The Death of Win-Win

A win-win agreement presupposes that it is possible for you and your client to come to agreement in which both of you are left better off than you would’ve been without a deal. In my experience there is always a path that leads to a win-win negotiation. You might believe deeply that both you and your client can win. But it doesn’t mean that your client is seeking a win-win agreement. They maybe seeking a win-lose agreement. They may believe in order for them to win you necessarily have to lose.

You might define a win as helping your client obtain the outcome they need at a price that allows you to be both profitable and deliver that outcome. They might define winning as getting you to help them obtain the outcomes they need at a price that is something less that then you need to generate that outcome and still be profitable. Their win might be getting you to match your competitor’s price and deliver way below what you need to be successful.

The Definition of Win

It matters very much how both you and your client define a win. And if it’s wrong for you to try to impose a win-lose on your client, it’s equally wrong for them to try to impose a win-lose agreement on you.

If you believe that reaching a win-win agreements means allowing your client to obtain a lower price than you need to succeed and be profitable as their win, you’re really allowing them to create a win-lose agreement. You’re agreeing to what is in fact a win-lose with you on the losing side.

Not negotiating, not trying to prevent your dream client from choosing your lower-priced competitor isn’t an option either. If they can’t really obtain the outcome they need at your competitor’s lower price, you’re allowing them to lose. They may feel like they have a win-win agreement with your competitor, but if choosing that supplier costs them time and money, they’re losing.

If your intention is a real win-win agreement than the first win needs to be changing your client’s definition of win. If their win can only be defined as you lowering your price, then you are probably making a win-lose agreement. This doesn’t mean that you don’t seek win-win; it means you don’t deceive yourself into believing that this is your prospect’s intention when it isn’t.


Do your prospects always seek a win-win agreement?

How do they typically define a win?

How do you define a loss as it applies to you in a win-lose agreement?

How do you change how your prospect defines win?

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