Years ago, I negotiated a business partnership involving my then negotiation planning and management software company, which helped individuals negotiate strategically based on the experts’ research. While that partnership did not succeed to the level we had envisioned (no Gulfstream jet!), we parted good friends.
Last week, my friend asked me to do some training for one of his new business ventures.
This would not have happened had our negotiation been done by artificial intelligence (AI)-powered negotiation software – even if the software had achieved the same terms and conditions as our deal.
A colleague recently forwarded me information about an AI-powered negotiation software company, Pactum, that automates negotiations for big companies with suppliers and uses chatbots to do the actual negotiation. Its process, according to Pactum, more efficiently achieves Pareto-optimum value-creating deals plus significant savings. Other AI-powered negotiation-related companies include ContractAI and contract management systems like Sirion.
Few doubt that AI will become even more prevalent in many negotiations moving forward. The main questions, though, relate to how AI will be used and whether and to what extent it will replace front-line negotiators’ jobs.
At this point, I’m not sure we have enough information to effectively answer these questions. And I don’t really know enough to opine on exactly how AI will be used in the future.
But we do know enough now to at least somewhat evaluate the factors at play and make some educated guesses concerning its impact on negotiation-related jobs. This latter question is of paramount importance to all negotiators who intend to remain in the field for a while.
Overall, the main factor underlying AI’s threat to negotiation jobs involves the nature of the issues being negotiated by those in front-line positions. Specifically, at least three elements should be considered as we evaluate how AI might replace human negotiators.
1. The Power of the Future Relationship
The more the likelihood of a powerful and impactful long-term future human relationship between the parties, the less likely AI should displace those charged with negotiating it.
Why? Because the human interaction of the parties will have a concrete and significant impact on whether the result will ultimately satisfy their long-term interests.
I recently did some training and coaching for a large company that must rely on the goodwill of its most critical suppliers to step up and deliver on short notice when unanticipated market changes impact its needs. These changes happen somewhat frequently.
While flexibility can be incorporated into contracts with contingent terms, it’s crucial for the large company to get prioritized treatment from its suppliers right away.
Personal and corporate relationships matter a lot here, and AI-negotiated agreements don’t provide for the creation, building and strengthening of these fundamental human relationships.
Or consider two friends starting a business and negotiating the roles each will play. AI might be able to support the parties’ negotiation. But it just can’t, and perhaps never will be able to, duplicate the value inherent in the actual human interaction.
2. The Strategic Nature of the Negotiation
A long-time friend of mine was a very successful investment banker for many years who helped hundreds of companies achieve their goals when they decided to sell. He brought to the table a topnotch ability to:
– personally connect with his client-sellers and counterpart-buyers;
– deeply explore the parties’ true underlying and often hidden motivations and needs;
– creatively brainstorm to find options satisfying their interests;
– strategically analyze the issues and alternatives/leverage;
– effectively read his counterparts; and
– negotiate the key give-and-take elements of those deals.
These strategic qualities – crucial in high-level, complex, major impact negotiations – cannot be duplicated by AI, at least at this point. The more negotiations require these strategic qualities, the less likely AI will be a threat.
3. The Repeatability and Similarity of the Negotiation Issues
Pactum targets large companies that don’t now provide the human resources to negotiate and renegotiate their high volume, low value, cookie-cutter purchases with thousands of suppliers (based on Pactum’s website and articles about it).
Focusing on these types of negotiations makes perfect sense for an automated AI system that can efficiently manage, track, learn from, and capture joint value that is currently just lost due to a lack of attention, time and resources.
Repeatable, similar, high volume, low value negotiations like these appear to be the lowest hanging fruit for an automated AI-powered negotiation software system. Likewise, the opposite (unique, low volume, high value negotiations) might not be a good fit for AI, at least for now.
Adaptability, flexibility, creativity and openness to new information and ways of negotiating are effective attributes of the best negotiators. As AI inevitably impacts the negotiation world, we will all need to exercise these traits in spades.
Latz’s Lesson: AI is already starting to impact the negotiation world and will inevitably cause more changes in the near future, including to some of our jobs. So let’s get ready, adapt, and ensure it gets incorporated into our negotiations in the most effective way.
* Marty Latz is the founder of Latz Negotiation, a national negotiation training and consulting company that helps individuals and organizations achieve better results with best practices based on the experts’ research. He can be reached at 480.951.3222 or Marty@LatzNegotiation.com.