As founder and president of International Speakers Bureau (ISB), I am in a somewhat unique position to work on both sides of a deal. I am the third party that ensures the interests of both the client (a company) and the talent (a speaker or entertainer) are met. The fact is negotiating is a daily and vital occurrence in our company. As I make sure ISB makes its margins, the deals actually become three-dimensional, negotiated transactions where we work to ensure everyone comes out a winner.
Our Key to Successful Negotiations
The key is having a thorough understanding of the product we sell: our talent. We need to know in a detailed and honest way what the talent can and cannot do, what they are willing and not willing to do, and what they will accept in return. So we spend a lot of time getting to know them and understanding their strengths and weaknesses, and to some extent their personal situations. We become very interactive with the talent, frequently experiencing them live to get a feel for what they really have to offer.
On the buyer’s side, we must have a clear understanding of what the client is asking for and what they truly want and need. These often can be two very different things. For example, a client tells us that they want someone who can motivate their employees. We dig deeper and discover the client really is trying to sell a new product and needs high attendance at their event. Thus, a highly recognized name or talent could provide the large draw needed to meet their event goals.
As experts in this field, it’s our job to know which talent can delivery what the client needs. We work to pull the right information out of clients and to uncover the true answer to what is wanted versus what is needed so that we can recommend the best talent for the job. This all helps us later when we’re negotiating the details of the deals.
For instance, the client’s budget may not match up with what is determined they truly need. They tell us their budget is $10,000. But we then tell them that to get what they need, it will cost $14,000. Next it becomes a matter of finding ways to add value for the client so they feel justified in spending the extra money required to get the most appropriate talent. For the difference in the client’s budget and the actual fees, we might negotiate to provide a separate meeting with top management or some other special appearance or book signing as part of the deal. However, we’ve learned that we can only up-sell effectively if we know the talent well and understand the added value they are able and willing to provide to the client.
In Roger Fisher and William Ury’s seminal book on negotiating, Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement without Giving In, the authors identify a strategy I have long worked to adapt. Prior to serious negotiations, for example, the authors discuss three stages of negotiations from beginning to end: analysis, planning, and discussion. The analysis and planning stages are what we undertake in so many situations. For us to have a successful negotiation, we need a clear understanding going in of what our clients are asking for and what they truly want.
Making Expectations and Terms Unequivocal
While spelling out every detail is critical for any deal, it is especially important when the deal is not clear-cut or when there are add-ons to achieve that extra value for the client. The expectations and terms must be unequivocal. One can never put too much information in writing. We must make sure we’ve thought through every possibility, outlined every expectation, and provided a tremendous amount of detail around those expectations.
Sometimes our negotiations can take on rather interesting and challenging terms. For example, we have had to negotiate that talent use a certain product exclusively while he is in town speaking on behalf of the client. Or we might negotiate that the client provides the talent with the very first of what is a highly prized or sought-after new product it is getting ready to launch. In such cases, the client might in exchange be able to get the talent for a reduced fee. We even occasionally do barter deals whereby in exchange for the talent’s appearance, the client provides the talent with a major product. This is where really knowing the talent and knowing the client comes into play. Knowing precisely what you can and cannot negotiate is the real strength of effective deal making.
Probably the most important aspect of working as the middle person is ensuring that everyone walks away happy. That means making sure the desires and expectations of both the talent and the client are clearly defined and effectively met. And for ISB, that translates into repeat business. We don’t want to simply negotiate one-time deals; we want to continue to work over time to provide ongoing opportunities for talent and to help clients implement strategies to reach their goals throughout the years.
As William Ury notes in his article in this Collection, “Traditionally, negotiation had a ‘win-lose’ quality to it; it was seen as just another form of warfare. Increasingly, however, people and organizations are searching for methods to arrive at solutions for mutual gain.”
Through my experiences as an entrepreneur and now a veteran negotiator, Ury is absolutely right in asserting parties can negotiate for mutual gain. The old ways of negotiations, in which parties considered themselves almost enemies to each other, are over. All told, I think we at ISB have learned by doing that negotiating is not just an inevitable part of our lives, but a welcome part of enhancing our professional and personal well-being.
© 2006 Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. All rights reserved.