“Our folks don’t think about the sales process as a negotiation. They think the negotiation is just the back-and-forth at the end. This causes problems. How can we reset our culture so they consider the entire effort a negotiation, from their first contact with a potential customer?”
I get asked this question a lot. After all, many perceive negotiation in this limited way. It’s understandable, as movies and the media highlight this often adversarial, conflict-driven stage of negotiations (think Marlon Brando’s “offer you can’t refuse” from The Godfather).
Of course, most in the negotiation world view it far more broadly, from that initial contact all the way through the implementation of an agreement (and even beyond sometimes). Whenever two or more parties seek common ground based on possible mutual interests, they’re negotiating.
So how can you reset your culture to this expansive context, which significantly increases your likelihood of negotiation success?
1. Training in a Common Negotiation Language
It starts with education. There’s been a lot of great negotiation research in the last 40 years. And we basically now know what works and what doesn’t in most standard negotiations. So get up-to-speed on the experts’ proven strategies.
Numerous options exist to do this. And yes, many are obviously self-serving as this is my business. Yet this is still the most effective path.
The least expensive option involves reading a credible negotiation book that describes the fundamentals of a proven, practical process for you to understand and implement. I would recommend starting with my first book, Gain the Edge! Negotiating To Get What You Want (St. Martin’s Press 2004).
I would also recommend, if you are viewing this from an organizational perspective, Built to Win: Creating a World-Class Negotiating Organization by Hal Movius and Larry Susskind.
Other good negotiation books are out there, too (here is my column recommending several). But here’s the problem: you and your teams need a common language to effectively discuss and implement these strategies.
Unfortunately, many of these books describe the same strategies using different terms. One book might call certain moves collaborative strategies that another calls win-win or problem-solving. This is not just semantics. A common language and understanding here is crucial to effectively communicate on this within an organization.
Plus, don’t just read a book. Set up regular team meetings to discuss, brainstorm, and internalize its strategies. If you want, email me for my Strategic Guide To Effective Negotiations, which outlines some topics (my Five Golden Rules of Negotiation) on one page.
Of course, if your teams aren’t big readers, professional training works too (a more expensive option, albeit still self-serving!).
2. Develop and Manage Your Own Negotiation Best Practices
Successful organizations of all sizes constantly seek to develop, implement and manage best practices. They should do this for negotiation, too. And negotiation best practices, as any negotiation expert will attest, includes a holistic approach to change your culture on negotiations.
These negotiation best practices – which can be derived from Step 1 above – should be relatively simple, practical and modified to fit your regular negotiations. I also recommend easy-to-implement strategic plan checklists for front-line negotiators.
These strategic plans should also be written so they can be managed and evaluated. Don’t let this become an exercise in futility. The best way to get significant implementation, and thus substantially better negotiation results, is to actively manage and evaluate these plans and incorporate them into your performance reviews.
Email me if you want a standard Negotiation Best Practices Strategic Plan Template you can easily modify and fill out.
3. Debrief and Identify Lessons Learned
Becoming a more effective negotiator is a lifelong process that involves debriefing after your significant negotiations and identifying what did and didn’t work. This might be a culture change, too. Learn from your and your colleagues’ successes and failures.
Keep track also. Then review your lessons learned before starting big new negotiations.
Latz’s Lesson: Changing your negotiation culture requires education, a common language, developing, implementing, managing and evaluating negotiation best practices, and tracking lessons learned.