negotiations agenda management

Agenda Management Can Be Your Difference Maker (or Game Changer) in Negotiations

In one of my previous articles, I wrote about the “time factor” — not only how you can manage it against other considerations but also how to use the high-level (or macro) agenda to help create agreements that have a significant impact on your success. You can read that article and case study here.

The perspectives espoused in that article are even more true today, despite events of the intervening six years. It seems that there are plenty of voices promoting the philosophy of controlling every part of the sales process, including the agenda. However, in my view, too much is made of “agenda control.” It may sound nice to control the agenda, but all sides in a negotiation have issues that need to be addressed, so control is not as important as managing the agenda.

The overall agenda is comprised of the “macro agenda” where you are focused on the actions and sequence over the timeline of an entire transaction, and the “micro agenda” where you are focused on each specific interaction and how you can leverage that action to move closer to closing the deal.

The opening and closing of meetings or interactions, whether in person, video conference or phone, are important elements of agenda managment. Opening begins before the meeting starts. It includes setting the anticipated subject matter to be discussed and listing the appropriate attendees. This is when we set expectations for both sides and most importantly, help identify the resources that are available to fulfill those expectations. Sending a simple agenda before the meeting is appropriate and will be appreciated by your counterpart(s).

There are two tendencies we must avoid when closing meetings. First, some people are reticent to summarize open items, particularly if the meeting was a good one, because they do not to want to close with issues on which there is disagreement. However, those issues do not go away on their own. Raising them at conclusion of meetings helps define a path, responsibilities, and timeline for resolution.

Tendency two occurs with salespeople or services professionals, who want to please the customer and solve problems. When open items are raised, they often take on the responsibility to solve them. Please don’t do this automatically. Be selective and give the other side (your customer) tasks to complete – in fact, see if they volunteer for tasks. This will tell you a lot about how vested they are in getting a deal done with you … or not.  Both parties should be spending time, money, and resources on the deal. Otherwise, it is only you who has the increasing psychological stake. Give them a chance to share the ownership with you for getting the deal completed.

Why Agenda Planning is Essential

There are sales managers and reps who believe they can rely on their skills and achieve a successful outcome by “winging it.” This is where agenda management comes into play. Even if you are strapped for time, you should invest adequate time to prepare. This is the sales version of the famous Abraham Lincoln quote: “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.”

The time you take to prepare will not be lost on the customer, and will enhance your credibility, as most customers will understand that you have done so despite a shortage of time. The opposite is true if you attend calls unprepared. It’s the equivalent of a pilot flying a new plane without simulator training. While the consequences in a sales or business negotiation may not be life threatening, the result is damaged credibility and lost opportunity.

Since the Covid pandemic, many of our face-to-face (F2F) meeting have been replaced by video conference calls or phone meetings. There is a potential trap here because participants often underprepare for video or phone meetings. With remote meetings, personal pressure is minimized since participants feel they are less likely to face embarrassment. A smart negotiator reminds attendees to review materials and come prepared and this can be a difference maker in negotiation outcomes.

There are ways to use agenda management as a tactical tool to rescue negotiations that are off track. As an example, I received this question during  a guest appearance on the Wharton Business Daily podcast:

Caller’s question: How difficult is it when you get into a negotiation and one person monopolizes the conversation on their particular area? It’s not like you can break the meeting right in mid-stream and take those people outside and have that conversation with them.

My answer: It’s okay to take a time out but you need to gauge when the appropriate time is to take a strategic pause and have a discussion with the person who is leading the negotiation on the other side. If the person who is leading the negotiation is the one that’s pontificating, it becomes a little bit more challenging.

In those cases, it’s okay following a break, to ask for a few minutes to talk about the agenda and define it in such a way that it includes the amount of time spent on each subject. This is a non-confrontational way of moving the agenda along. However, this will not be effective if you did not bother to take time upfront to prepare that agenda in a way that gains agreement from the other side.

