Here is the scenario - a client has called you for a review of your negotiation techniques for a revised fee for the next three years. The client has opened the meeting by stating that although they were generally happy with the relationship they wanted to change the project manager and negotiate a discount of 15% for next year's fees.
You have two ways of responding - co-operative discussion or negotiation techniques.
Unfortunately you choose the latter.
You feel confident about the work you have performed to date and the quality of the negotiation techniques and don't see why they should want to change or indeed why they should get a 15% discount despite spending more than �100,000 per annum annually.
After an hour and a half of mud-slinging, the client advises you that not only are they going to cancel the existing negotiation techniques; they will cease working with you for the foreseeable future. What has gone wrong?
This hypothetical scenario demonstrates what can happen when we assume we know where the other negotiation techniques are coming from.
What you haven't learned is that your client is about to embark on negotiation techniques, which will result in a scaling down of its business in its traditional area, but expansion in another areas through acquisition of a new business.
The harsh reality is that sustaining a healthy client relationship is an ongoing exercise that requires negotiation techniques. How often have we celebrated winning a large tender thinking that the relationship is 'in the bag', believing that as long as we deliver the technical content the client will be happy and we'll get more work. Consultants should not rely on subject matter (technical) expertise alone to manage the ups and downs of a relationship.
Consultants who take time to build a client relationship are more likely to survive through negotiation techniques.
So how can consultants build and maintain these effective client relationships:
1. Focus on process - avoid getting bogged down in the negotiation techniques, your subject matter expert can handle that. Focus on the bigger picture by asking "What is really happening here?" "What are these clients really saying?""What are their real, underlying needs?"
2. Influence behind the scenes - research suggests that up to 80% of the outcome in any formal negotiation techniques is determined prior to the actual face-to-face meeting, so use the time leading up to any meeting or planned interaction wisely. Get the facts, safely test the likely positions with client representatives (maybe colleague or direct report of your major client contact) and work through the optional scenarios of each other's desired outcomes.
3. Find common ground - no matter how difficult relationships become, there is always some common ground on which to build negotiation techniques. Look for common ground at every client interaction. The more common ground you can establish, personally and professionally, the more resilient the relationship will be. Keep questioning "What do we both want?"
Expert client relationship managers know and understand that managing expectations is a daily ongoing skill and that every interaction with clients is an opportunity to positively influence clients' perceptions about your value as a trusted adviser.