There are myriad companies with great ideas, innovative products and services, and visionary leaders. These traits alone cannot lead a company to success. Being successful in the longer term demands better relationships. Navigating business relationships requires keen negotiation skills. If you’re the leader of a growing company, ask yourself if your key negotiators and teams possess these skills.
No skilled negotiator will ever walk into a negotiation without knowing his/her BATNA, or Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement. In other words, what is his/her party stuck with if the two sides can’t reach a deal? Understanding your BATNA will highlight your party’s strengths and weaknesses. If your BATNA leaves you with great options that your company would be totally willing to accept, you have the upper hand in the negotiation. It could even serve your party to reveal this alternative to your negotiation counterpart to let him know you’re not desperate for his deal. If your best alternative deal includes certain value-adds that your current negotiation doesn’t include, your firm could use this information to spur the other party to give you more.
On the other hand, if your BATNA is not a good option for your company, you must proceed with caution in the negotiation, knowing that walking away could be disastrous. In these cases, it is a good strategy to improve your BATNA or find a better alternative before walking into the negotiation.
In addition to identifying and optimizing your own BATNA, it can be a huge advantage to complete the exercise for your opponent as well. Using the information you have, identify what alternatives your counterparts have. If their options are favorable, you know you have to frame your negotiation strategy to ensure the other party doesn’t just walk away knowing they have a fallback plan. An excellent course will prepare your team to complete these analyses as part and parcel of any negotiation process.
Old-school negotiators were trained to take as much away from the table as possible, looking for ways to “win” a negotiation. This is called distributive negotiation, a framework that results in a clear winner and a loser. Even though having the skills to win are important, distributive negotiation doesn’t always make sense for modern business relationships. In the case of building a long-term partnership or building up a sterling reputation in your industry, integrative, or win-win, negotiation strategies are preferable.
In an integrative negotiation, parties work together to create more and grow the size of the pie rather than fighting over the pieces of a fixed pie. One way to do this is to ask clear, thoughtful questions to understand your counterpart’s broader interests. You may uncover an opportunity to offer them a value exchange that costs nothing for your side to give up but creates tremendous value for his. Being clear with your interests can also create openings for the other side to offer you some benefits, and who doesn’t want to leave the table with more?
Making an offer, letting your counterpart receive and digest the offer, and waiting for her to craft a response or counteroffer can be a long process. To give you and your counterpart more time to come to an agreement that serves everyone’s needs, offer her Multiple Equivalent Simultaneous Offers (MESOs). In this case, your side would make several offers to your counterpart that are of equal value to your party in terms of what you’re giving up but may have different values to the other party. That way, your counterpart can pick and choose what she likes about your offer, even if it’s all the same to you.
Sometimes, even when using MESOs, your negotiating counterpart will reject all of the offers. Rather than just throwing another slew of offers at him, consider workshopping together to find the pieces he did and did not like so that you can rebuild a more suitable offer. This will save you time and can help uncover innovative solutions.
There are dozens of other negotiation skills that you can train yourself and your team on over time. Start with these essential skills as a foundation, and never stop training your team in new negotiation strategies. Invest in regular negotiation skills training courses for your team, and your odds for continued business success will greatly improve.