Reed K. Holden - Negotiating with Backbone - A Review

When I found this book at a 2nd hand bookstore, I didn’t really notice the subtitle and since I’m notoriously bad at negotiating, I bought it. Later at home I realized that it was “Eight Sales Strategies to Defend Your Price and Value”, which still might do me some good but starting through the pages my doubt increased as it is clearly addressed at Sales Reps. I decided to join the ride just to see how it turns out and it turned out quite entertaining but only if you’re a evil, black-hearted and nasty wretch like me.

Holden, who paints himself as some high and mighty Sales guru and pricing expert, which I can’t assess to since sales is clearly not my trade, starts whining about these evil people in procurement spoiling the life for sales people by trying to drive the prices down. This sets the tone for the next chapters, where he exposes the procurement people as the unethical con artists, wiggling their way into honest sales meetings to play their games, swindle and trick the hapless sales representative into granting them discounts, they are. These are mostly Holden’s words as he describes how procurement tries to throw the sales rep of by playing “good cop - bad cop” on him, seemingly canceling agreed contracts and show him fake summaries about competitors.

He then starts to offer absolute astonishing advice while further reducing the respect someone might have for the generic sales person. I simply can’t (and don’t want to) imagine people risking the fate of their employer and colleagues by calling themselves sales representatives and going out and try to sell stuff without knowing that they should “keep cool”, “know the process”, “know the value of their product”, “who’s the decision maker” and “who is involved” while not to “take it personal”. These advice is interjected by short anecdotes of evil procurists (“Let’s call him ‘Jim’”) being foiled in their games by brave sales people who knew the mean tricks of procurement. O.K. I’ve seen my share of sales guys swinging by my office asking “Can our software do that, because I just sold the feature to..?” but I didn’t imagine these weren’t exceptions but the rule and I can’t even imagine them not knowing who they were going to talk to. But don’t be afraid follow Salespersons (of Holden that is), when you know who’s the final decision maker and can get to him or her, this will be a professional and reasonable person with the best of his employer in mind and he or she will probably not in procurement. This fits very so well with to portrayed picture of the generic procurement person as an evil, lying, self-absorbed, unprofessional and irrational slug, playing low tricks to cheat poor sales persons that you’ll be in for a real surprise at page 63, where Holden admits, that the procurement team will wiggle into your negotiation and block your way to the decision maker “so they make sure that the deal is done at the best possible terms for their firm”, these bastards.

To be honest, after about one third of the book, Holden tunes down the whining a little bit and starts giving advice that doesn’t completely sound like kindergarten to me. But I’m still curious how the idea of developing deals that give the customer lower value when he asks for a lower price validate more than 10 pages in a book with a target audience of professionals. This advice is followed by al lengthy talk about trust any why it is important and how to ruin it with the next idea Holden recommends. The advice is to state that the customer’s request is against company policy and staying on morale high ground by explaining (to the reader, not to the customer of course) that a policy is nothing but a decision made in advance and that it doesn’t matter if that decision was made months ago by higher management or seconds ago by the salesperson. Although he doesn’t admit that this would ruin trust as any other lie.

Most of the rest of the book consists of what Holden calls the eight scenarios of sales, where eight is a rather high estimate. They’re the combination of the four types of buyers (where the forth one is one of the second or third pretending to be the first) and whether or not there is an existing relationship to the buyer (which doesn’t matter for one type). The advice given in these scenarios is of the repetitive kind and never leaves the domain of common sense.

I can’t really tell if it’s a good book since I don’t know if the so called advice might be in fact needed by anyone out there. The book, which you can buy here, will leave you

  • Deeply depressed at the bleak state of the department out to sell your work
  • Highly amused about the advice obviously needed by some sales personnel or
  • Infuriated about the guts some people seem to have, calling themselves sales reps
  • Incredibly sad that someone can publish a work like this and still get praise and five star reviews at amazon.

depending on how you look at the book and the state of the sales department at your workplace. But all in all to me this book reeks of shameless self-promotion.

If I’ll ever leave the trade of honest software development, I think I’ll join the ranks of the procurists. Then I can be mean and nasty and yell at sales reps for no other reason than doing my job and loving it.

Finally a rating, that has to be taken with a grain of salt: