When a seller chooses to counter-offer rather than accept an offer, he/she kills the original offer. The offer is DEAD, and it was killed by the side who countered it rather than accepting it. That's a powerful message, because sellers and buyers often assume that they are "keeping the deal alive" when they counter.
Donna and Mike Scott make that point clearly in their article, Are You Presenting Offers as Well as You Should Be? The Scotts provide several strong arguments for why agents should have a serious discussion with sellers before they counter any offer. In fact, though, both sides need to hear that message very clearly.
I am on the listing side of most of my real estate deals, and I often find myself presenting a counter-offer to other agents, rather than an acceptance. In fact, I find that many sellers are uncomfortable accepting the first offer they get. Buyers whose first offer is accepted may suddenly become dissatisfied, fearing they made an offer that was too high, rather than feeling the sense of jubilation that a ratified contract should generate.
Of course, accepting the first offer would be much easier and more common if truth were more common in our everyday way of doing real estate. Implicit in the contract offer is the implication that the offered price is what the buyer is willing to pay. Too often, that is not the case. The leading volley may be a "throw it on the wall" with little resemblance to an honest negotiation.
While lowball offers are usually countered nowadays, that has not always been the case. When I first started representing REO sellers, asset managers often ignored lowball offers or rejected them outright. Letting a lowball offer just sit had the effect of keeping it alive until it expired or was withdrawn by the offeror. To counter the offer could have put the sellers at a disadvantage, "showing their hand" to a player who had made an insincere offer and was not, therefore, playing an honest game. Better to let such an offer die its natural death (expire) than to outright kill it by countering it. I see the wisdom of just letting an offer sit, if the converse is killing it via a counter-offer.
It may be time to rethink the whole negotiation scenario. Countering an offer does not really keep it alive, though that is often how sellers view the process. The buyer is not obligated to continue the negotiation.
Sellers: If it's in the ballpark, catch that offer before it gets away.
Aside to buyers: If the property is priced fairly for the market, and especially if it is priced aggressively, make your first offer an honest offer. Unlike in a ballgame, you may not be the only hitter out there. You may find yourself out of the game, instead of on base and working your way to home.