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8 Strategies of Wise Negotiators

Straight from the mouths of successful CEOs, these strategies will give you the upper hand in any negotiation.

I just finished writing Chapter 19 of my new book, Think and Sell Like a CEO, due out in September from Entrepreneur Press. It's on the topic of negotiating. I thought since the first quarter of 2002 is all but done, it might be a good idea to share with you some of the most advanced tactics that I've ever seen for the all important task of getting what you deserve (or giving up as little as possible). Here's a glimpse of what I've learned so far from the people I considered to be the wisest, most experienced people. Not too surprising, I imagine. Let's look at the most profound yet subtle strategies for wise practiced at the top.

1. Pick Your Battles Carefully
CEOs who sell and negotiate successfully know that sometimes even the most valiant fight may not be worth the potential loss it entails. They know it's up to them to assign value to the campaign they decide to take on or decline--not outside forces like sales vice presidents or prospective customers. In other words, good CEOs are more likely than most other businesspeople to "walk" when they sense there will be no alternative to a bad deal. They don't negotiate a deal just to be able to say they've negotiated something.

Karin Bellantoni, CEO of I-Mark (the company that specializes in "permission-based" voice-mail messaging systems), puts it this way: "I'll only negotiate with people who can hear my message."

2. Leave No Loose Ends
Once they take on a negotiating project--or any project, for that matter--CEOs make sure everything on the "hot list" gets taken care of. They can't afford to leave any loose ends in a negotiating session, and they commit to following through on all their commitments. You'll want to do the same. (Side note: Every CEO I interviewed for this book had some personalized strategy for making sure that nothing "fell through the cracks.")

Joe Gustafson, CEO of Brainshark, knows both sides of the "get it done" equation: "I'll run fast and far from salespeople and prospects who cannot clearly commit to what needs to be done." Moral: Before entering a negotiation, make your list and check it twice!

3. Know When to Ask, Not Just What to Ask For
Successful CEOs know that you can't reap what you don't sow. Their actions always seem to be in accordance with the "ebb and flow." They get involved early in important deals, they know when to wait, and they know when to push. This trait comes in handy in negotiating sessions.

Emil Wong, CEO of Latitude, attributes this trait to an ability to be involved throughout the sales process; he points out that the sales and negotiating functions are really interwoven. "You've always got to be 'closing' for something," he says. "I need to get involved early in the sales cycle. I can't wait until we're losing the deal or until we're at an impasse. I'm not big on waiting until the bottom of the ninth to get things done."

4. Don't Take Shortcuts
CEOs have certain values that they just won't compromise. That's not to say they are stubborn, but they do know how, when and where to draw a boundary. Ill-advised departures from guiding principles can carry huge costs, the most important of which are non-monetary: lower self-worth, lower esteem, damaged reputation and damaged self-image, to name just a few.

Keith McCumber, CEO of DayLite Systems Inc., has a core value that says (as he puts it): "Learn to recognize early on when we're looking at a situation in which we're unlikely to be successful. I allow people to fail . but making the same mistake twice is out of the question." This translates, in his case, to highly focused negotiations, and hardly any that drag on interminably.

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Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.

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