At the outstanding Ask a Manager blog, a reader recently asked for advice in negotiating with vendors, partners, and other external organizations. AaM’s Alison Green shared some great advice for the reader.
It got me thinking, and I shared some advice in the comments. Here’s an edited version of what I shared there — the original situations included needing to negotiate A/V rates at a hotel for a conference, delaying a project kickoff meeting, and finding a way to speed up a bureaucratic partner organization.
1) Consider your bargaining position. If your company already signed a contract with the hotel, you have much less bargaining power on A/V costs than if you haven’t committed to a particular venue and date. If you’re doing a huge conference with a thousand attendees, the hotel is more likely to press their A/V vendor for you than if you’re renting one breakout room.
2) Think about everyone’s incentives. For instance, with the kickoff scheduling mismatch, figure out what’s important to the other organization. What’s the benefit to them on shifting the meeting? Beyond the organizational aspect, what does each key individual get (or lose) with the different options? For instance, one of my clients is overloaded with other projects, so I keep my updates short and to the point. As a result, she can make decisions faster and move on with her day.
3) Think about potential compromises. For instance — for the case where the boss wanted to delay a project kickoff meeting — there may be an overall project benefit to convincing your boss to find a middle-ground compromise (e.g., maybe not as early as February, but perhaps not as late as April). Prior planning is important, but most projects shift significantly once they get underway… so the sooner you start, the sooner you can adjust properly. As others noted, the hotel seems to be opening the door to your negotiating directly with the A/V vendor, so take the opportunity.
4) Help the other party brainstorm alternatives. Maybe the hotel doesn’t want to bend on the A/V fees because they’re a hard cost to them (and they’ll lose cash if they discount them), but maybe they can be flexible on something else. For instance, after a check-in snafu, I once got a “resort credit” of $75, which I used for room service. The vendors may be able to budge on something else. For instance, if they’re confident they won’t hit 100% capacity during the conference period, they might be willing to comp a few rooms for your company’s execs, since they can do so at a relatively low marginal cost (e.g., a few extra rooms for housekeeping to clean, a few extra sets of sheets to wash, etc.).
5) Be fair, be nice, and don’t take it personally. When I have an opportunity to help a client, I’d much rather help the one who makes generally reasonable requests. I don’t understand it when people yell at the gate agent at the airport. The gate agent isn’t responsible for what went wrong, and they’re now probably the best person to help you find a solution. Why would they want to help you if you’re being rude to them?
6) Be sparing in your use of “nuclear option” approaches. Especially for long-term relationships, it’s dangerous to say you’re going to take your business elsewhere, threaten to get your boss involved at the first pushback, promising future business that you have no way of guaranteeing, etc. If the vendor won’t back down, you either have to walk or lose your credibility.
Question: What negotiating advice would you add? You can leave a comment by clicking here.