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!