One of the best things I ever read about negotiation was an article from Edmunds.com called Confessions of a Car Salesman. Between that article and Amis & Stevenson’s look at the tactics of angel investors, we get an interesting glimpse at negotiation itself.
Like many things in life, negotiation brings ethics to the fore, along with the negotiator’s animating motivations. Empathy and mutually-shared goals are possibilities, as are misdirection and manipulation.
While negotiation doesn’t lend itself well to universal statements, let’s look at a few of the tactics that can be used for good effect or bad.
Use of a Catspaw
Haggling over financial details can engender a lot of ill will – something you want to minimize when entering an investing relationship. In Amis & Stevenson, a portion of the book outlines the benefits of letting someone else do the negotiating. One way to do this is to hire a lawyer and let the ill will of negotiation fall on their shoulders.
We see this in the Edmunds article about car salesmen as well. After a successful conversation out in the parking lot, a salesman will sit a customer down in the box (his cubicle) and together start going through the paperwork to discover the price of the car.
Often the customer won’t agree with this or that number in the equation. So the salesman has the option of calling his manager, assume (or feign) the role of advocate for the customer, and displace the confrontation of that haggling onto an absent sales manager. This allows the manager to be “the bad guy” while the salesman himself builds further rapport with the customer.
It is important to remember that when someone is acting as your advocate in a situation they stand to gain financially, their true loyalties can be revealed by determining the outcome in which that advocate will gain the most. Just something to keep in mind.
Creating a Sense of Urgency
We’ve all been to a car dealership, inquired about a car and then heard the statement, “You better move fast – someone came by this morning asking about this car!” The gesture can be transparent and hackneyed, but it also triggers an instinct in our brains: the fear of losing out.
Investors can do this as well. Entrepreneurs may have their own ideas about valuation, but this belief can be short-circuited by putting a deadline on an offer of financial support. This can be good and bad.
On the one hand, a deadline forces the issue, allowing both the entrepreneur and the investor to move on in case the deal doesn’t work out. It frees up valuable time to pursue other opportunities. But it could also rush the process, leading either party into a bad deal that further reflection might help them avoid.
The only counter to a sense of urgency is the sense that you have enough time. Do you?
Make Your Money in Other Parts of the Negotiation
Some investors say that they usually cede to an entrepreneur’s initial request for funding and wait for the next round before imposing demands. Maybe it’s kind of like a drug dealer: sure, the first one is free, but the next one you have to pay for. What this highlights though is that entrepreneurs should consider other dimensions aside from just the amount of money they are receiving.
If you take a deal only to set yourself up for a complete burn job six months from now, are you really coming out ahead?
Let’s say you want to trade in your old car for a new one, and you’re willing to pay X amount of dollars on a monthly payment. You’re fine with financing through the dealership. People do this all the time and often are content with the results.
But in a transaction of this complexity, there are many variables to keep track of and negotiate over. For example, maybe you can buy the new car for your target price, but perhaps you get a low-ball number on the trade-in value and accept, thinking only of the victory gained from the new car’s price.
The more numerous the variables, the easier it is for something to slip past. In an ideal world you might keep each of these transactions – selling your old car, buying a new car, financing – separate from each another. You break up the transaction into smaller, easier-to-understand pieces.
Granted, not everyone likes this approach. And in investing, there is the added dimension that you may not have a lot of investors waiting in the wings to spend money on you.
Cues and Non-Verbal Communication
Everyone has heard the saying that 75% or so of all human communication is non-verbal. This is no less true at the negotiating table.
The first thing to make sure you do is simply to show up to the negotiation on time. Don’t be late. That might sound basic, but would you rather be twenty minutes early or two minutes late? Which do you think strengthens your stance? I thought so.
Another thing is to be aware of cues. One of the most humorous parts of the Edmunds article is the “up to…?” cue. A customer will come in and say he’s willing to put down $4000 on a car. The salesman will then simply respond “up to…?” And the customer will take the cue and say something like “$4500”.
That’s a $500 bump, surrendered effortlessly.
There are many lessons to be learned about negotiation (and human psychology) from that simple exchange. A lot of people are quick to doubt themselves in a negotiation, and unfortunately that lack of confidence can be preyed upon. It’s a living demonstration of the Matthew Effect.
In such a scenario, a good defense would to rest on the rationale that led that hypothetical customer to make the $4000 down payment offer in the first place. Such a defense comes from within. And it might not be a bad idea to do thought experiments with certain scenarios ahead of the actual event. “What would happen if I went with a $4500 down payment?”
That way, you have a better idea of how to handle the situation if your first moves don’t go exactly to plan.