A few weeks ago I asked Twitter followers to send me questions they’d want to see addressed on the blog, and one of them struck my fancy in particular:
What do you do when you have one thing to offer, like a manuscript, and there are two different parties who want to negotiate with you for it?
How do you make sure you get the best price possible for your one of a kind manuscript/painting/illustration? Or, if you freelance, for your ever valuable time?
Here is how to prepare for and engage in negotiations that involve more than one party.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
It is always important to know what you want and why you want it before you enter a negotiation, but when there is more than one person asking for what you have, it’s even more important that you’re prepared.
Not only do you need to know the basics — what the going price is for what you’re selling, any cultural norms for the kind of deal you’re offering — you also have to understand what a potential deal with each person might look like and how those different deals might impact you.
A good deal with one person might be a less than ideal agreement with the other person.
Focus first on what you’ll be negotiating about and what’s important to you about how what you’re negotiating over is handled once it’s left your hands.
If you have a manuscript and you’re dealing with two potential publishers, what is the best possible situation for you once you’ve signed the dotted line?
In your perfect (but realistic) world, how would the winning publisher treat you?
How much control would you have over things like schedule, revisions, and the like?
What help would you want from the publisher? What does the editorial process look like in your perfect (but realistic) world? What about publicity?
What about a year after the book is published? Are there things you’d expect the publisher to do for the book? For you?
Once you have a better idea of what your best outcome looks like regardless of who has the winning bid, you can start focusing on the particular parties you’re negotiating with.
Are there “must haves” no matter who your publishing partner is? Requirements that only apply if one of the publishers wins the rights?
What do you think are the pros and cons of each party? Are there things that might make up for any of the cons? Things that would make the pros less attractive?
Write down your answers to these questions. Then refer to them as offers are being made. You likely won’t get a perfect offer, but this list of what’s important to you can help you figure out how close to perfect their offer is.
Asking these kinds of questions, and understanding your answers, before negotiations begin will help you avoid feeling pressured to make an important decision in the midst of the negotiation.
Did it start out as a negotiation with one person and someone new just asked to join the party? Call a time out.
Tell both sides you won’t be available for a day or two (they won’t disappear, promise) and take time out to do the work described above.
Don’t be shoved around by someone else’s timeline. Give yourself the time and space to think about what’s most important to you and how you want to make decisions in the resulting negotiation.
Be Up Front About Your Flirtatious Ways
I’m of the opinion that it never pays to hide that fact that someone else is interested in your stuff.
Partially because we humans are weird — if someone else wants something we want, we suddenly want that thing more than we did before. Even the thing itself hasn’t changed.
Use this natural tendency to your advantage and make sure each party understands they aren’t your one and only.
I’m not suggesting that you pit the two against one another or that you exaggerate the amount of interest you have. You don’t have to be cocky about the revelation that others are interested, but it is a good idea to be up front and honest as early on as possible.
Another benefit of being up front in the very beginning is that it will help everyone set their expectations for the negotiation accordingly. You don’t want a situation where one of the parties finds out about the other well into negotiations and then accuses you of being dishonest.
Beyond the fact that others are interested or that you’re open to negotiations with other parties, don’t feel the need to divulge details about how those other negotiations are going.
For example, saying this is aces: “I just want to let you know that So-and-so has also expressed interest in this project and I’m keeping my options open for the time being.”
This, not so much: “That Other Company said they were interested but they haven’t returned my calls since I sent over my terms, so I guess it’s OK if you make an offer.”
Totally fine: “Jane and John Doe have made an offer I’m considering. If you think you can offer me a better package, I’m willing to consider it.”
Crappy: “Three or four other people are looking at this [actually, no one is] so you’ll need to tell me if you want it immediately.”
If they push for details about the other negotiation, politely decline, “I want to provide them the same level of confidentiality that I am providing you.”
Follow Your Own Rules
Often times if a party knows others are interested in buying something, they’ll make their offer conditional on time or the acceptance of certain terms.
They use their offer to apply pressure to the seller to sell. “You’ll never get a better offer than this and this one disappears in 20 minutes!”
Which is fine, you might do something similar if you were in their situation.
But just because they try to impose rules on the negotiation doesn’t mean you have to play by the rules they create.
When dealing with multiple parties who are all bidding on the thing you are selling, you get to play by your rules. Not theirs.
So if they tell you they won’t participate unless X, Y and Z happen. Consider X, Y and Z, but don’t do them if you don’t want to.
If you’re feeling the pressure, don’t want to give in to their demands, but don’t know what to say, try this:
“I’m sorry, but if I make this decision under those constraints I won’t be able to give it the thought it deserves. And that won’t be good for me or my potential publisher/client/buyer. I can’t agree to those terms.”
Negotiating with more than one party at a time can be a challenge, but it also has the potential to provide you with a great deal you might not have gotten otehrwise. With the right preparation, honesty and a healthy dose of self confidence you can handle it like a pro.
Categories: Negotiation Strategy