Negotiation preparation tips for achieving positive outcomes

Written by Huthwaite International

Given its importance in both work and personal life, mastering the art of negotiation is vital. However, success doesn’t fall into your lap.

Negotiation preparation is essential to ensure you can make a difference in various scenarios. As the saying goes, “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail”, and this also applies to the world of negotiations. It can be the difference between achieving your objectives and walking away empty-handed.

In this article, we’ll outline how negotiation preparation helps you tackle a discussion head-on, from getting ready to planning well and understanding the psychology behind successful negotiations, with intel from negotiation experts here at Huthwaite International.

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Advice for effective negotiation preparation

Prepare and plan with care

Before you begin negotiating, you need to thoroughly prepare beforehand. Think of it as laying a sturdy foundation for a successful outcome. This meticulous planning brings numerous benefits and influences the course of your negotiations significantly.

Thorough preparation ensures that your objectives are crystal clear. Without a well-defined goal, negotiations risk becoming unfocused and may not lead to the outcomes you desire.

In sales, meticulous preparation is vital for success, especially in crucial situations like a client pitch. Researching the client's business helps anticipate objections.

Prepare a personalised pitch and consider client preferences, communication style, and decision-making process. Effective preparation builds trust, demonstrates value, and positions you as a reliable partner, increasing the likelihood of a successful and lasting business relationship.

Shaun James, Head of Learning and Skills at Huthwaite International, further highlights the importance of preparation as part of the negotiation process.

“It’s important to prepare and plan your negotiation with great care. Spend time before you go into a negotiation thinking about what you’re going to negotiate, why it’s important to you, but also, why it’s important to them.

“Focus on the interests of both parties and their interest in getting the deal. They’ve entered the negotiations for a reason and they want to do business with you.

“Our research has revealed that skilled negotiators spend more time thinking about things like the common ground and the long-term considerations, whereas less successful or average negotiators spend more time focusing on just the issues themselves, gathering data and crunching the numbers.”

Understand your BATNA

Knowing your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is crucial. Negotiation preparation involves defining your BATNA and offering a reliable reference point for decision-making during negotiations.

There will be times when your preferred outcome may not be feasible. However, as Jo Derriman, Senior Client Director at Huthwaite International indicates, you must enter negotiations with a clear picture of which route you’ll take if things don’t go according to plan.

“You need to think about what your fallback option is going to be, should the need arise. Rather than thinking about it on the spot in the actual meeting, be in a position whereby you’ve given it thought, beforehand, and consider what an alternative deal could look like to improve your chances of securing a favourable outcome.”

Understanding your Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement (BATNA) is crucial in sales. For instance, in the final stages of negotiations with a potential client, a sudden concern about the delivery could arise.

A well-defined BATNA becomes invaluable as your fallback plan if the current negotiation fails. Assess the viability of alternative options, leveraging an alternative supplier with a flexible delivery schedule if needed.

This allows you to address concerns confidently, and position yourself as a reliable partner willing to explore alternatives. Identifying your BATNA maintains confidence and composure during negotiations, enabling strategic decision-making based on your position of strength. Understanding your BATNA is your safety net, helps to establish a strategic advantage, and demonstrates your flexibility and willingness to cooperate and secure a favourable agreement.

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Strategic information use

Negotiation preparation includes strategically gathering and analysing information. This allows you to use information as a powerful tool during negotiations, gaining an advantage and influencing decisions.

For example, in a sales negotiation for a software solution, strategic information could be used to your advantage. If the client faces data security challenges, emphasise your software's security features, compare with competitors, without disparaging, tailor contract terms to address concerns, and showcase compliance with industry standards.

This strategic approach positions your product as the ideal solution and increases the chances of a successful negotiation.

Anticipate counterarguments

Part of thorough negotiation preparation is anticipating possible counterarguments and crafting responses in advance.

This proactive approach enhances your ability to navigate challenges during negotiations. Mistakes can be made when negotiators fail to make contingency plans for a counterproposal. This can catch you off guard, derail your approach, and lead to the opposing party gaining the upper hand.

Jo gave her perspective on why this element of negotiation preparation is vital.

“In the later stages of the negotiation, you may find yourself pressed for time and therefore, not give the proposal enough consideration. So, we end up resorting to behaviours such as counterproposals.

“For example, if you were to suggest a price of something at X, and the person responding immediately says “no, why?”, it suggests to them that you haven’t been listening, or given it any thought.

“In some scenarios, this ‘bartering’ approach is acceptable, for example, if you’re shopping for a new carpet at a marketplace. However, in business, we want to show we've dedicated time to thinking our approach through.

“We should stop reacting instantaneously, and give people a chance to explain why they’ve come up with their proposed terms, and then respond more appropriately with more conditional responses.”

Conduct preliminary research

Understanding the other party's interests and background fosters rapport. This empathy can lead to a more collaborative negotiation environment.

As part of your negotiation preparation, research your potential collaborator's values and business ethos. This will allow you to align proposals in a way that resonates with them, fostering a stronger partnership, as highlighted by Shaun.

“If you have a plan, you’ve got to execute that plan. There are certain behaviours that we know will help, and certain behaviours that won’t help.

“If I want to understand the other party's position, the best way to get to that is by asking questions. If somebody puts down a term that we're not entirely happy with, the smarter thing to do would be to ask more questions about it.

“Don’t be afraid to ask why they want longer contracts or price reductions. The ability to ask questions is a relatively simple thing for us to do, but extremely powerful in a negotiation context.”

Long-term relationship considerations

Thorough preparation extends beyond immediate gains and ultimately impacts the long-term relationship with the other party.

This approach promotes sustainable partnerships and positive ongoing interactions. For instance, a vendor negotiating with a long-term client considers not only immediate transaction terms but also factors in the potential for future collaborations, fostering a relationship built on trust and mutual benefit.

Before entering negotiations, invest time in ensuring you’ve strategically prepared for all eventualities. This will bring clarity to your objectives, empower decision-making, and cultivate stronger relationships.

Elevate your negotiation success through meticulous preparation

When entering negotiations, there’s always going to be an element of uncertainty and challenges.

However, the apprehension and element of surprise can be mitigated by taking your negotiation preparation seriously. This empowers you to make informed decisions, react adeptly to unexpected twists, and foster relationships built on trust and mutual understanding.

When you’re preparing for future negotiations, remember that the time invested in preparation is an investment in your success. Preparing effectively will not only help you navigate potentially tricky scenarios, but achieve outcomes that align with your objectives and aspirations.

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