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


Ten Truths of Negotiations – Truth #3 & #4

Truth #3

     It is not a relationship of trust. It is not a partnership. Ask your attorney what the definition is for a true legal partnership. For one thing, it involves being liable for each other’s actions. This is not what a vendor contract is about. Read one. It is not a relationship of trust—it’s one of mistrust. It’s a relationship in which the vendor drafts a wonderful document that protects the vendor and allocates the risk to you. If a vendor gets you to sign this contract, it’s good for the vendor. Then a vendor will look you in the face and say, “Trust us.”

     That’s the time you should be asking yourself, “Have they shown any trust?” The answer is a resounding no. So get the fantasy that a vendor contract is a partnership out of your head. It’s not a relationship of trust but that doesn’t mean it’s a terrible thing. We have a tendency to let our guard down the minute we think of a relationship of trust. I believe that there can be a good, professional relationship with a supplier, but not a partnership.

     I’ve heard customers say, “We’re partnering with them.” When a client tells me that, I say, “Could I see your partnership agreement?” I was amazed when one client actually showed me one. It was the one true partnership between a customer and a vendor that I’ve seen in the last ten years. Let me assure you that 99 percent of the time it’s not a relationship of mutual trust.

Truth #4

     Are we acquiring results or resources? My next truth is based on this question. It’s a question that must be answered the first day, in any deal, and it has to do with responsibility. Whose responsibility is it to produce the results?

     I’ve been testifying in state and federal court for over 20 years, and almost every dispute I’ve heard revolves around responsibility. In 90 to 99 percent of the deals, responsibility for success is very unclear. Many contract provisions say, “We will decide this. We will jointly accomplish that.” What does that verbiage mean? Who is actually responsible? The bottom line in such wording is that the customer is responsible.

     A “results deal” is one in which the customer has effectively and completely delegated to the supplier the risk of failing to produce the results. It’s the deal where if the vendor talks about “solutions” and “results” to a company’s executives, they are held accountable for service levels and outcomes. That’s a deal where the vendor has the responsibility.

     The other choice is a “resource deal” and, in certain instances, there’s nothing wrong with that. Not every deal has to be a results deal. Sometimes results can’t be defined. What is needed is some horsepower—maybe 3,000 PCs. That’s a resource deal. However, applying those resources and getting the desired results is the customer’s responsibility. These are the cases where that customer needs to pay attention and really manage the resources, the vendor and the outcomes.

     Let’s go back to a results deal for a moment. There are a couple of related and salient points that we tend to forget. We say, “Okay, we have them committed to ‘results.’ But we’re going to manage the deal. After all, we’re risking our money, our assets and our project.” Think about that. What are we really doing? That approach shifts the responsibility for results to the customer.

     Another thing we say is, “We have them committed to results, but we’re going to tell them the policies, equipment and staffing levels they have to use.” Doesn’t this blow the deal? I’ve seen countless vendors avoid accountability because they were “forced” to do things at the customer’s direction.

     There’s one other important point about a results deal. Never have the obligation to pay a vendor triggered by anything other than the vendor producing the agreed upon results, whether it’s on a milestone basis or completion. If it’s a results deal, why should we have a vendor’s invoice trigger our obligation to pay? Why should we have a monthly calendar event trigger our payment? I’ve seen contracts in which the vendor is to be paid $500,000 per month for 60 months, due no later than the tenth of the month—an unconditional obligation for the customer. That’s a financeable document, isn’t it? The vendor can cash out of that deal in the first month, but say, “Don’t worry. We’ll take care of you for the next 59 months.” There’s nothing better than having a good contract—except having the vendor’s money.

     The first thing I do when I look at an RFP is to determine whether it’s a results or resource deal. Who has the responsibility for the outcome? In most deals I look at, this is unclear. If that’s the case, the customer will never win in a dispute that goes to mediation or to court.

Worldwide Software Negotiations Training Coming to the UK

(London, 15-6-2010) – Worldwide IT Contract Negotiations Training Company, International Computer Negotiations (ICN), is coming to the United Kingdom on July 1-2, 2010, for their highly acclaimed Software: Issues, Contracts, Negotiations training class.  For 35 years, ICN has been training Global 1000 companies on how to Do Better DealsICN’s Software Negotiations Training has taught over 1000 IT buyers how to do better licensing and development deals. Click here for more information.

“How Software is Protected, Key Licensing Ingredients, Software Development, Pricing Models and Strategies, Avoiding Litigation, Prioritizing Objectives are just some of the topics the business community will see,” says CEO Joe Auer Sr.  People looking to register for this 2-day event must do it in advance.  Training will take place at the headquarters of BP in London and sign-up is available through “Anybody that is involved with the acquisition of Software, including legal, IT, finance, procurement and contract or vendor management, needs to see this course,” says Auer.

Since 1975, Winter Park, FL based ICN has provided critical training and consulting in high tech procurement, vendor management, and negotiations, establishing a reputation that sets it apart from the competition.  Internationally, ICN has presented both public and customized on-site seminars in countries around the world including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Malaysia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and Singapore.