Negotiation

I can’t remember the last time I didn’t get everythingthat I wanted from a client. My wife suggests that it’s because I don’t chargeenough. I think it’s because I’m a good negotiator. Most people don’t realizehow much time they spend negotiating. Most parents think that they just telltheir kids to go to bed. Of course, what actually happens is that the parenttells the kid to go to bed, the kid says, “After this show is over,” the parentresponds with, “Just a few minutes,” and they’re negotiating. Another exampleis when I turn to my wife and say, “Let’s go out for dinner,” and she respondswith, “Where to?”—we’re in a negotiation. My guess is that in both of thesescenarios, neither party thinks of what’s happening as a “negotiation.” That’snot a bad thing: I think that one of the hallmarks of a good relationship isthat we don’t think of most of our negotiations as “negotiations.”

When you think about it, you spend more timenegotiating (be it with your boss, your clients, your peers, your significantother, your children) than almost anything else that you do. If you spent asmuch time running as you do negotiating, those love handles that you’re worriedabout would be gone. Heck, you’d probably be in the Olympics.

While many negotiations are very casual, negotiationis something that I take very seriously. Most people, faced with a formalnegotiation, don’t prepare enough. At best, they think very carefully aboutwhat they want. For consultants, that often means just thinking about “How muchmoney do I want?” I’m not denying that’s an important thing to consider, butit’s the last thing that I want to worry about.

The first thing that I want to think about is “Whatdoes my client want?” I suspect that they want to pay as little as possible,but I also suspect they’re far more interested in getting good things from me.So my first goal should be to consider all the good things that I could do formy client. Unfortunately, I usually don’t know what “good” means to my client.I learned a long time ago that what I think of as “good” is often verydifferent from what anyone else thinks of as “good.” I’ve discovered that,given a chance to talk about their project, most of my clients can’t wait totell me about what they’re working on. My job, at the start of the negotiation,is just to ask questions and let them tell me about themselves. If my clientstarts to wind down, I can take what i’ve learned and suggest things abouttheir project—if I’m right, I look like a genius, and if I’m wrong, I get anexplanation that tells me more about my client.

Only after i’ve started learning about my client canwe start talking about all the good things that I could do for them. I’ve alsodiscovered that, for most of my clients, the initial agreement is just thedoorway to working together. As we work together, we discover even more goodthings that we can do for each other and our relationship develops. And onlyafter we’ve decided what we’re going to do together can we talk about how muchmoney will change hands. And by that time, we both have a pretty good idea ofwhat we would consider a fair price.

You know, now that I think about it, I can’t rememberthe last time that my clients didn’t get everything they wanted from me.

As an example of getting what we both want, I’m goingto be in Europe at he end of May to present at the SDN conference in theNetherlands. As long as I’m in Europe, I’m working with Smart Access readerFrans Truyens. Frans runs a training center, and we’ve talked on severaloccasions about having me put on a high-level technical seminar in Brussels.Since Arnhem (where the SDN conference is held) is only a few hours fromBrussels, this trip seems like a perfect opportunity to put our plan together.So now, I have to start negotiating with my potential customers in order to put“bums in seats” (otherwise, Frans and I will end up sitting in the class byourselves). So, over the next couple of weeks, i’ll be trying to see whatpotential “good things” people in the Benelux area are interested in having me dofor them. Only then can we decide how much they’re willing to pay for that.

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