Now and then, we find ourselves in a position where we have to negotiate with a client. It may involve the pricing of a contract, the scope of work, the resolution of a problem or a simple price adjustment for some additional work. Ideally, a successful negotiation should lead to an outcome that is acceptable to both parties.
The process will almost invariably have a lasting effect on the relationship, so the manner in which it’s conducted is often as important as the outcome. The most successful negotiations are those that leave both parties feeling as though they were treated fairly and that the resulting agreement provided them with an acceptable situation. An adversarial approach is generally not the best path to that end.
There are several techniques in negotiating – here are some that have worked for me, time after time.
Negotiate by Listening
The best negotiators are not those that talk the best game…they’re those that are the best listeners. They start by learning all they can about the opposition, their situation, their problems and goals, and they try to figure out what the other side really wants and needs out of the negotiation.
Then, they let the other person take the first position.
What a person initially says they want is rarely their real goal. They’ll often start out seeking more than what they see as acceptable, simply in order to have room to shift their position. They’ll also often anticipate that you’ll do the same.
Let the other side state their desires first. You may learn something, and even if you don’t, it’s always better to know what you’re responding to, rather than to shoot in the dark. Often, an inexperienced negotiator will clearly state their primary goals at the outset.
Negotiate with the Right Individual
As a minimum starting point, you should try to negotiate with the person that has the authority to make a deal. If you’re dealing with someone that has to get approval, you’re dealing with the wrong person. You’ll end up the victim of a “good cop – bad cop” game. I’ve even suspended negotiations at the outset, upon learning that my counterpart didn’t have the authority to make a deal.
Know your End-point Before you Begin
Before you begin, determine your “drop dead” minimum deal. Anything less than that must be a “NO”. Don’t allow yourself to fall into the trap of accepting an unfavorable deal, just for the sake of making a deal. Know your minimum acceptable position and stick to your guns. You’re negotiating, not surrendering!
Keep it Professional
Regardless of the tension that may exist, if you can’t trust yourself to put aside your emotions and deal on a strictly professional basis, then you may need to bring in someone else to handle the negotiation. The party that lets emotions affect the process will usually suffer for it. Anger can destroy your negotiating position faster than anything.
Once you’ve stated your position, it’s up to the other party to deal with it. When you’ve made an offer, make the other guy give up ground toward that offer -don’t lessen your demands until they do. If you give up ground with no gains, you’ve given up credibility.
Keep the Discussion Moving
When the other side says, “this is our final (or best) offer”, it often isn’t. If you think they’re serious about not giving more on one front, then try to get them to surrender more on another. Every deal has two sides, the positive and the negative – focus where least expected. Then, when they expect you to continue to focus on that front, shift your focus to the another issue again!
Try to keep a hole card – an unexpected bonus for the other side – that has relatively little meaning for you. It can be the deal maker, when you come to an impasse. When a discussion loses its momentum and reaches a stalling point, it’s often difficult to get things rolling again.
If the other side tries to open negotiations by presenting you with a contract, or a list of mandates, give it a polite glance, and set it aside. Continue negotiating as though it doesn’t exist. If they continue to refer to it, continue to push YOUR points, as though the document doesn’t exist. It’s disconcerting to them, and it helps you maintain control over the discussion. In privacy, review it – it may be revealing – but don’t allow it to manage your strategy.
Accepting an Agreement
Finally, if the other side makes you an offer that sounds ideal, at ANY point in the negotiations, – perhaps even better than you had hoped for – don’t immediately jump at it. It’s fine to admit that it sounds like a feasible solution, but it’s wise to dissect its points a bit, to ensure everything is covered and that you both understand the terms the same way.
I’ve even had occasions where the client was offering more than was fair and necessary to meet my needs, and have offered to adjust things accordingly. The trust that builds is priceless and will have a lasting effect on your relationship with the client, making future dealings much easier.
At the end of the process, if you both feel comfortable with the outcome and neither feels as though they were taken advantage of, the negotiation was a success.