The Power of No

By Steve Gutzman

It is important to be comfortable saying “no” in a negotiation. Not all terms need to be agreed with, not all best and final prices are best and final, and not all deals need to be done. Unfortunately, many inexperienced negotiators think they must hang on at all costs until a deal is done. For them, saying no to a deal is like saying no to a free lottery ticket … it just might be the winner, and they can’t afford to pass up the jackpot.

From the buying side, preparing for a negotiation requires an understanding of the best “no deal.” The value put on the best no-deal option sets a limit that any agreement must not exceed in order for the buyer to agree. It becomes the point that the buyer will not go above. From the selling side, the best no deal becomes the level that the seller will not go below.

William Ury, in his best-selling book Getting to Yes, calls this the BATNA, or best alternative to a negotiated agreement. According to Ury, “The BATNA is the only standard which can protect you from both accepting terms that are too unfavorable and from rejecting terms it would be in your interest to accept.” In its simplest form, this concept means that if the proposed agreement is better than the BATNA, accept it. If the agreement is not better than the BATNA, continue negotiating. If the agreement cannot be improved, consider withdrawing from the negotiations and pursuing an alternative proposal or walking away from the negotiations altogether. Each side typically knows its own limits, which must continually be assessed and reassessed as new information unfolds. The problem is that many negotiators have only a hazy sense of their own no-deal options or how to value them. At a very basic level, buyers are taught that unless they hear no at least once, they are leaving money on the table. It’s part of the process and can be an important tactic. But let’s explore the use of no from a strategic standpoint as well.

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http://www.dobetterdeals.com/articles/tips-and-tactics/2013/009.htm

Steve Gutzman is a senior advisor at ICN and a 33-year veteran of the high-tech
industry.

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Caveat Venditor

By Steve Gutzman

George Akerlof is perhaps best known for his article “The Market for Lemons: Quality Uncertainty and the Market Mechanism,” published in 1970 – the paper for which he was awarded the Nobel Prize.  In short, it is an article about asymmetric information and the imbalance of negotiation leverage created when one side knows more about something than the other does.  Remember subprime mortgages?

An imbalance of information is exactly what characterized the technology industry for most of its recent history.  The knowledge and ultimately the negotiation leverage were clearly on the side of the vendor.  An IBM mainframe salesperson in the early ’70s described it as “having an 8th-degree black belt in a barroom brawl with a room full of drunks.”  Back then, if you wanted to know about speeds and feeds, connectivity, throughput, pricing, integration, compatibility, and support, all roads led back to the vendor sales office.  It’s no wonder that caveat emptor – let the buyer beware – became such a useful principle and that the perception of sales was aligned with adjectives such as sleazy, slick, greedy, manipulative, and unscrupulous.

The good news is that the tables have begun to turn in recent years, with buyers having access to more and more information.  This certainly applies to the technology industry, but think of all the other aspects of daily life in which information has become more transparent: buying a car, securing a loan, finding an electrician.  A few keystrokes on Edmunds, LendingTree, or Angie’s List can take the mystery out of what used to be a cumbersome and intimidating set of activities.  In fact, there is so much information available that the watchword is now caveat venditor – let the seller beware.

Some studies indicate that as much as half the traditional selling cycle is complete by the time a salesperson learns of a new opportunity.  Today the buyer can easily scope out product information, viable suppliers, sample RFPs, evaluation models, vendor scorecards, checklists, and service-level agreements from the internet with relative ease.  Conference calls with colleagues from other companies, user group meetings, and buyer conferences can also be on the menu to the more determined.  And all before the sales team is called – if they are called at all.  This “new reality,” as one Silicon Valley head of sales terms it, is forcing sales teams around the world to reevaluate how they engage with customers in everything from small-business marketing campaigns to key account sales management.  The selling strategies and tactics of just a few years ago are proving to be increasingly out of date.

However, while having access to more information may take away the specter of the lopsided barroom brawl, knowing what to do with that information is where the high-value payback occurs.  As one insurance industry executive described the rollout of their vendor management office, “This is where the heavy lifting takes place.”

The goal, however elusive, leads back to a principle that even the theoretical economist George Akerlof would agree has real-world value: “fully informed, rational actors making decisions in their best interest.”


Steve Gutzman is a senior advisor at ICN and a 33-year veteran of the high-tech industry.  You may contact him at sgutzman@dobetterdeals.com.

