I often ask people, “Who are the best negotiators in the world?” The most common answer is, “Children.” Yet, children have never been trained in negotiations (certainly not by us). What makes them such naturally effective negotiators?
There are a number of answers to that question. For example, children use tactics of emotional blackmail (screaming in a public place) or they will “negotiate” with principled concessions (“I will eat the peas if you let me stay up until 10.”). The answer we hear most often is that children are naturally persistent – they just don’t take “no” for an answer. Their wants are simple (“I want a cookie.”), yet they have the willingness to repeat the request as often as needed to get their desired outcome. Any parent can tell you about a repetitive argument they’ve had with their child – the child, being persistent and having absolutely no sense of time pressure, simply repeats the same argument over and over again until the parent loses patience and gives in.
Generally, we as adults (remember, we were all children once) have more demands on our time than children do. Therefore we are less persistent, even though our persuasive arguments tend to be much more complex than children’s arguments. The first time we make an argument, the other side might struggle just to understand it – yet with our time pressures, we do not repeat it. How can we rationally expect to gain agreement?
Repetition, especially of your business rationales for your negotiating positions, is essential to effective persuasion. After hearing your rationale for the third or fourth time, the other side will understand it and can usually repeat what you’re saying. Even if they disagree with you, they’ll often repeat your arguments inside their own company just to illustrate why you’re taking the position you are.
In doing so, they inadvertently become advocates for you!
How persistence and repetition won one of our clients a major success in software negotiations
A software company that we’ll call “Eager,” with a sales staff of approximately 20, was engaged in sales negotiations with a major worldwide financial institution that we’ll call “Global.” In the middle of the third quarter, Global laid off thousands of employees after experiencing millions in monthly losses.
These losses were largely due to the difficulties Global had in processing internet and e-commerce transactions. The problem was embarrassingly well-publicized. At the same time, all budgets, including IT purchases, were frozen.
Eager had a unique solution that would remedy Global’s e-commerce problem within weeks of implementation. Their negotiation team built a compelling ROI and business case, and set up meetings with one of Global’s business units that was most affected by the circumstances.
A group of Global’s managers (all new to their jobs due to reorganization) reviewed Eager’s demo and agreed that this solution solved their problem. Unfortunately, they said that they themselves couldn’t make a purchase decision – Eager would have to talk to another group of operations managers.
Eager spoke to that group, who said exactly the same thing; that while Eager’s solution solved the institution’s operational problems, they couldn’t make the decision. They sent Eager’s sales team to yet another group.
Several more groups agreed that Global needed Eager’s solution, but none of them would make the buying decision because of the risk in their volatile environment. Unfortunately for Eager, Global’s reorganization included the appointment of a new CIO, who was too busy to attend any of the meetings.
It was now late November. Frustrated, the Eager sales team was about to give up on their biggest deal of the year – until Eager’s vice-president of sales said, “We have too much invested in this effort, and the solution makes too much sense, for us to give up on this deal.” He called Global’s new CIO directly and asked for half an hour of her time. They met in early December.
Fifteen minutes into the demo, the CIO stopped the business case presentation and said, “Why haven’t I been told about this before? This is exactly what we need! I want it implemented as soon as possible.” Budget money for a partial rollout became available, with a full implementation scheduled for the first part of the following year. The contract was signed before Christmas! Global anticipated a real upturn in e-commerce revenue. The new CIO was going to be a hero. The Eager sales team got bonuses.
Remember the success that children have when you are negotiating. Remember, too, that persistence can be key to that success. You’ll improve your results – without having to throw any tantrums.