Business Negotiation May 30, 2016

Negotiating 101: What If? Would You Consider?

"What-If" and "Would-You-Consider" are excellent discovery devices that can help you build better agreements. Both types of questions provide an avenue for getting more information than you would ordinarily be given...

"What-If" and "Would-You-Consider" are excellent discovery devices that can help you build better agreements.

Both types of questions provide an avenue for getting more information than you would ordinarily be given.

A buyer who knows more about a seller's cost and price structure is bound to make better decisions. A seller who knows more about a buyer's specific needs and constraints will be in a better position to configure a product offering.
Following are some examples of how you might use this negotiation technique.

Buyers: you need to make sensible business decisions based on the best information you can get. "What if" is a good way to get pricing data as well as other information. The "what ifs" listed below usually open up new alternatives and generate valuable answers. Their logic is self-evident.

  • What if we double the order (or halve it)?

  • What if we give you a one-year or two-year contract?

  • What if we drop the warranty (or increase it)?

  • What if we supply the material?

  • What if we own the tooling?

  • What if we buy apples and pears instead of just apples?

  • What if we let you do the job during the slow season?

  • What if we supply technical assistance?

  • What if we change the specification in this way?

  • What if we give you progress payments?


Any of these "what ifs" provide insights into the seller's business practices and motivations that would not otherwise be available. "What-if" questions may create organizational pressures for the salesperson. With every "what if," the salesperson may have to go back to their engineering, production, and pricing people. They may find it hard to say no to a buyer's innocuous sounding request. Many a salesperson has lowered the price rather than go through the tedious routine of re-pricing.

Salespeople: the next time a buyer asks a "what-if" question, make sure you don't shoot from the hip. A well-considered answer can pay big dividends. An alert salesperson can turn "what if" into an opportunity instead of a problem. Use "would-you-consider" or "what-if" questions to probe and find out what the buyer really intends to buy. Buyers may not have as many options as they say they do.

Here are ways you can respond to a buyer's "what if" questions:

  • Would you consider taking grade-B products, a larger delivery, spare parts?

  • Would you consider last year's model?

  • "What if" we change the configuration this way?

  • Visit with other people in their organization (production, engineering, etc.). You may get a better picture of the buyer's constraints and the potential options you can present.

  • Never price a "what if" on the spot.

  • If a concession is offered, make it contingent on getting something in return. "Would you consider" this if we reduce the price?


Both "what-if" and "would-you-consider" questions open up new avenues of thought for both parties. Use of this discovery and information gathering technique can lead to a better deal for both parties.
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