Non-decision makers come in many forms: Real estate agents, executive assistants, and purchasing or buying agents to name just a few. Other non-decision makers might be people who appear to be the decision maker, but it turns out that someone else is actually making the final decision. This article outlines three ways to have fruitful negotiations with people who are part of the negotiation process, but not the ultimate decision maker.
In order to maximize your time with gatekeepers, information gathers and other agents of the negotiation process apply these three tips:
1) Understand their role in the process. Larger companies have a routine, or some might say bureaucracy, established around the process of negotiating everything from promotions to purchasing office supplies to hiring consulting services. Rather than work against this process, work with it by understanding the role each person plays in the entire negotiation process. The most efficient way to understand a person’s part in the process is to ask in a direct and respectful manner. When asked, people are very honest about the fact that they are gathering information for someone else, or acting on another’s behalf. A direct question might sound like this, “Will you be making the final decision?” While an indirect, yet effective question might sound like this, “Is there anyone else who needs to be involved in this decision?” There is more at risk not knowing all the steps and people involved in the process than to simply ask a polite question.
2) Support the non-decision maker’s role in the process. Unskilled negotiators often miss a golden opportunity to turn the non-decision maker into a champion. When unskilled negotiators fail to provide information gathers with the appropriate information, the information gather is then forced to look elsewhere. What is worse, that information gather will more than likely have a negative impression of the negotiator, and might even find a way to convey that impression to the decision maker. After all, just because someone is gathering information does not mean that his opinion will be ignored. Once you understand the non-decision makers’ role in the negotiation process, give that person maker every courtesy you would give the decision maker. Give non-decision makers the tools they require and you will reap tremendous rewards.
3) Use “if-then” statements to allow for flexibility. Another mistake that unskilled negotiators make is agreeing to hard and fast commitments, only to learn later that the decision maker has a host of changes that she needs or wants to make to the agreement. In order to avoid this scenario, use conditional statements, such as “We would be happy to provide you with our Ajax product at $2 per item if ABC Corporation is able to commit to purchase 1,000 items over the course of the next 6 months.” Using this formula gives everyone, including the non-decision maker, the ability to make changes to the agreement as the negotiation progresses.
Negotiating with people who are working on behalf of someone else can be rewarding and time well spent. Rather than feeling as though time is wasted talking to agents instead of the decision maker, optimize conversations with non-decision makers to learn about their organization, and give them information that will make them want to support your company rather than a competitor. Finally, keep the conversations flexible to allow for last minute changes.