Lots of people that know me know that I’m huge fan of Bill Belichick, the coach of the New England Patriots. The thing I like about him more than anything else is that he never, ever makes excuses. When the Patriots lose a close game, the media will ask him about the weather, the referees, the tough schedule, the rules, the player injuries, you name it. And he never acknowledges any of it. He only talks about the things that his team can control. As a result, he’s the winningest coach of the last decade. He obsesses about what he can control and ignores everything else.
That is the exact approach people should take at work — especially when negotiating a deal. You can’t control the prospect, the prospect’s attorneys, the bad economy, your product capabilities, the law, or your executive team. You can only control your own actions. And when you fully take that approach, you’ll find that your energy won’t go outwards towards things you can’t control, but will instead go inwards towards things that you can. That’s how you get better. That’s how you win.
I recently finished a long, painful and frustrating 3 month negotiation. Thinking back on it, I’m tempted to blame the other side or blame other factors for why it was so long and so frustrating. But that’s not helpful because I can’t control any of that. I can only control what I do and try to do it better.
So with Bill Belicheck in mind, here are seven tactical things (that I can control) that I’ll do better next time:
1. Never assume the deal is done. Make sure you have asked and asked and asked about the other side’s approval process. More often than not someone is going to come along to do one final review of your deal. Document their process and track to it.
2. When you’ve created urgency, continuously validate that the other side values that urgency. Over a long negotiation they may not.
3. In addition to urgency, throughout the negotiation continuously reinforce your value and why the other side should want to partner with you. Don’t get too caught up in the weeds and the specifics of the deal and neglect to remind the other side why they wanted to partner in the first place.
4. Have a ‘time and energy walk away point’. Most negotiators know the concept of BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) but don’t forget to include your own time and energy in that calculation. Take this really seriously. Focusing on a deal that is too time consuming has an exponentially negative effect. You can dig yourself deeper because you’re not focusing on other opportunities and you lose your leverage (you need the deal more now because you have fewer options now because you’ve been too focused on this one deal).
5. When you’re down to the last few items, setup a recurring daily meeting with the other side until it gets done. It’s amazing how you can lose weeks if you don’t do this. People get busy and each side may use time lags to build leverage.
6. When things get ugly, negotiate in person. Your situation will improve 10x faster in person than it will over the phone.
7. Bring in other people. I tend to be a lone wolf when it comes to these things. It’s better to have multiple personalities involved. Two people are harder to read than one and the other person will always think of things you haven’t.