We Have Stuff. Buy it!

In our negotiation sessions, we often get into the discussion of how being so busy saying what you can do it makes you not busy enough saying what your client needs. In an example brought to us for comment, there was a good executive summary (well, not that good, but let’s pretend it was)… on page 18 of a 200-page proposal. If executive summaries show up on page 18, what comes first? Generally speaking, it is stuff about the seller and the seller’s offerings, and not about the client or the client’s needs. An executive would never reach it.

To make it worse, the “seller stuff” is in the wrong form. For example, the seller makes statements which are in concept like these:
• “Our coffee is fair trade.”
• “We roast and deliver daily.”

Instead of statements like these:
• “Your policy is to support reasonable returns for your suppliers. To support that, we offer coffee which we buy under fair trade guidelines.”
• “You told us your clientele is very sensitive to coffee freshness. We roast and deliver daily.”

We just reviewed a client proposal sheet for a multi-multi-million dollar agreement, and every line was about the supplier, not about the client needs.

The shorthand for the first approach is “We have stuff, you should buy it.” For the second, “We understand your needs and our offerings support them.” The first requires the client to make the connection between what you offer and their needs and interests. The second puts the client’s interests first, and then makes the connection for them.

We used coffee in our example, but these errors are all too common in our primary client set, high technology hardware, software, and services providers.

In many cases, the client can make the connection. However, your odds of success will improve if you help them along the way. Don’t say, “We have stuff”. Say, “These are your needs, and our stuff supports them.” You’ll be more successful with your clients. (td)

Got a question? Email a K&R negotiator directly at ask@negotiators.com.

The 7 Line Rule

A client made us aware of this “rule” recently, which seemed worth passing on. Why? Because the rules for getting someone’s attention have changed. The rule: Do you have a key message for a client (or for your manager)? Keep the heart of it to 7 lines or less. Because these days, that is how much of the message a Blackberry™* will show without scrolling. If your message isn’t compelling by then, the reader will never scroll to read the rest of your message.

You can stop here – this is line 7.

I often start a negotiation skills training session with this message. “I’m going to cut 20% out of your email workload over the next 2 days. Turn off your phone. I believe you will find that 20% of the “urgent” problems that you would have responded to will fix themselves before we leave.” Most people laugh, but why? They laugh because they know it is true.

Remember the days of actual memos? You know, with paper? Circa 1980? One of our colleagues used this method to manage responses: he put the physical memo in a “hold for one week” folder. At the end of the week, if nothing happened, put it in “hold for a second week”. After week 2? Discard it (and ignore the action). Why did he do this? “Too much mail, too many cc’s.”

A recent CEO profile in the NY Times quoted a CEO who basically said that if he was only on a cc list, he immediately erased the email as not important to him.

We all know the problem – too much email, and not enough time. So if you want to get answers, make it compelling…within the first 7 lines.

* Blackberry™, Android™, iPhone™… (td)

Got a question? Email a K&R negotiator directly at ask@negotiators.com.

The FCC and Harvard Medical School

A short time ago, we wrote about news of a study done by the Harvard Medical School concerning the value of computerization in US hospitals.  A Computerworld article led with the headline: “Computers don’t save hospitals money”.  The article stated that in spite of promises to the contrary, IT improvements in hospitals do not improve care, and they don’t improve costs.  Now the FCC has gotten into the act, saying that broadband access will improve health care and save money. Do you believe Harvard, or the FCC?

First, as a negotiator, why do you care?  In short, it’s about credibility.  If you sell products, services, or ideas your credibility is directly tied to your success.  So if Harvard Medical School and the FCC disagree, it’s a credibility battle of titans.  When you are in a sales situation, your credibility has to hold up against alternative positions, or you may win the sale, but at a severely degraded price.

Let’s look at what the FCC has to say.  In Chapter 10 of their National Broadband Plan the FCC lists 11 recommendations related to health care.

Interestingly, one of the claims is that 61% of Americans are overweight or obese, which can lead to medical complications.  The cynical among us would argue that we need less broadband and more exercise to attack this problem.  Make us go to the library for research instead of looking it up on Wikipedia at our desk, and we’ll all lose a couple of pounds.  So let’s cut back on broadband as a national re-engagement with exercise.

OK, that’s not happening.  Moving on…

One of the things the FCC says is: “In its traditional role, the FCC would evaluate this challenge primarily through a network connectivity perspective.  However, it is the ecosystem of networks, applications, devices and individual actions that drives value, not just the network itself.”  This is a classic problem known to anyone that delivers infrastructure services or software.  What they sell (or in this case advocate) doesn’t solve any problems.  It only makes the system better able to incorporate problem-solving solutions.  This makes it harder to create a convincing value argument.  Your position becomes that by starting with your recommendation, and then putting other things on top, the client receives benefits that outweigh the investment.  However, you have to pay for the infrastructure now, with no guarantee that anything else will follow.  This is a tough sell.

The FCC goes on to say: “Health IT supports these priorities by dramatically improving the collection, presentation and exchange of health care information, and by providing clinicians and consumers the tools to transform care. Technology alone cannot heal, but when appropriately incorporated into care, technology can help health care professionals and consumers make better decisions, become more efficient, engage in innovation, and understand both individual and public health more effectively.”  The real issue here is credibility.  Do you, or do you not believe that these benefits will accrue?  Unless the belief is there, no progress will be made on the FCC’s proposal.

It’s all about two things.  First, the FCC needs credibility.  Then they need to make a convincing argument of value (benefit).  It is just like any other sale.   (td)

Got a question? Email a K&R negotiator directly at ask@negotiators.com.

