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How to win a fight in sales

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(MoneyWatch) You're closing in on a sale, until suddenly someone on your prospect's negotiating team starts going south on you. I don't mean simply expressing disagreement or questioning aspects of the deal -- I mean active hostility. What do you do?

You know this person is critical to the transaction, but he isn't the decision-maker. You have to get the prospect's executive leadership to bring this individual to heel. Let's assume that you've tried all the traditional "get-along" strategies, like offering to compromise (and maybe even laying on a little strategic flattery).

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It's time to fight. Sometimes there's no other choice. Here are eight rules from my upcoming book, "How to Close a Deal Like Warren Buffett," on how to fight effectively and fairly:

1. You do not talk about "fight club." If you're making the move to fight, don't talk about it internally or externally. If your prospect, your people, or anyone else asks you, the answer is, "We're just working through a few issues right now, but things are going well in general." At some point you will have to play nice with whomever is left standing -- don't gloat to your friends or warn your enemies.

2. Go all Sun-Tzu on them. The ancient Chinese military strategist famously said, "The greatest generals win without battle." Weigh your options one more time. Can you win this deal without a fight? All things considered, it's a better way to accomplish your goals.

3. Never fight "down." If you're going to fight over an issue, go over the person's head. You have one shot at this, and you'll need the most senior person in the room at the prospect's table to exert his or her authority.

4. Just the facts. Your opinions and intentions, the he-said/she-said of conversations -- they all make you look weak. Besides that, your opponent will go back to your supporters at the company after the phone call or meeting and re-tell the story, spinning it in his or her favor.

5. Ask questions, make few statements. Is this how your company normally handles these types of requests? Is this what working together will be like once we close this deal? What parts of your process do we not understand or are failing to fulfill? You want to ask questions, but like a good trial attorney you should know the answers before you ask the question.

6. Concede the little points. There must be some ground to give. Everyone believes there are two sides to the story, so be ready to relent on some issues that are not material but show balance. Stay focused on the issues at the heart of the dispute. 

7. Win, don't wound. If you have to fight, play for keeps. You never back a snake into the corner and then turn to walk away. No jabs -- just throw the haymakers, get the issue on the table, and then resolve it cleanly and quickly. Then move on.

8. Leave an exit -- for your adversary. You have to leave a way out for your opponent after you've won the fight. Big companies don't fire your opponents -- they keep them.

Let me be clear. When it has come to past sales fights, I've lost more than I've won for one simple reason: My opponent has been on the inside, while I'm on the outside. He has the high-ground in combat. So before putting up your dukes you first have to exhaust every other angle. This is a last ditch effort. Sometimes it works. But often all you get out of it is the moral righteousness of having left without regrets. And these days there  isn't much money in righteousness.