The most important thing about preparing a negotiation is, well, doing it!

Like any other professional with years of experience in negotiation, I learned my lessons during the thousands of hours spent with vendors or business partners. Negotiation is a skill: with good training, a good teacher, some key books and, above all, practice you may become a great negotiator. I noticed nevertheless that most of the books and tutorials are focused a lot on strategy and tactics and less on the first phase, preparation.

Negotiation becomes fast a routine for a buyer: we do it constantly – on the phone, during meetings, by SMS, by e-mail, on yahoo messenger. We complete a few every day, executed in between a sales range report delivery and the department daily analysis meeting. If your negotiation routine exclude the preparation step, my strong advice is to recreate this routine: make a conscious effort to re-incorporate preparation.

Because in any routine we form habits: some bad, some good. In the crazy work pace from the office, on the perpetual rhythm imposed by the never ending “to-do” lists, trapped between sales analysis and reports, meetings and e-mails, we eliminate little by little this primary step.

Yet, even experienced professionals disregard this one stage of negotiation. One cause is their over-confidence in their own capacity to handle from memory large amounts of data and information. In my experience (I did this mistake, plenty of times) a vast majority of buyers who do not prepare a negotiation don’t do it because they assume they know already all there is to know. Difficult to argue with this: after months or years working with a specific vendor, don’t you know by heart all there is to know about that dealer? Sure you do…

Without preparation, as the discussion unfolds, at some point you will neglect a certain piece of information; you realize that you do not have quite the good answers; even not the good questions. The pressure, the stress involved during discussion, a tactful salesman, and lots of unexpected factors may change the priorities you set up mentally and you end by not getting to the bottom of all the compulsory subjects. To make things worst, for the next negotiation you do the same mistake, and then also in the next one…

We fail to get the best result from that negotiation because we fail to understand the value of its preparation. We lose sometimes more than a better price on an item: we lose credibility and opportunities.

The key-phrase is: do your homework before. Prepare, prepare, prepare. Do it in writing. Develop this into a habit; it will prove to be one of the most productive habits you will ever get as a buyer.

Often the question is: but when can we take the time to do it? Simple, when you schedule a negotiation, schedule it together with the time for the preparation! Setting it up well will mean you will spend less time in the meeting with your vendor; and you will be far more effective. In fact, it can be the most efficient time you spend during the whole process.

The analogy which comes to my mind is one with building a house. You own a piece of land and you want to build a house on it. You have an exact idea about how the house must look like. Would you start building this house without having first a detailed design, a blueprint? Without knowing the full characteristics of the ground your foundation will lay on? Without having an idea about the budget you are going to invest? Would you build a house improvising, following a spontaneous plan in your head? Certainly, you can finalize a construction using this approach, but the result has few chances to look like it was pictured in your head before you started building.

In a negotiation is alike: without a written plan and documented information, you will get something in the end but for sure the negotiation will not be satisfying and the end result might look, yes, very ugly.

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