A Good Negotiation Looks Like This

John Doehring
Posted on: 05/24/17
Written by: John Doehring


I’m just back from leading a lively discussion and debate at PSMJ’s new A/E/C Pricing and Negotiations Workshop in Nashville, Tennessee.  Project managers, principals, and senior executives from several firms, ranging in size from 30 to 5,500, came to share, collaborate, and learn about improving their own pricing and marketing strategies, and negotiating for higher fees, better contracts, and ultimately more successful projects.

In one interactive exercise, we asked attendees to share with one another and the group their personal experiences with a real-life negotiation—and specifically to answer these three questions: What went right, what went wrong, and what was missing at that moment (for some the negotiation happened twenty years earlier, for others just last week).

While the stories were varied (and entertaining!) there were several common themes—and thus some important lessons to be learned.  Successful negotiations were described not as one-and-done events, but as those which happened over time, and in multiple meetings—in other words as a process.  Positive outcomes were also commonly associated with clearly a defined project scope, with a high level of information transparency and sharing, and with clients who “just get it and get us.” Relationships based on mutual trust were mentioned by most.

On the flip side, bad negotiations usually resulted from one-sided, asymmetrical relationships, with clients who were largely procurement or price-only driven, and in situations where the firm was in a subcontractor position, or not viewed as having any meaningful differentiation—or pricing power.  Some attendees recalled being treated pretty rough, bullied by purchasing agents, developers, or prime consultants.

You may be thinking that none of this is news, that these insights are obvious—basic attributes of successful and not-so-successful negotiations—and you’re right.  Nevertheless, I’m struck yet again by how important it is for all of you— no matter how experienced or how successful—to revisit on a regular basis the basics of good strategy and practice, and to draw inspiration and encouragement from each other—our professional peers.  The secrets to success in professional services aren’t always terribly complicated, but they are often quite difficult to execute.  In pricing and negotiating there are multiple forces (both outside and inside the firm) conspiring to beat us down or beat us back.  It’s up to us as leaders to turn back the tide of mediocrity, commoditization, me-too, and it-can’t- be-done.  Inspiration and perspirationin equal parts.


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Other strategic planning related blog posts: 

Three Actions to Supercharge Your Growth, Profit, and Business Success!

8 Tips For Making Your Strategic Planning Meeting A Success

Get Strategic With These Planning Questions

Establishing Your Strategic Plan

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