The right way to deal with a customer’s negotiation tactics

By Bradley Chowles July 7, 2020 | 4 min read

Any sales negotiator is likely to meet with a variety of negotiation tactics and styles throughout their career. There’s the hardball negotiator who doesn’t budge an inch, the anxious novice who buckles under the slightest pressure, the charismatic straight-talker who relies a bit too much on winging the entire thing.

And then there’s the type of negotiator who believes the end justifies the means – no matter what they say or how they act, it’s all fine if it leads to an outcome that serves their self-interest. They’re willing to bend the truth and put on an act if there’s a chance it will turn things in their favor. When you’re across the table from such a party, you’re inevitably going to encounter a range of manipulative negotiation tactics that you may find frustrating and patronizing.

In this blog post, we’ll briefly go over the different types of negotiation tactics you can face, and then offer a professional and effective way to deal with them.

Hang on…Are you sure they’re bluffing?

Let’s say you’ve almost closed a deal with a new customer, when you get an email from them saying they’ll need delivery two weeks sooner than planned and, if you’re unable to manage this, they expect a sizable discount. This throws a spanner in the works, but before you consider how to respond, it’s important to determine whether you think they’re telling the truth. Maybe they know you’d be unable to meet such delivery date, and they made up the entire story to walk away with a lower price.

On the other hand, they might actually just be in a tough situation that’s out of their control and are simply looking for your help. If you probe deeper and their story doesn’t add up, however, then they’re likely using a tactic and you should react accordingly. If you’re unsure whether a customer is using a tactic, the best bet is to ask more questions in an attempt to uncover the actual needs driving their behavior. These questions should be open-ended and probe into the details of their request, such as “what factors led to this newfound urgency?” or “what would the consequences be if we weren’t able to meet this deadline?” If they’re adept and convincing in their replies, then you can start negotiating around this new situation and try to find a mutually beneficial solution. If not, then they’re likely using a tactic.

So what are the moves in tac-tic-toe?

Generally speaking, there are four different types of negotiation tactics a customer might use in an attempt to gain the upper hand. These are:

Procedural tactics

These involve defining the process and terms of the negotiation in such a way that yields a strategic advantage. Procedural tactics include using the “good cop bad cop” approach commonly associated with law enforcement (as seen in shows like The Wire), as well as creating an artificial deadline that puts the other party on the back foot.

Legitimacy and limited resources

These tactics involve stipulating a rule, law, or “way of doing things” for the other party to follow. This can take many different forms, but often include tactics like “take it or leave it”, claiming to have limited resources or authority to make definitive calls, as well as asserting an established norm within their organization.

Personal “power up” tactics

These tactics are direct attempts to assert psychological dominance over the other party. Common “power up” tactics include creating an intimidating or disorienting negotiation environment, showing up late, engaging in irrational behavior – like bullying, making threats, and raising one’s voice – outnumbering you with an unexpectedly large team that needs convincing, as well as going around you and trying to get a better deal from your direct superior.

Lie, cheat, steal

These tactics draw on the Eddie Guerrero school of negotiation and are the hallmark of an unscrupulous and opportunistic negotiator. Common “lie, cheat, steal” tactics include creating false rumors, stalling deceptively, going back on their word, escalating the situation, and “nibbling” for more benefits than initially agreed.

So they’re using a tactic… how should you respond?

If you conclude that someone is using a manipulative negotiation tactic on you, you might feel compelled to use a tactic of your own in response. This is ill-advised for a number of reasons. Aside from the obvious ethical implications, you run the risk of damaging the relationship and, if you’re not careful, opening your organization up to possible legal action. As such, we recommend defusing the attempted tactic with one of the five negotiation behaviors and then getting the negotiation back on track toward a favorable outcome.

Once you’ve identified the type of tactic being used against you, call attention to it and raise it as an issue. Then identify which negotiation behavior is most appropriate, and proceed to negotiate an end to the tactic.

In most situations where a customer is using a tactic, you’ll only need the first two behaviors: Make Demands and Ask Open Questions. When faced with a “power up” or “lie, cheat, steal” tactic that relies on intimidation or rude behavior, you could demand to be treated respectfully and then repeat yourself or say nothing until they get the message. When faced with a suspected procedural or legitimacy tactic, you could ask open questions to uncover more information and determine whether they are in fact being truthful.

RED BEAR Negotiation Company is a global performance improvement firm dedicated to maximizing the profitability of the agreements negotiated with customers, suppliers, partners, and colleagues. If you’re interested in empowering your sales team with world-class negotiation skills, contact us or click here for more information.


One of the first steps to becoming a master negotiator is to learn 5 key negotiation behaviors and how they work within the 3D Negotiation Model to your benefit.
The main goal of using negotiation tactics by a customer is to fundamentally alter the negotiation in the customer’s favor. Negotiation tactics are tricky for a reason but can be handled with ease...

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