B2B Street Fighting Blog

Social Distancing: Are You Ready for Increased Virtual Negotiation?

Posted by Brian Dietmeyer on Mon, Mar 23, 2020 @ 08:33 AM


Social Distancing and Virtual NegotiationsThe current health and business environment is very likely to increase virtual negotiation. Are you ready? We'd like to share some pointers on how to proceed in the new world.

To start, a study of email, telephone and face-to-face negotiation (published in Harvard Business Review) notes the following:

  • No surprise but the best outcomes for both sides were reached face-to-face
  • On telephones, it was more win/loss where one party ended up with a significantly better outcome
  • Email negotiation had the highest level of impasse (50% vs 19% face to face)

Given our choices of text, email, or phone calls, we strongly suggest video conferencing as the next best alternative. I think we’re all aware that “if an email can be misconstrued…it will.be.” Which is why we all know to be very cautious with our written word absent verbal and physical cues as conflict can easily arise. Interestingly, I did just read an article that emoji’s might actually help replicate some of that human interaction and clarify intent with email! 😊

Keep in mind a few facts when you’re forced to conduct negotiation via email:

  • Once it’s in writing…you own it
  • These kinds of written responses leave little wiggle room as they encourage prompt and direct response
  • Chances are high the email will be forwarded
  • People share less information in email than face-to-face
  • “Haggling” vs “reciprocity” is higher in email
  • It’s easier (and more likely) to be lied to in email

Facts Win Every Time vs. Emotions and Tricks

Regardless of face-to-face or virtual negotiation, it is our experience that the #1 driver of successful negotiation is planning and facts. In the absence of facts what is said and presented by the other side carries more weight. Think about it this way, if you’re having a conversation with someone about a topic you know nothing about, their words carry more weight. On the other hand, if you just finished a research project on that same subject, their words will have less impact on your perception.

We know that “anchors,” those items like opening offers or last year's deal, have a huge impact on negotiation. In fact, my friend and former business partner, Dr. Max Bazerman (HBS) says that “opening offers have more impact on final outcomes than all subsequent counter offers combined.” It is also our experience that these items that tend to “anchor” negotiations become even more powerful in a non face-to-face environment.

In virtual negotiation we strongly suggest using many of the great video conference tools and increase your negotiation preparation. This begs the question, what does good preparation look like? We know from our own primary research that 97% of buyer negotiation tactics fall into two categories:

  1. The buyer will refer to their alternative (a named competitor, a substitute, do it themselves, do nothing)
  2. That alternative will be leveraged for concessions (price, payment terms, service upgrades etc.)

In fact the most common negotiation tactic globally* was:

“I can get the same thing from someone else cheaper”

*Think! Inc. primary research/ 2 years/ 19 country study of buyer behavior

So, when doubling your preparation for a virtual negotiation, these are the two areas on which to focus:

  1. Know more than your customer (or your competitor) on how your solution meets the buyer needs better than their alternative. This = your value.
  2. Be prepared for the likely areas of concession pressure and prepare a plan for quid pro quo trading. Something lower in cost to one side, higher in value to the other.

In fact, we suggest having three different possible paths forward prepared ahead of time to keep you from focusing on line item concessions. Present them as relationships.

The more you know about #1 above, the better informed you will be for #2. This means when faced with concession pressure, you will be able to gauge how aggressive you need to be only if you first understand the value you bring above and beyond what the alternative does.

So please, whenever possible, leverage a virtual face-to-face meeting and increase your planning to be less impacted by negotiation “anchors” from the other side.

If you’re interested in providing negotiation skills for your team in a social distancing/non travel environment, please reach out to Think! Inc. to learn of our many on demand web-based and virtual consulting tools to get your team ready.

You may also request contact on this web page:


Tags: negotiation skills for sales, effective negotiation, virtual negotiation

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The B2B Street Fighting blog brings you the latest on what's happening in the real world of business negotiation.

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