— October 2, 2018
I’ve been a negotiator all my life. From persuading my parents to let me have ice cream as a bed-time snack to landing my first job at age 12 – coordinating golf carts at a New Jersey course – it’s in my DNA. This critical skill has served me well in my professional life, first as an executive contract negotiator for a major corporation and, for the past 20 years, in my role as CEO of Minneapolis-based wealth management firm JNBA Financial Advisors, where I have been involved in negotiating business dealings both big and small on behalf of my clients daily.
In fact, we’re negotiating right now. How about you promise to read the rest of this article, and in return I’ll give you three tips to negotiate nearly anything.
Oh, you’ll agree to it if I offer four tips?
It’s a deal.
Here are four tips to improve your negotiating skills:
Go into a negotiation armed with accurate information and data. Take the time to prepare. Do your homework. Read everything, and read it again. And don’t hesitate to bring in trusted colleagues to go over contracts, supporting data, projections – everything – with a fine-tooth comb. The old construction adage “measure twice, cut once” applies to negotiation prep as well. If you go to the table with faulty data, or if you missed an “I” that isn’t dotted or a “T” that isn’t crossed, you’re at a significant disadvantage, and could pay a significant price.
Don’t fall in love with a deal. I will walk away from an opportunity in a heartbeat. That can be extremely difficult if you’re emotionally invested, and another good reason to seek counsel from a trusted advisor. When a client brings us an opportunity they’re interested in, we always listen to them to truly understand what’s appealing about it. Then we do the technical assessment where we really scrutinize it and look at the hard data – the P&L, budget, projections and much more. Often we find it’s not as good an opportunity as the client initially thought, and when we present the information to them in an objective manner, they understand that it doesn’t make sense to move forward. Your gut can only get you so far – data doesn’t lie.
Know when to bring in a professional. You may be the best company owner or most talented sales person, but that doesn’t mean you’re an expert negotiator. It often makes sense to bring in a trusted advisor to handle negotiations, especially when it’s about something that’s very near and dear to your heart like your family or your business. An objective third party acts as your advocate and removes the emotion from the situation, sidestepping the things that go bump in the night for most of us – fear, uncertainty, lack of confidence, greed. Top advisors enter negotiations by asking themselves one – and only one – question: What is right for my client?
Define what a win-win situation actually looks like. I always go into a negotiation with the idea that it has to be a win-win. What’s interesting is the definition of a win-win. Each party needs to get something of value out of the transaction and “win” somehow, that’s a given. But where you really provide value for your client is in helping them determine what provides the greatest worth for them, and what they’re willing to give up in pursuit of the win. Is it price, speed, quality, comfort? “Winning” isn’t necessarily beating the other person; it’s getting what’s most important to you, in a way that’s acceptable to both parties.
One example? My main objective in the deal between you and me was to get you to read this whole article, and if it meant all I had to do was write one more tip than I had originally planned, then so be it.
And it looks like you made it to the end. I call that a win-win.