Successful agenda management is all about aligning each party’s activities and resources across a rational timeline to reach the desired result in a given timeframe. 

 

Want to see more examples of how we apply our negotiation methodology to solve challenges — from dealing with intimidation to making stronger value arguments? Click here!

Leadership in Negotiation: Selecting Your Negotiation Team and Rules of Engagement

Leadership in negotiations is critical. The leader is responsible for setting expectations and parameters for your side in regards to pricing, strategy, deadlines, process management and more. Failing to define this opens the door to many potential deal-ending difficulties, and is likely to erode your position on the way to closing.

There are many moving parts, not least of which is negotiation team selection. Who you choose to have on your side of the table—and more importantly, how they perform while they are there—is going to have a strong bearing on your chances of arriving at a favorable outcome. This consideration goes beyond picking those directly involved. You may need key technical or financial expertise in the wings to build your value case at critical junctures. We know that conferring with a keen financial team member behind the scenes can provide the insight to quickly defuse a potential customer’s objection, establish value and credibility, and keep the negotiation moving forward.

This is why it’s vital to include careful team selection as part of your pre-negotiation process in light of your objectives. What resources and talents will you need, and among those, who will be directly involved and who will take a support role? Having examined the deal closely, including the other side’s motivations and likely positions, you will see what mix of sales, services, finance, technology and legal support you will need to leverage. Most negotiations only involve a few people directly, but indirect involvement by team members with discrete fields of expertise is often necessary.

Once you have your team assembled, call an internal kickoff meeting where the rules of engagement and communication discipline are clearly outlined. Remember, a team divided is a costly team. Nothing can derail a negotiation process more quickly than undisciplined communication or a divided team. Cross-talk and side conversations during negotiations may muddy the value argument, degrade your ability to manage the agenda, and ultimately cost you credibility. A lead negotiator needs to know all the information that is being shared. If side conversations happen, they should be pre-planned within your team, including positions and the possible outcomes from them. Savvy negotiators on the other side know how to employ “divide and conquer” tactics to extract more favorable terms by creating parallel conversations with other members of your team. The result can be degradation of your deal, confusion or loss of face. Regardless of the amount of planning, surprises in deal-making are bound to happen. What is preventable are surprises that occur from your team.

This is why having a lead negotiator who defines the rules of engagement and serves as a single point of control for agenda management is so important. Have you set expectations for how to respond if the lead negotiator on the other side bypasses your lead negotiator to probe one of your junior team members for sensitive information or better terms? Who will control the drafting of documents and therefore help you control the conversation and manage the agenda? These are all things you must make clear before your team begins the process.

The level of detail on team selection can vary greatly depending on the size and complexity of the deal. But one thing never changes: Teamwork is critical, even if it’s just two people buying a car. In business, a carefully selected team that knows their objectives and can present a unified front will win more deals than the team that does not.

Negotiation in Sales: Presenting the Value Argument that Wins in Highly Competitive Conditions

With pressure to meet earnings and revenue targets, expand new markets and make the most of every resource, today’s global sales force is the difference between success and failure. Communication and online information are leveling the playing field, creating an extremely competitive environment and shrinking margins.

Even the best products are one development cycle away from being leapfrogged in the marketplace. Competing on price is the path to becoming commoditized and to being robbed of the ability to present a unique value proposition. Ultimately, it’s your sales people—and their skills and experience—that will help you differentiate yourself, your solutions or your company in a highly competitive selling environment. Read more

International Negotiation: More About Preparing to Win

In our previous post on international negotiations, we discussed the critical importance of preparation and gathering facts. You can’t control all the factors, but you can control your knowledge base. The bigger that base is, the higher the chances for success.

As noted before, your charge as an international negotiator is to conduct thorough background work on everything that could impact your potential deal. This includes trying to account for cultural influence on business behaviors, regulations unique to that country, and more. Here we will suggest information sources that will widen your knowledge base and make you a more credible negotiator. In some cases, access to these sources may be limited due to considerations of distance or protocol. Read more