Will You Pass the Flinch Test?
By Lee B. Salz
a little test that professional buyers give to every sales person.
It is a test to see if they are confident in the price they
presented. They call it the flinch test. Will you pass the test?
lengthy buying process, the time has come to submit pricing.
Countless hours are spent formulating a glorious proposal that
details your comprehensive solution. Proud of your accomplishment,
you present the proposal to the buyer. Skipping the sections about
your company and your solution, she flips right to the pricing page.
“Oh my gosh, I didn’t think it would be this expensive!”
happens next determines whether or not you will get the business.
When I say “get” the business, there are two sides to consider. The
obvious is whether or not the prospect will award the business to
you. The less obvious is whether your company will agree to their
desired price level. The negotiation may get to a point where the
prospect says they want to award you the business, but at a price
unacceptable to your company. If you’ve ever been there, it is
painful to say the least. As a sales person, you have a
responsibility to facilitate the process in a way that leads to a
mutually acceptable conclusion.
a trade secret in the purchasing world. They call it the “flinch
test.” This is the test Procurement Agents and other professional
buyers give to sales people when they provide pricing. “Wow! You are
25% higher than your competition.” These pros are trained to react
with surprise so that they can see if the sales person is confident
in the price they have put forward. It is nothing more than a
straightforward negotiation tactic. Often times, they overstate the
price difference such that you can do some quick math and see that
the differential is bogus. I can recall a time where I was told that
we were 50% higher than the competition. When I reviewed the
numbers, this meant that the competitor was losing 18% based on
fixed costs that we both had. It was highly unlikely that the
competitor was signing up for this kind of an account. When I asked
the Procurement Agent about that figure again, he flinched
and we ultimately won the business.
to passing the flinch test is to respond with confidence in your
price. If you don’t believe you are providing a fair, competitive
price for the solution, my question is why are you presenting it
anyway? One would hope that you have integrity so why present
something you don’t believe in?
responses that cause you to fail the flinch test.
What price were you looking for?
I’ll ask my manager if we can do better.
How about if I take 10% off?
reason these are failed responses is that they create trust issues
with the prospect. Were you trying to rip them off with the price
you presented? One of two things is true. Either you were trying to
rip them off or you believe you provided a fair price. What other
option is there? Some will say that they were preparing for a
negotiation. That’s a fair point; however, it is a terrible
negotiation strategy to give the appearance that you will drop your
price first moment someone balks. That approach gives the impression
that you sought to gouge them.
negotiations end at the middle ground. They wanted 5; you wanted 10
and settled at 7.5. That seems logical. However, if you lower your
price early, the middle ground is lower. In the same scenario, if
you dropped to 8 right off the bat, the middle becomes 6.5. As I
mentioned, you have to manage the negotiation such that the middle
is not lower than an acceptable price for your company.
Successful sales people have a planned, or dare I say “canned,”
response for the flinch test. They don’t expect a prospect to
respond with excitement about a price. They anticipate shock and
have a process to handle it. Here are their secrets…
They set expectations upfront. Early in the buying process, they
set the expectation that they are not the low price provider. “To be
clear, our company is rarely the low bid, does that mean that we
won’t be working together on this project?” If they say no, you are
set for the later phases of the process. If they say yes, at least
you haven’t invested a ton of time in an account that you won’t win.
If you are going to lose, lose early.
They don’t flinch! “I’m not surprised by your reaction. I get
that a lot. As I mentioned at the outset, we are rarely the low
They seek to understand. “When you say that you are shocked by
the price, which part is surprising? This is the subject of another
article of mine which addresses the importance of understanding the
prospect’s perspective of price.
They reinforce their position. “Since we are rarely the low
price provider, what do you think our 1000 clients see that leads
them to pay a little more to have us?
years ago, I had the opportunity to participate in Procurement
Training. Think of it as sales training for buyers. After the
session, I had an interesting conversation with the trainer. Here’s
what he told me:
years, sales people asked me for coaching on the price of their
proposal as I was the head of Procurement for my company. I told
each one of them the same thing. Provide us with the best price that
you feel good about giving and either way, you win. I always got a
puzzled expression from that. Let me explain. If we award the
business to you at that price, you’re happy. If we award the
business to someone else at a lower price, you are happy as well
because you wouldn’t have been happy to support the account at that
a little secret, I use the flinch test all the time when I buy. It’s
amazing how quickly sales people drop their drawers on price. I bet
I’ve saved my family 20% across the board for all of our spending
just with that test. It’s no wonder that professional buyers use
this. I often wonder how many commission dollars were lost just
because they flinched. How may commission dollars have you lost
because you flinched?
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