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Updated: 31 Mar 2019

Sales Team Negotiation Training: Customised Case Studies



Simulated case studies / role plays customised to the clients' business reality is the best way to assess their sales negotiator's strengths and weaknesses on a team based sales negotiation training course, and to drive the skills deeper into the muscle.

by Dr. Bob March

The Negotiation Experts makes extensive use of case studies and customised role playing in training sales negotiation teams. Simulating commercial selling negotiation training scenarios customised to our client’s business reality is the best way to assess a sales negotiators strengths and weaknesses. There is no better method of rapid feedback. Mistakes in role playing don’t end up costing sales revenue or sales margin and are highly engaging.

In this article Professor Bob March illustrates why customised case studies hold a favourite position in his sales negotiation team training repertoire.

How do we learn to be better international sales negotiators? Most believe that trial and error, rather than academic study, is the best way to learn. I agree, but this trial and error method comes at a significant cost to the organisation’s bottom line profit. Fortunately there is another way, one I have been using for twenty five plus years all over the world. I call it “competitive role-playing.” I began using it in 1979, in sales negotiation training courses between teams of Americans and Japanese in Japan. [You can read about my first use of the method in my book, “The Japanese Negotiator” (Tokyo: Kodansha International), pages 8 – 10.]

Competitive role-plays are competitions between two teams – one domestic (in this case Australian) and the other foreign. Both teams are given a comprehensive briefing document on or before the best negotiation skills training seminars that identifies team members, objectives, and background. Include history of encounters, environment of the negotiation such as third party interventions (especially government), industry associations etc. Each role-playing team takes time, sometimes several hours to prepare. The time they take usually indicates thorough preparation, provided the sales negotiation teams have invested in being trained on how to prepare effectively. This can prove to be important in an international negotiation, preparation is (almost) everything.

The learning comes from several sources in the training. Perceptive observers follow each team in all of its meetings. When the sales negotiation is complete (or we run out of time), each member of each side comments on the performance of the other team and its members. This is unique training feedback we would never receive in real life. It bears upon personal communication style, effectiveness of strategies, perceived trust/believability and team cohesion and solidarity.

A recent sales negotiation skills team role-play training exercise took place between a team from SB Research of Balmain in Sydney, and an external team. It included members of the AJBCC and was based on the real life situation of woodchip negotiations between Stones Ltd., and Daishowa Japan. Neither side knew the woodchip industry, so I provided them with comprehensive briefing. The one twist was that the briefing material was for the year 2000, when a particular problem arose between the two teams. I had, in 2000, as a consultant to the Australian woodchip negotiator North Forest Products Ltd. (since sold on to Gunns Ltd.) been privy to that situation. I gave each negotiation team detailed insights into the main players (albeit fictionalised characters, but based on reality), and their personal and team attitudes.

Comments by AJBCC member Bob Seidler, The Seidler Law Firm in Sydney, a member of the team opposing SB Research some time after the training:

I had the privilege of participating in the fictional sales negotiations between Stones and Daishowa. With many years of negotiating with Japanese teams, I accepted the invitation with considerable curiosity and some scepticism. I was curious about the concept of fictional negotiation and the advanced negotiation challenges it posed, while being sceptical of this method as a learning tool. My scepticism stemmed from coming through the “experience” school still bearing all the psychological scars as a graduation certificate.

The sales negotiation team training itself was fascinating and great fun. I am now a convert. Our opposition was the best prepared and most formidable team that I had encountered. Their knowledge of Japanese group cultural and business practices was very good. The team functioned as a unit, with each member playing a complimentary but contributing role. They knew what they wanted to achieve and went about it in a professional and determined manner.

The review process was valuable not only as personal feedback to all of the participants, but for me, as an insight into the role-play training as a teaching method.

Anyone dealing with SB Research teams had better be prepared!

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