Negotiating to the power of AND


True negotiations are an awful lot about managing the balance of power between you and the other party to positive effect.  But how often do professionals take full stock of the resources at their disposal?  In our experience, this can be rare.  At best, this means they don’t get as much from their bargaining activities as they should.  At worst, they can lose out big time – to the firm’s business detriment if we are talking about discounts or write-offs.

Here are three of the most relevant sources of influence to assess for use in any negotiation situation: Affinity, Nominal and Deferral: a power of three.

Only connect….you have a really good relationship with a client….(s)he gives you the inside track on what’s happening in their organisation…you may even socialise in and outside of work.

With clients like this, some professionals seriously underestimate the power of Affinity when it comes to negotiation.  Why?  Sometimes because they don’t realise how much affinity they actually have.  Often, it’s also that they don’t know how to, or feel they can’t or shouldn’t use this influence in a bargaining situation.  They most definitely should: here, “I need a favour from you” isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s the sound of affinity being used smartly and profitably.

Become an acknowledged expert  Being an authority on something does confer status when negotiating: but gaining wider acknowledgement as one is most definitely a few notches up.  We have observed situations where the nominal status afforded to being so widely known is sufficient, in itself, to gain respect and greater sway – without actually having to prove it!

This is why some professionals focus on directory entries or other forms of professional recognition as a route to such influence.  That’s OK but can be limited because it is ALL they concentrate on.  So they miss out on so many other, more high profile ways to garner Nominal power.  A few get it by putting consistent time and effort into authoring books, articles, blogs, doing TED talks, conference presentations, seminars and all that jazz.  And making sure everyone knows, sees them, or has a copy!

Try tactical deferral  This is the power…..of not being empowered!  It is very handy to use if you are in a fix, or need time to think or consider, because deferral means both “yielding to another’s opinion” and “holding back to a later time”.  We have seen smart, mid-ranking professionals use Deferral – “of course, I can’t make any promises because I’ll need to talk to my partner” – not just to get them out of a tricky situation but also to help broaden out the discussion and potential options to reach agreement in a more risk-free way.

It is a tactic open to all.


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Well, yes!  It’s at – everything (well almost) you ever wanted to use to influence professionals positively for results.  Have a look….

Those negotiating necessities…

The life skill that is negotiation is sometimes one that does not sit easily. We all know it’s important, but somehow it can appear at odds with the high concepts of professional practice and technical expertise: a bit tawdry, perhaps? This feeling can lead to some surprisingly “odd” behaviours and outcomes.

When it comes to fee negotiations, such oddness has been known to induce apoplexy for colleagues in the finance department, as profit margin is frittered and whittled away by nervous, embarrassed, or unknowing professionals. To preserve good health (and the salaries or bonus of everyone else), here are three things to remember when there is money talk afoot.

First….say nothing.  In a recently observed presentation to a potential client, the money section was interesting – in that it kicked off with the immediate, unprompted offer of a healthy discount for the prospect should they decide to engage the presenting provider. Who knows what the client thought of what was originally on offer!

In meetings and phone conversations across the land, with potential or existing clients, we have seen or heard of similar behaviours much more frequently than should be. It’s bonkers. It is also a recipe for ever-declining margins if your price points are so quickly discredited thus.

The answer when presenting or tabling the investment in your services is nothing. Say nothing else. At all. Put a sock in it. And just let the negotiating process proceed along more engaging and profitable lines (cf. Tip 3).

Apples with apples?  “Your estimate is 20% more expensive than our current provider”  It is surprising on how many occasions negotiating statements like this are taken and remain at face value (cue a bout of panicked discounting by the potential provider). If you are on the receiving end of this, it pays to remain calm and explore “what lies beneath”. Exactly what is being offered by the detail? How does it compare with ours? Are we comparing like with like or are there reasons for such a discrepancy?

For some, asking questions like this takes massive bravery; for professional negotiators, it is standard practice. So let’s be professional.

Research, Reveal, Reframe.  The three Rs represent a process that should inform most negotiations so that better outcomes are reached for both parties. Unfortunately, some negotiations can progress from initial specification to a proposed solution with undue rapidity, so that one or both parties lose out on a more advantageous deal: “marry in haste” etc.

Taking a fully explored brief via Research and really digging into what is required is the start-point. In a decent dialogue this should lead to identification of what elements of service are most important to the client: the Reveal. With the power of this knowledge, often, there is more than one way to satisfy the need. These alternatives then allow both parties to Reframe the challenges or problems to be overcome, enabling a more creative exploration of the options and usually a wiser negotiation end-product.

Of course, not every negotiation proceeds in such an open way. But, these Rs should be the process of first choice.

Open book accounting for lawyers?

The hourly rate is fading slowly…so what next for law firms when it comes to their financial relationship with clients? The current “interesting times” for the profession may soon approach fascinating levels if some trends continue. As client buying power increases so has the need for newer pricing options: fixed, capped, blended, bonus, success-based etc.. But actually, all this is the “now”. So where is next?

Whisper it quietly, but a new phase may have already started. Projects where the client now asks for the law firm’s profitability target for a piece of work or by type of transaction. This demand for increased openness is a product of the increased commoditisation of legal services: a phenomenon that many non-professional sectors have lived with for some time. Indeed, its ultimate form is “open book accounting” where suppliers share all of their financial plans/assumptions with the client and agree a level of profitability for any work to be done.

Sacrilege this may seem to partners in private practice, but firms should expect more of this. The smart ones will prepare for it by speeding up development of their project planning/management systems (to create capability and increase efficiency); honing negotiation skills (an area of weakness for people who traditionally viewed money discussions as rather impolite); and benchmarking for the key lessons learnt from other sectors further along this particular experience curve.

In the short-term, some or more will refuse to play ball…but at their long-term peril?