Negotiation is not a contest to see who can prevail. It is the “art” of getting to the point where two parties can agree on critical concerns. It encompasses employing core negotiation principles, the use of applicable strategies addressing the situation, focus on specific objectives, having a fallback position and, if all else fails, knowing when to walk.
Following are 10 considerations creditors can use to improve negotiation results. This is not complete list by any means. However, these points are critical for a successful negotiation outcome.
1. Don’t alienate the other party: In an effective negotiation, both sides must have the desire to reach a conclusion without alienating the other side. In the end, both sides should be satisfied with the result. If your counterpart seems unwilling to reach a desirable outcome, find points that will gain support and acceptance. Effective negotiation requires knowing how to satisfy a customer’s needs and amicably resolve differences. By being skilled in negotiating you will be able to collect more dollars, improve overall performance, and improve customer satisfaction.
2. Practice effective communication: Successful negotiation involves effective communication between the parties. To eliminate communications roadblocks, consider the following:
• Listen first. Pick up on what is said to clarify or modify your position.
• Find a basis for common understanding.
• Clearly state your case and what you want.
• Recognize the style of the other side and communicate in a fashion they can relate to. Don’t be intimidated or overwhelmed by aggressive behavior coming from the other side. Keep focused on your objectives and remain calm. If things become unprofessional with no change of behavior in sight, be prepared to walk.
• Deal with the decision maker. Invest your time with someone who can make a decision.
• Ask probing questions that cannot be answered with a “Yes” or a “No” and make the other side explain the answer.
3. Avoid elevating issues into a conflict:
• Find common ground: Both parties should have a strong understanding of one another’s needs.
• Break down issues into manageable/understandable pieces: Sometimes an impasse can be avoided by breaking the issues down. Start with what you can agree on. Attack the easiest issues first. You may find when the easy issues are resolved most, if not all, of the big issues have evaporated.
• Build a track record of trust: Once you have agreed on issues where some give and take was possible, a trust develops between the parties
4. Practice the “Four C’s” of negotiating: These points describe an approach. Not everyone you come up against will use this approach.
• Caring: Be sincere. Listen to the other party and be interested in their issues.
• Calm: This is a tactic that will encourage the other side to state their position and objections without undo emotion. When they are excited and you are calm, it tends to bring them down.
• Clear: Confirm the other party heard you and clearly understands your position. To avoid misunderstanding, restate what you hear. Repeat what is said and keep repeating until you get it right. It may take several tries.
• Comprehensive: Prepare yourself as best you can under the circumstances, time constraints and information available. Think about: Possible “What Ifs” and “What Nots.”
5. Prepare yourself in advance of a negotiation:
• Do your homework and learn everything you can about the other side. Try to understand their motives and objectives. Determine what you want to accomplish. In face-to-face meetings, have an agenda handout or an executive summary.
• When the negotiation starts, have all the necessary documentation in front of you. Have a plan for your initial position and your final position.
• Have a primary and secondary goal: A primary goal is a necessary outcome. A secondary goal is what you can accept and still meet your company’s needs.
6. Understand your “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement” (BATNA): This is the course of action you will take if the current negotiations fail and an agreement cannot be reached. This is different than your “walk away” point. Very often if a win-win cannot be achieved, going for a “no deal” could be the best answer. You can’t win every time. There may be business factors that override a negotiated settlement if one cannot be reached.
7. Define the negotiation scope and approach: This will depend on several factors, each of which must be considered as you enter any negotiation with a customer.
• What are the key issues or obstacles that need to be addressed? Is it payment? Does the other party need additional information to meet your request?
• What are your restrictions? (Time, costs, etc.) Are you up against a deadline?
• Is this a major issue or a priority for your company? Should you spend a little or a lot of time dealing with this?
• Can you trade on an issue that you feel has limited importance to win on a major one?
8. Know who you will be negotiating with: What is their negotiating style? Determine how you expect them to approach a negotiation? Work to establish a rapport at the outset of the negotiation. Separate people from the problem. Remember, negotiators are people first. In most supplier/customer negotiations, the negotiator has two basic interests: The issues at hand, and a desire for a continuing relationship between the parties.
9. Understand the business and future relationship potential: Is this customer of strategic importance to your company? Review your company’s historical relationship with this customer. Is the issue at hand an anomaly, or is it a repetitive issue? What is the revenue and profit potential in the future? Is the relationship worth saving?
10. Be culturally sensitive:
• Don’t Apply the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Use the “Platinum Rule” – “Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.”
• Understand what is offensive: You might be comfortable looking someone straight in the eye, introducing yourself with a firm handshake, being direct and open and getting right to business. Other cultures encourage other behaviors.
• Be sensitive to the appropriate sequence of business and negotiation: It is not appropriate in some cultures to first do business and then develop a relationship. You are expected to develop a relationship and then do business. You need to understand what goes first.
• Understand the “real” message: Cultures vary in the way they communicate their message. You must be sensitive to these differences to understand what they are telling you and react effectively.
Effective negotiation is truly a combination of art and science. It takes planning and effort to reach a result acceptable to both parties. In doing so, business between the parties can continue. As a supplier, you can collect more cash and keep more customers.
Robert S. Shultz is a founding partner at Quote to Cash Solutions (Q2C) LLC, a consulting firm that focuses on delivering quality solutions that improve client revenue opportunities, cash flow, operational efficiency and customer retention and satisfaction and when needed, management and staff training. He can be reached at (805) 520-7880. For more information, visit Q2C’s website at www.quotetocash.com.