Negotiation is often seen as a high-stakes battle of wits, where the most aggressive and cunning player comes out on top. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth. The real masters of negotiation understand that it’s not about winning or losing but building relationships and creating value for all parties involved. In this blog post, we’ll reveal the five secrets of master negotiators you need to know to take your negotiation skills to the next level.

The day I was promoted from CMO to CRO, I was asked to unblock a negotiation of a multi-year license of my former company’s employee engagement and communication platform with a midwestern utility. We were at the final stages of negotiating contract terms, and it was my first time virtually meeting with the eight people from the utility on the call. My sales managers were likely testing if they could rely on me in complex and stressful deal situations.

To prepare, I reviewed the contract, deal notes in the CRM, and met with our counsel and everyone on our team who met the prospect. I wanted to understand what mattered to them, why they were doing this deal, who was driving it, and the open issues. I also sought to understand what terms were most important to us and what compromises had already been made.

During the call, I focused on building trust and confidence by listening, offering them control, and conveying my intentions transparently. We went through the seven open items, and I was curious and empathetic for each one. I listened and shared what I heard, and when they knew I understood their perspective, I either agreed with their request (if it was within my boundaries) or asked more questions to discover an acceptable solution.

On the most contentious item, a type of insurance that our broker said they never do for SaaS companies and the utility said they always had in their contracts, I asked if someone on the call was an insurance expert. One person was, and I asked them to explain it to everyone so we could understand why we were getting different advice from our brokers. After 15-20 minutes of curious exploration, it became clear that the insurance was irrelevant to our SaaS provider situation. Once we both saw that clearly, the expert agreed that the risk was negligible to non-existent, and we decided to strike the request for that specific insurance. No one felt railroaded or forced – we explored until we determined if there was a way forward.

This experience exemplifies the five secrets of master negotiators:


Negotiation is a relationship, not a one-time event

  • Master negotiators view negotiation as an ongoing relationship-building process
  • Master negotiators focus on creating authentic, genuine connections with their buyers
  • The negotiation is just the beginning of a potentially long-term, mutually beneficial relationship

Genuine empathy for your buyer and their challenges is critical to successful relationships and the negotiations that happen within them. Empathy is a consistent element of each of the secrets of master negotiators.

Curiosity and empathy are key

  • Master negotiators seek to deeply understand their buyer’s needs, motivations, and goals
  • They ask questions, listen actively, and read between the lines
  • They practice high levels of emotional intelligence to build trust and rapport

The best outcome is a satisfied customer

  • Master negotiators know that a happy customer can become a valuable asset
  • Satisfied customers can become references, advocates, repeat buyers, or even prospects for upselling and expansion
  • Master negotiators focus on creating outcomes that set the stage for long-term success

One of the secrets of master negotiators is to think long-term and not transactional. Your buyers will remember you and that can lead to more business in their current company or yours as well as in future companies. 

Values and boundaries are essential

  • Master negotiators are clear about their own values and what matters most to them and their company
  • Master negotiators are willing to walk away from a deal that doesn’t align with those values
  • At the same time, master negotiators skillfully explore the buyer’s boundaries to find creative win-win solutions

Practice makes perfect

  • Becoming a master negotiator is a lifelong journey that requires continuous learning and growth
  • Master negotiators constantly seek out opportunities to practice and hone their skills
  • Master negotiators engage in scenario role-playing, review recorded calls, and learn from best-in-class negotiators

By mastering these five secrets of master negotiators, you can elevate your negotiation skills and achieve better outcomes for yourself, your company, and your buyers. By working on them regularly with your team, you’ll tap more insights and turbocharge both your results and relationships. Remember, negotiation is not about winning or losing – it’s about building relationships, creating value, and finding alignment. With empathy, curiosity, and a focus on long-term success, you can become a master negotiator in your own right.