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The importance of being open

Horace McDonald
Negotiation Meeting Difficult

On Good Friday my wife and I spent most of the afternoon into the late evening hanging out in central London with friends over dinner and a few too many drinks. One was a retired former work colleague (FWC) who I met very early career and our relationship developed over a mutual love of sport including some very competitive matches on a squash court, yes it was that long ago!

On the day my friend spoke about a pivotal moment in his career. As a young National Account Manager, he was given a big customer to manage, which had experienced significant grown through acquisition. The head of buying had a fearsome reputation in the industry and took great delight in devouring cowering account managers, particularly new ones. My friend’s first meeting with his new nemesis carried even greater importance. This was well before the days when modern technology enabled retailers to manage stock in real-time and, as many of their products were geared towards Christmas, and orders needed to be placed at a key point in time to secure stock on shelves through the key period. The customer’s Xmas order was important in FWC’s company meeting its annual target, and FWC had set a rather daunting objective of securing an order of £500,000, the equivalent of around £1.5m in today’s money.

FWC spent days figuring out his approach and undertook exhaustive preparation, taking as much counsel from his colleagues and his superiors as he could, but knew that he would be held responsible for the outcome and its impact on him and his organisation. On the day itself, his nemesis played the typical tricks including leaving him waiting in reception for 45 minutes without any offer of refreshment.

One of the challenges I see participants have when I’m in the classroom with them is the decisions they make about sharing information. Our advice is that you share information that supports your position and withhold information that does the opposite. Of course, not everything is quite as simple and to a degree, this will depend on the nature of the relationship and the level of trust. FWC recounted that at the start of the meeting he reached into his pilot case (remember them) as his instinct was to access his carefully prepared papers and, for reasons he couldn’t explain, he realised that this was not the right course of action and instead decided to open the meeting by telling the buyer what he was in the room to achieve. At which point, the buyer left the room (for reasons my friend didn’t understand) and they then spent 3 hours working on the deal, and my friend left the room with an order value of around £750,000! When asked why he’d been so helpful, the buyer said that he sees countless customers who talk too much, without purpose, who rarely articulate what they are trying to achieve, it turned out that he’d left the room to tell his PA to cancel his appointments for the rest of the day.

At Scotwork we call this the Opening Statement and its power is that it helps define your position and reveal any information that is critical to you achieving your objectives. Our view is that if you have bad news, or information that has a significant bearing on the outcome, it’s best to reveal it early. FWC had been on a Scotwork negotiation skills training course a couple of years earlier.

FWC managed this challenging account for many years and the relationship was always conducted in a constructive manner, due largely to how their relationship started. So, don’t be afraid to get your bad news on the table early, if the other party does choose to use it against you, at least you’ll have learned something and if they don’t, you’ll have the potential to score a real advantage.

Horace McDonald
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