 

The Challenge with Buying Technology

By Steve Gutzman

  Technology – information or otherwise – has always been a tough subject to discuss, to explain, to comprehend, to predict, and most important, to buy.  Why is that?  One reason is that it is very difficult to predict its usefulness, longevity, or value over time.  Even the people who develop technology have a tough time with this.  Some examples …

“The world potential market for copying machines is 5,000 at most.”  These are the words of an IBM executive in 1959 to the eventual founders of Xerox, saying the photocopier had no market large enough to justify production.

“There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home.”  Such is a comment from Ken Olson, the president, chairman, and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., a manufacturer of big business mainframe computers, as he argued against the personal computer in 1977.

“There is practically no chance communications space satellites will be used to provide better telephone, telegraph, television, or radio service inside the United States.”  This was Thomas Craven, Federal Communications Commission member, in 1961.  The first commercial communications satellite went into service in 1965.
But there have been some predictions that proved to be pretty accurate and quite relevant to our industry.

Moore’s Law, which was coined by Intel co-founder Gordon Moore in 1965, states that the number of transistors on a chip doubles every 24 months.  It has been the guiding principle of the high-tech industry and explains why that sector has been able to consistently announce products that are smaller, more powerful, and less costly than their predecessors – a price-performance curve that other industries can’t come close to.  The interesting thing about Moore’s Law is that it is not a law of physics.  Rather, it is just an uncannily accurate observation on what engineers and computer scientists, when organized properly, can do with silicon.

Gilder’s Law, named after the visionary author George Gilder, states that bandwidth grows at least three times faster than computer power.  This means that if computer power doubles every 24 months, then communication power doubles every eight months.  The backbone bandwidth on a single cable is now a thousand times greater than the average monthly traffic exchange across the entire global Internet five years ago.

And finally, Metcalf’s Law, named after Robert Metcalf, an originator of Ethernet and the founder of 3Com, states that the value of a network is proportional to the square of the number of users; so, as a network grows, the value of being connected to it grows exponentially, while the cost per user remains the same or is even reduced.

Whether examined separately or collectively, these three laws are driving our industry to new heights.  But they also present some big challenges for those of us who are in the “buying trenches,” for we have to figure out how to put all this breakthrough technology to good use.

What we know about the world doubles every 10 years, and information technology is leading the way.  Magnetic nanodots will soon enable storage of over one billion pages of information in a chip that is one square inch in size.  This will be followed by imaginary interfaces, iMAX at home, content-centric networking, massively parallel cortical simulators, and quantum computers.  The pace of technology invention is accelerating exponentially, and how we buy it must keep pace.  And as we will see, not only is technology changing rapidly, but our vendors are also more sophisticated in how they bring their solutions to the marketplace and in the selling techniques they use.  Therefore, we cannot rely on the old tried-and-true buying techniques of yesteryear.  We must continually upgrade our buying skills, techniques, and processes.

Remember, if you don’t have a plan on how to buy technology, you will default to the vendors’ plan on how they sell technology.

Steve Gutzman is a senior advisor at ICN and a 32-year veteran of  the high-tech industry.  You can contact him at
info@dobetterdeals.com .

Beware the Appliance?

By Dan Wallace

 
A recent issue of InformationWeek (Sept. 27, 2010) featured the “Rise of the Appliance” on its cover. My first reaction was a flash-back to those scary borgs in sci-fi movies. After reading the feature articles, I’m just as scared.

It seems that all the “Big Boys” – the Oracle’s, IBM’s, SAP’s, H-P’s, and others – are stirring the pot to create crazed excitement and demand among IT professionals for software-plus-hardware systems. InformationWeek seems to be falling for the idea, calling them “game changers.” Businesses want highly integrated hardware, software and operating systems that speed up their ability to analyze data to better serve their customers. Sounds great, right?

It sure is. And that’s why the vendors are pushing the idea as the latest and greatest technological development. Appliances are expensive. And because they’re expensive, buyers have to commit to them for the long term. For vendors, that means substantial long-term profits.

In an era where budget constraints and economic pressure is the number one challenge for IT executives, does it really make sense to lock yourself in with one vendor supplying your data appliances? Do you really want to be in bed with Oracle (for example) for the next five years? Do you really want to invite a supplier to become an “entrenched” supplier and lose your future negotiating leverage?

If you believe Larry Ellison, appliances will become the greatest technology on the face of the earth. And we’ll all be at the mercy of the suppliers. Hmm… Maybe the sci-fi borg analogy isn’t such a stretch.

Our guest blogger is Dan Wallace, a staff member at ICN and Caucus-The Association of Technology Acquisition Professionals. For advice on negotiating with entrenched incumbent and single/sole source suppliers, contact ICN.