Words Count: The Art Of B2B Email Negotiation

With fewer face-to-face interactions, B2B salespeople are increasingly conducting negotiations via email. But the things that work face to face don’t always suffice in email, and this requires a new form of analysis, judging by Business-to-Business E-Negotiations and Influence Tactics, academic research by Sunil K. Singh, Detelina Marinova, and Jagdip Singh.

The salesperson’s first imperative is to increase buyer awareness, using several linguistic tactics: 

1. Information Sharing — Giving of and asking for information about products and services without recommendations or promises. In this, definitive verbs such as attach, forward, provide and enclosed are conjugated with informational nouns such as product specs and quality certificates.

2. Recommendation — Explicit suggestions to buyers in favor of a particular product or service, emphasizing benefits, uniqueness, or usability, whether solicited or not. 

The key action verbs — recommend, offer, advice, and believe — are conjugated with proposition quality: clearly, strongly, acceptable, highest.



3. Promise: Committing to a future course of action such as following up on a buyer’s current request. The action verbs include perform, review, send, and respond. They are conjugated with modals such as will, can, and would. 

4. Assertiveness: Initiating a call-to-action that ensures the “continuity of the business exchange and/ or relationship, implicit or explicit.” This mode relies on pronouns such as we, I, you. conjugated with action verbs like need, would and should.

5. Ingratiation: Building rapport, engaging in flattery, and gaining the approval of the buyer. Here you would use affective words like thank you, appreciate, help, welcome, sorry, enjoy) conjugated with personal pronouns: we, I, you.

6. Buyer Attention: The new metric — the degree to which a buyer displays heightened interest and behavioral engagement in response to a salesperson’s email.

Look for instrumental words such as do, get, send, and valence words such as good, best, excellent, and time-related/temporal contiguity words: today, tomorrow, next week, asap.

The study notes that both information sharing and recommendation “evoke an internalization mechanism that favors internal analyses of input stimuli, in complementary ways.” 

How can salespeople apply these nuggets in their day-to-day work? 

First, don’t use competing influence tactics.  

The study of one company shows that concurrent use of the promise tactic with low levels of recommendation leads to a 92% probability of a contract award. 

But this drops to less than 50% when the salesperson “uses both promise and recommendation, all else being equal.”

On the other hand, the concurrent use of assertiveness and promise tactics boosts buyer attention by an average of 14%. And use of information sharing and recommendation produces a 15% increase in attention. 

But using competitive combinations can reduce buyer attention by 30% and significantly diminish the likelihood of a contract award. 

Next, train your salespeople and aim for increasing buyer attention, and use this as a process metric. 

"Salespeople that increase attention by a factor of 1 SD increase the likelihood of contract award seven-fold to yield an additional $37 million in revenue,” the study assets. 



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