Negotiation Anosognosia

Wikipedia says, “Anosognosia is a condition in which a person who suffers disability seems unaware of or denies the existence of his or her disability. This may include unawareness of quite dramatic impairments, such as blindness or paralysis.”

The description could be applied to a negotiator who fails to recognize what everyone else can see – their product or service has value to the buyer.  In a recent account planning and negotiation review, a sales team came to us and basically said, “Our proposal for the customer provides $500,000,000 (yes, $500 million) worth of our product for $100,000.  They haven’t signed yet.  What should we do?”

This team was Anosognosiastic (if such a word exists).  They failed to see what many others could, including the K&R reviewers.  At a 99.8% discount the only thing left to do was wait.  What they were unaware of or denied was that this situation was brought about by a complete failure to attribute any value to their product for the customer.  If it had any value to the buyer, the deal would have been closed long ago – probably for more than the $100,000 price.

Don’t fail to see the simplest of your persuasive arguments, which is that what you provide has value.  If you fail to see this, you may be suffering from Negotiation Anosognosia.  (td)

Principled Concessions™ – The short version

In our workshops, we teach the concept of a “Principled Concession™”.  Many people hear this and confuse it with the related but different concept of trading concessions in a negotiation.  They think of common examples like these:

  • “If you buy 2, I can discount the second one by 50%.”
  • “If we reduce the scope by providing service 12×7 instead of 24×7, we can lower the price by 20%.”
  • “We can finance your total $100M payment for this project, at a cost to you of $1M.”

These “offers” follow the least-acceptable form of changing your position.  It is a more acceptable form than this one:

  • “I’ve sharpened my pencil, and I can offer you an additional 12% off the price.”

It is easy to see that the first three are preferable to the last one.  The 12% price reduction in the last example implicitly contains a message that your profit margin is high enough to offer a discount.  The buyer is now challenged to take that information, and try to find out how much margin, through extended negotiating.  Instead of the goal which the offer is usually intended to achieve (faster closing), it actually creates buyer uncertainty, loss of confidence, and delay.

Let’s reframe the first three in the form of Principled Concessions™:

  • “If you buy 2, I can discount the second one by 50% – and you’ll be able to use both at the same time when needed to perform (whatever desired outcome you bought them for).”
  • “If we reduce the scope by providing service 12×7 instead of 24×7, we can lower the price by 20%.  However, your mission-critical revenue-collection application will take longer to restore during the unsupported hours, and your revenue could be impacted by $25,000 for each hour of delay.”
  • “We can finance your total $100M payment for this project, at a cost to you of $1M.  This will allow the project benefit stream (in $) to pay for the continuing costs, and you will avoid significant out-of-pocket costs, thereby freeing up that money for other investments.”

In each of these cases, we are describing the exchange in terms of outcomes to each side.  For the seller, this is money.  The buyer gets simultaneous use (for whatever purpose), risks losing revenue, or will free up funding for other projects.  In each case, the outcome description provides a business basis for the concession, and allows the buyer to make the decision on the basis of business value.  In the real world, the outcome descriptions would be even more robust, but these examples convey the intent.

So here is the formal definition of a Principled Concession™: A concession given with a specific connection to business value.  The alternative form is this: A concession expressed as an exchange of outcomes.   (td)

Effective Persuasion – The “stint work” story

Recently, the Mayor of Kingston NY and the President of the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) for the area got to air their beliefs about a work rule in a public forum – the Kingston Daily Freeman.  Their views were most likely collected independently, but were aired in the single major local paper.  Let’s see how well they used persuasion skills on the constituency.

The work rule under discussion was one referred to as “stint work”.  Under this rule, the city-employed garbage collectors have the option of working until their route is complete, and then calling it a day.  If, for example, they hustle through the job in 4 hours, they can leave.  But they still get paid for 8 hours.  To us, some of this can be described as workers’ discretion – for example they skip breaks, work faster, and leave early.  The work gets done. It is like piece work, with a cap on the number of pieces.  Some rural postal route workers have similar contracts – you get paid by the route, no matter how long or short your day might be. An alternative view would be that if they are paid for 8 hours, they should work for 8 hours. In many cases where such rules exist they are a result of some prior negotiation history.  In this case, we have no idea what that history is, or even if there is one.

Let’s see how the players expressed themselves.

The Mayor ended the rule this week, saying, “Those days are over. It just doesn’t make sense.” He expects that trash collection will continue to take the 4-6 hours it takes today, and the garbage collectors’ remaining hours will be spent on other tasks useful to the city.

The CSEA President’s take included this, “I understand that, in theory, (the mayor’s plan) sounds pretty good, but for years (workers) threw safety to the winds to get home early and get trash off the streets.” He reportedly spoke about how crews opted to toss empty garbage cans, skip breaks and ignore safety matters to get the job done quickly and go home. Trash might linger longer under the revised rules.

Who wins the war of persuasion? As negotiators, we deal in persuasion every day.

To answer this question, we go back to motivations.  If the parties are arguing in the public forum, presumably to persuade the public, how will it come out?  Well, in most localities, the public wants trash collected in a timely manner, wants value for their tax dollar, wants low taxes, and wants their trash cans set down neatly, not thrown in the middle of their lawns.

The Mayor’s argument addresses the needs of the constituency, in the main.  The CSEA President?  He offers the alternative of thrown cans, unsafe work (which has the implication of expensive medical risk), workers insufficiently rested, and the potential of last trash pickup after 6-8 hours instead of 4-6.

The Mayor wins. He may be right or wrong about the policy. There could be plenty of other history that we are not aware of. But when you go to the public, go to them with what they care about.  On that scale, the CSEA President is missing the boat.

To be a better negotiator, understand the motivations of the people you want to persuade, and create your arguments with them in mind.  (td)