Ten ways to improve your negotiating skills

Hands on red table in discussionHaving to negotiate a sale or purchase is a common requirement for the owners and managers of small businesses. Excellent preparation and a logical approach can help you get the deal you want

  1. Do your research. Clarify your own objectives and make sure you understand what your opposite number wants from the deal. For example, by doing some basic research into a potential supplier, you can work out how valuable your custom is to them.
  2. Decide what is negotiable. Before you start to negotiate, draw up a list of factors that are most important to you. Decide what you are (and aren't) prepared to compromise on. Key factors might include price, payment terms, volume or delivery dates. The key is to establish your preferred outcome, but remain realistic, because if you're not prepared to compromise some negotiations won't last long.
  3. Plan your strategy in writing and decide what approach you will adopt before beginning negotiations. Be clear about the type of deal you want, set clear goals and work out where you will draw the line and walk away from the deal. Write down your negotiating strengths and how to get the concessions you require. Consider ways of defending the weaker parts of your argument and negating the supplier's main strengths.
  4. Select the best team. Once you've decided on your strategy it is essential that you get your negotiating team right. Make sure it has skills in all the required areas and, where necessary, use a specialist to negotiate in areas outside your expertise.
  5. Choose the right time and place for negotiation. Ideally select a time and place where you are not under pressure to close the deal.
  6. Outline your requirements. Open negotiations by outlining your requirements or terms and conditions and try to get your opposite number to reveal their starting point for discussions.
  7. Ask questions and listen closely to answers. Asking questions will help you understand what your opposite number wants to achieve. You may be able to get them to reveal how flexible they are on certain issues.
  8. Don't reveal your negotiating position and avoid making unnecessary concessions. If you have to make concessions - look for reciprocation. Concessions should only be made to help you get the things you value. You should also avoid appearing too keen to do a deal. Consider what offer the other party in the negotiations is likely to make and how you'll respond.
  9. Be aware of negotiating tactics. You need to be aware of common negotiating tactics. If the other party keeps referring to urgent deadlines or a person they need to confer with, they might be playing games. Don't be fooled or forced into making rushed decisions or unnecessary concessions, such as false deadlines. Each time a point is agreed, clarify that you've understood it correctly and write it down.
  10. Drawing up a contract. Once all the points have been negotiated and a deal has been agreed, it's best to get a written contract drawn up and signed by both parties. While verbal contracts are legally binding - they are difficult to prove in court.

Most business owners would view a good deal as one that meets all their requirements, but you should also consider other factors such as whether you want to do business with a particular firm again. Although getting the best possible deal in the short-term is important, a good relationship in the future may help you get even cheaper prices or other perks, such as priority delivery.

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