Every person in advertising, like every fisherman, has a story about “the one that got away,” the perfect client that was a great fit, or the one that was “this close.”

phases of negotiation

It’s tough to lose.

Many times, great clients are lost due to blunders in negotiating. But there are negotiating tools and techniques that can help you land prize clients. Or keep key clients longer.

Although negotiation is a natural part of human interaction, it also makes many people uncomfortable. Lots of us, for example, are conflict averse: When it comes to “fight or flight,” we’d rather fly every time. Others see negotiation as an exercise in deception and manipulation, in which we hide our true intent, try to intimidate or outwit our “opponent,” or try to “wait them out” by sitting silently as they present options.

Many books and articles on the subject present negotiation as a set of “tips and tricks” designed to make the other person squirm. Negotiation, like office politics, is an unavoidable part of business life that’s gotten a bad rap because of the way it’s practiced by some agencies and consultants.

Key to Successful Negotiation.

One of the first steps in successful negotiations is assessing your client’s style or profile accurately, and responding to their negotiating style in the way best suited to them. There are four client profiles, based on how they work and respond, whether they are more task oriented or people oriented, and whether they are high or low assertive. For instance, someone considered a “Headline”, high assertive and low response, is focused on “now” and “results”, and wants “options” presented so that they are in control of the decisions. Others, like “Body Copy”, are more interested in “how” and “process” and respond better to fully-presented information as they check off all the pieces they want to consider. Other profiles include the “Logo” and the “Illustration”

Client relationships tend to evolve, initially being based more on learning about each other, then on tasks and getting the work done after trust has been established. However, tension from something gone wrong can swing that relationship upside down, and until the relationship is healed, work essentially needs to, or will, come to a stop.

Negotiations are not always about the money, but can include a number of other items, such as turnaround speed, payment terms, licensing agreements, or limits to the approval process.

The negotiation process is a balance between finding out what the client wants and make them feel heard, with knowing exactly what your agency wants, and then suggesting action in such a way the client can accept, always looking for a win/win resolution.

Common errors in negotiation include misunderstanding what the negotiations are actually concerned with (someone’s job may literally be on the line, so budget is not as key as a client feeling confident that an agency can successfully solve the client’s business challenge). Or the agency team may not have clear goals going into negotiations, or not have a clear understanding of the roles and responsibilities for the negotiating team members.

Phases Of Negotiation:

There are eight phases of negotiation we teach in our High Gear program for Account Service:

  1. Preparing: Collecting information about the client, their profile, background, and more.
  2. Setting Objectives: Making sure all your objectives are on the agenda, how to counter other issues that might be raised.
  3. Identifying Positions: Setting your “ideal”, “realistic” and “fallback” positions, or even your BATNA – “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.”
  4. Opening: Open well away from where you want to settle, never accept an opening offer, and never negotiate with yourself, making concessions to the other party before you meet because “I know they wouldn’t accept that.”
  5. Checking and Testing: Know the power of silence, and don’t accept “no” at face value, try rephrasing, look for non-verbal signs.
  6. Getting Movement: “If you… then we” style of introducing some early concessions.
  7. Giving Concessions: Consider when to give, how much, and what are you getting in return.
  8. Finalizing and Agreeing: Recognize when you are at the agreeing stage. Look for signals such as repeated “no’s”, concessions getting smaller or resistant body language.

It’s important to remember that getting an agreement is the easy part. Keeping the agreement is often the hard part.

One key point – negotiations on client-agency relationships should be kept separate from those who will actually be working on the business, due to the potential for some bad feelings, no matter how good the intentions or how well negotiations proceed. It is critical that CEO’s in particular not lead negotiations as they are the ones who may, at some point, find it necessary to step in to resolve potential issues.


Photo by PinkyTheGreat