We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
When we hear someone is excellent at what they do, we often overlook the time and energy they have invested in mastering their craft. For instance, usually when watching professional golfers on TV hit amazing golf shots, we don’t think about the years spent pounding thousands of golf balls on the driving range to hone their swings. Without the habit and dedication to practice, their talent would never materialize into PGA Tour caliber excellence. Moreover, they would not be able to maintain that level of excellence without the habit of dedicated daily practice, many times even right after completing the round of competition to immediately get started on fixing a problem.
In selling and negotiating, like in professional sports, excellence is a direct result of time and energy spent preparing behind the scenes. The hard work that is not glorious or fun is usually the difference between a winning negotiation and merely just getting a decent result. And the difference between doing the hard work and avoiding it boils down to habits. If you are in the habit of putting in the time preparing, it just becomes part of the accepted routine you do. It’s a mental trade-off that you know pays off. For a great book on habits, I recommend Atomic Habits by James Clear. He does a great job describing how and why our brains form habits and, more importantly, he gives easy ways to build new ones and eliminate bad ones.
Before getting discouraged about your ability to sell or negotiate effectively, consider whether you just need to develop some good habits and possibly eliminate some bad ones. Negotiating is not rocket science. It’s usually just a matter of being well-prepared. Yes, it takes performing under pressure too, but that performance is dramatically affected by how well you’ve prepared. Making a habit of investing the necessary time and dedication to thoroughly prepare will put you on the road to excellence.
Lastly, a word about excellence vs. perfection: Remember this…excellent is good enough. Don’t shoot for perfection because seeking to be perfect at negotiating (or anything for that matter) is inefficient. The extra time and energy spent trying to perfect your presentation (assuming it’s already excellent) will not win the negotiation or be the reason for the sale. Ask any golfer how many times he actually hits a perfect shot or makes a perfect swing. If he’s honest, he will tell you that rarely happens, but that same golfer can win any tournament making excellent swings and hitting excellent shots consistently. If you do what it takes to be excellent that will be good enough. You can use the extra time you would have spent trying to go from excellent to perfection to celebrate your winning negotiation!