Gang Negotiating: Does More People Make For Better Deals?

by drjim on December 1, 2009

If You're Going To Play The Negotiating Game, Then You Need To Balance The Teams...

If You’re Going To Play The Negotiating Game, Then You Need To Balance The Teams…

The next time that you are facing a situation that will require a sales negotiation, I’d like to ask you to stop for a moment and consider one important question: should you go it alone or should you bring others from your side along with you?

Although you might think that you know the answer to this question, it just might surprise you to find out that you’re probably wrong. For you see, this really isn’t just one question, but three separate questions that you need to find the answers to…

How Big Should Your Negotiating Team Be?

So there you are, the customer has agreed to meet with you and you know that this is going to be your best opportunity to really roll up your sleeves and hash out a deal with them. Stop. Should you go it alone or should you stack the deck and bring more of your team along with you?

It turns out that this question has been fairly extensively studied and the answer is that you should bring others along . The reasons; however, are not what you may think that they are.

The studies have shown that when we are going to be the sole negotiator, we generally do a really lousy job of preparing to negotiate. Basically we just grab our stuff and go. When we are part of a team that is going to enter into a negotiation, we take more time to coordinate with the rest of the team and we actually do a much better job of preparing for the negotiation.

An additional interesting point is that the more people that you have on your negotiating team, the longer it’s going to take you to close a deal with the other side. This makes sense because when there are multiple people on a negotiating team, they will all have to reach consensus before a deal can be struck. This often results in a much better deal than a single negotiator could have reached.

What Happens When You Have An Audience?

Sometimes it’s all too easy to picture your next sales negotiation as happening just like they like to show on TV: in a big board room with you on one side of the large polished oak table and the other side opposite you. However, often times reality doesn’t look like this. Instead, you’re there, the other side is there, and then there’s a peanut gallery of various onlookers. Does this change things?

Interestingly enough, this changes things a lot. All sales negotiators (this means you) have a deep-set need for approval. What this means is that we will be highly aware of everyone who is in the room when we are negotiating and we will change our negotiating style simply because they are there.

The biggest impact will be on how we negotiate: we’ll take a much harder line than we would otherwise because we’re showing off. If the other side shows us up or surprises us then we’ll take it badly and we’ll start to throw up walls to resist the other side at every turn.

Likewise, the other side will react the very same way if they feel that we have caused them to “lose face”. This means that you are going to have to be careful how you negotiate when there are others around because your opponent’s behavior will have changed.

What To Do When You Are Outnumbered

If you show up for a sales negotiation and there are more people on the other side of the table than on your side, you will automatically start to feel intimidated. The behavior of the side that has more warm bodies will also change.

Teams of negotiators who have the numerical advantage have been shown to be more willing to make bigger claims for what they and their companies will be able to deliver. Confidence can make us say the darndest things.

My recommendation is that you always try to get a roster of who will be attending a negotiation session before it starts and then make sure that your team is at least equal in numbers to the other side’s. A level playing field always results in a better-balanced deal being struck.

What All Of This Means For You

The right time to determine how many people that you need in order to conduct a sales negotiation is before the negotiations start. Your goal should be to make sure that you have the same number of people on your side of the table as the other side has on theirs.

When it comes to making sure that a negotiation is done fairly, I have no problems leveling the playing field before the negotiation start. I’ll request that anyone who is not a part of the actual negotiations leave the room or I’ll ask the other side to kick a few people out in order to balance out the team sizes.

Of course this doesn’t work the other way around. If my negotiating team is larger, then I’ll be very happy to keep my mouth shut and not bring my advantage up. Sometimes silence really is golden.

Do you feel more comfortable going into a negotiation by yourself or with a team? Why?

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