The other day I happened to drop in on my friend Mike only to discover him hard at work on some mysterious project. He had a list of local electronics stores and he was checking them off with a pencil one-by-one all the while he was surfing a seemingly endless set of web sites and performing a cut and paste operation from each one of them to an Excel spreadsheet that already looked like a day trader’s tracking system.
When I asked him what he was up to, he told me that he had finally broken down and was going to buy the Panasonic 50″ TV of his dreams that evening and he was going to buy it at the Best Buy located close to his house so that he could get it home and start watching it that night. When I inquired as to why all of the frantic action was taking place, he just stared at me for a moment and said “…if I want to get the best price, then I’ve got to do some espionage to find out how low they can go…”
Ok, so I guess that I should have seen that one coming. Mike did bring up a very good point: often the outcome of a negotiation is determined before the talking even starts and the winner is the side that collected the BEST information. Note that I didn’t say the MOST information, because this is a case where quality definitely triumphs over quantity. Getting more information on the other person’s situation, constraints, and motivations will increase your power while allowing you to do a better job of defending your important issues.
You can’t view information gathering as a one-shot activity. It is a process that continues even after the negotiations start and that will require you to shift in and out of multiple modes during the negotiations. You should look at information gathering as a process that will continue throughout the entire negotiation session. This means that you’ll need to establish a personal connection with the other side before you jump into the heart of your negotiation. The ability to see and understand the other side’s viewpoint is critical to understanding their negotiating position.
In business to business negotiations one of the most often overlooked sources of information is your staff no matter what department they are in. Often times we have employees who used to work for the other side, or employees who have close personal connections to the other side’s staff. These are great resources to draw on in order to learn more about the set of environmental drivers that will be shaping the other side’s negotiating position.
I gave Mike a call yesterday in order to find out how his purchase had turned out. He was beside himself with glee. “When they saw me come in with my stack of research papers, they turned me over to the manager right away. He and I talked for about 45 minutes and in the end I had gotten $400 off of the list price and a free 1 year warranty.” It looks like you can put a price tag on the value of gathering information.
So what’s your story? Have you ever had a chance to “go undercover” and collect information that ended up helping you during a negotiation? Have your friends ever asked you to do some sleuthing in order to help them get a better deal…?