How to improve your negotiation skills

Negotiation doesn’t come naturally to everyone. Thankfully, there are processes you can learn to help you master this much-needed business skill.

Keith Harwood is the director of Inspire Speakers, an agency that sources and manages professional speakers for corporate events. While Keith says he never really considered himself to be a negotiator, he does admit there is a lot of discussion around identifying the needs of his clients, working out who best meets that need and then matching them according to price.

Converse, don't haggle

“It’s all about the clients initially and it’s about finding the clients, getting the clients, getting the relationship and having that conversation about what it is they want,” explains Keith.

“The conversation might be, ‘We’ve got this business sermon next year and this is our audience. These are the problems they’ve had in the last 12 months. This is who we’ve had before and liked, loved. This is who we’ve had before and not liked. And this is how much we have to spend’. Once I get all of that information, it then gives me enough to go to the market and to go into my brain, and to do all the research and go, ‘Okay, who’s going to be perfect for this event?’.”

For Keith, negotiation is less about getting both sides to make compromises than about find the most mutually beneficial solution to any given problem.

Price is only one negotiating tool

Another tactic Keith employs is to look beyond the black and white of price to the additional benefits his clients can provide.

“If [the speaker] wants the work and there’s opportunity for more work with that client, they’ll be more flexible. I’ve got to pitch it to them. Likewise, if the speaker is not going to budge, but I sometimes know that they’re the right person for the client’s events, I’ll need to pitch it back to the client,” he says.

“I’m pitching to them and saying, ‘These guys have a lot of events. You know, there’s potentially a lot of work. I’ve seen it happen with other talent that they’ve engaged before. This is the fee they have to work with,’ and most of the time, they will [agree].”

Look to add value

“My clients can go direct, they can do their own research. The internet was meant to end what I do,” Keith says.

“They can go to my competitors because there’s maybe about, I don’t know, 10 or 12 good companies that do what I do. They can sometimes decide not to do anything if it’s an internal conference.

“I’m in a position where I’m a broker and I’ve got to provide the value to the client.”

In Keith’s business, he says that value could mean engaging with speakers who might never have considered commonality with his client, looking at repeat bookings, negotiating better rates than the client could manage themselves, remove a lot of the grunt work in researching potential speakers and tapping into his professional network to identify new sources and rule out unsuitable ones.

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