typically, the interviewee is more inclined to employ the nibbling tactic than the interviewer. Picture this scenario: You've received a job offer but believe there's a little more room for improvement. You'd like an extra perk, such as additional vacation time or the option to work remotely.

However, a word of caution is in order. While nibbling can be effective when executed tactfully, it's not without risks. If your future employer suspects underhandedness or perceives your nibbling as excessive, they might reconsider extending the offer. So, if you plan to use it, use it subtly and no more than once.

When you are ready to bravely fight for the salary you deserve, get this training (it's free!), "Know Your Worth and Fight for It: 7 Simple Steps to Negotiating the Job Offer of Your Dreams," This course offers practical strategies to help you discover your leverage, navigate challenging questions, and be prepared for unexpected obstacles.

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