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Tips for Negotiating

by Carolyn Snyder

csnyder@snyderconsulting.net
Usability Consultant, Snyder Consulting

Negotiation is a part of life, though we may not always think of it in conscious terms. Although this article is written from the perspective of a consultant bidding on a project, the concepts of negotiation apply to many situations where you are trying to reach agreement with someone.

Let’s say you’ve discussed the project with your client and have a good idea of the work involved. Now it’s time to get down to horse-trading. Here are some tips to ensure a good negotiating experience for both of you.

Know your bottom line. Before you talk price or any other aspect of the negotiation, have a heart-to-heart with yourself about what you want to get out of this project. Determine what you are willing to put into it, not only in terms of price, but also factors like travel, schedule, opportunities for learning, etc. Establish a bottom line so you’ll know when it’s time to say no thank you and walk away. And – here’s the hard part – promise yourself that you will stick to it.
Tip: If the project isn’t appealing but you don’t want to turn it down outright, simply price it high enough to compensate for your lack of interest. Usually this will cause the client to seek other options, but you will be willing to work with them if they come back to you.

Identify what the stakeholders care about. Although cost is usually important, it’s never the only factor. (If it were, the client wouldn’t be looking for help in the first place.) They have a need, perhaps several. Are they racing to meet a tight schedule? Did the trade press beat them up because their interface is hard to use? Are they on a crusade to reduce support costs? Are they trying to get their staff up to speed on user-centered design? The more you know about their needs, the better you’ll be able to tailor your proposal.

Think win-win. Successful negotiators don’t get hung up on maximizing their share of the pie. Instead, they look for ways to make the pie bigger. Think of some optional deliverables you can propose (a highlight tape, training, additional consultation) that would not be difficult for you but would be of value to the client. We’ll come back to these in a moment.

Ask about budget. If you know how much the client can spend, you can price your proposal accordingly and be more confident in its chance of success. (Of course, this tip should not be interpreted as a go-ahead to inflate your prices.) Once I’ve established a rapport with the client, I ask point-blank, “Do you have a budget for this work?” Sometimes the client will actually divulge a dollar figure, though it’s more common to get a range or simply a “yes.” (Which is still OK; it’s the “no” or evasive answer you need to beware of. Sometimes it means that you need to identify the true decision maker; other times it’s a red flag that they’re not ready to hire anyone.)

Don’t low-ball. It’s tempting, especially when you’re new to consulting or times are tough, to put a low price tag on your services. But this can come back to bite you. The client might question the quality of your work, especially if they are seeking bids from your competitors. (“How come it’s so cheap? What corners are they cutting?”) Or you may need to turn down work at your regular rates in order to complete this project. Last but not least, it’s difficult to raise your rates for that client later on. If you are truly concerned about being too expensive for the client and you really want the project, consider offering a discount for early payment.

Build in some concessions. Everyone likes to feel that they’ve gotten a good deal, and some people enjoy the challenge of bargaining. Identify a couple of concessions that would be relatively painless for you, but don’t mention them unless the client wants a better deal. For instance, you might initially ask for a partial payment up front when in fact you’re willing to accept net-30 upon completion. Or you might throw in a couple of those optional deliverables that you identified earlier. The key is that you do not want this discussion to be solely about price – you want the client to think about the value you are providing.

In summary, successful negotiation is not about winning and losing; it’s about identifying the best solution to satisfy both your needs and the client’s. And if this sounds suspiciously similar to user-centered design, you’re on the right track!

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