Every Professional Services Negotiation Must Have These 3 Tools
In my specialty, as a professional services negotiation skills speaker for consultants, attorneys and accountants, I characteristically get questions from audience members as to the most important skills they need to get the job. While we like to use more sophisticated words, such as “getting the engagement,” but, let’s face it: either we get the business, or we go home!
As a negotiation skills speaker for accountants when honing for a professional services presentation, the first point to understand is that negotiation tools are more than just presenting fees and technical abilities. There are at least three other professional services negotiation skills that are much more valuable. They are so basic that they are typically overlooked. In fact, I can almost guarantee that if you are selected to present your professional services capabilities along with four competitors, at least two of them will knock themselves out of the negotiation by forgetting the following points:
The 3 Essential Professional Services Negotiation Skills
1. Know who are you and what you stand for and be sure the prospective client knows too. Why is this advice placed at the top of my list? A successful negotiation requires that the organization you are interacting with knows who you are as people. What wins a negotiation initially has little to do with technical proficiency or fees. Unless the engagement is to be in a highly specialized field, technology is subordinate to those who possess that expertise. In a negotiation for a new client or additional piece of business, highlight the ways that your people are unique. All the hi- or lo-tech stuff will come in follow-up questions, but remember that when you negotiate for business, the client is thinking: “Can I work with their team? How do they make me feel? Do they have the values I seek in a professional services provider?”
2. Research the Client. What do you really know about your future client? Far too many professional services negotiations are set up where the professional services organization views the potential engagement negotiation as an opportunity to have an ego-fest. It is more important to listen, to research the potential client and to ask insightful questions than to try to “wow” them with your degrees and pictures of the new office furniture. When a potential client asks, “What do you think of our company? Have you heard anything about our current challenges?” they are not asking for a business school thesis. They are seeking comfort in knowing you are already up to speed. It shows that your professional services group actually cares enough to learn about their business and not just trying to get a contract.
3. Define your team. Be very careful who you are bringing to the negotiation. This may appear insignificant but is important to create long-lasting bonds that leads to trust. I can share the story of a CEO that consulted with the dairy industry. By all standards, the CEO was a technical wizard with a body of knowledge second to none, but in meetings he was officious. His team eventually (tactfully) asked him to defer to others in the consulting negotiations. In another true example, a partner in a law firm learned that one of subordinates played baseball for a small Division III college in Wisconsin– exactly the same college as the principal of the firm they were meeting. While that was not the deciding factor in getting the engagement, it created a comfort level in the negotiation for business.
To be certain, technical know-how and competitive fees as discussion points in a professional services negotiation have value, but they don’t replace the people skills of the people who will make it happen.
To contact Mike Hourigan, Negotiation Skills Speaker for the Professional Services Industry for your next meeting, breakout or convention call: (704) 875-3030 today, or by filling out the form below.