Closing and being closed on

Many inexperienced negotiators spend a lot of time and energy worrying about “closing the deal” at the expense of good preparation and application of good negotiation practices. These are covered in-depth in High Impact Fee Negotiation and Management for Professionals.

For those who have not had a chance to read the book the approaches include:

  • thorough preparation including intelligence gathering
  • setting effective vetoes and targets
  • delivering a credible opening position and responding appropriately to the other side’s positions
  • managing the flow of concessions
  • applying creativity to create value
  • handling internal and external conflict constructively, and
  • focusing on the person to person interactions

Although there is a chapter on closing in the book it is the shortest. There are a number of reasons for this.

Firstly, most PSF projects are not awarded or agreed on impulse, whereas most closing techniques are designed to “trap” the other side into signing on the dotted line. This is why so many countries now legislate for a “cooling off” period that allows retail customers to cancel an agreement or contract once they had a chance to review their decision rationally and not in the presence of a pushy – sorry should have written overly persuasive-salesman.

Second, most professionals tend to be good at documenting agreements anyway. This is not where they need help. Getting to the agreement, i.e. the process of negotiation, is where the real challenges lie. No closing technique will overcome poor negotiation technique.

Not withstanding all of the above, it is worth remembering a few key principles around this topic as closing gambits and counter gambits belong to the repertoire of good negotiators.

The most important is not to rush to the close. There is no point trying to get “agreement” if all relevant issues have not been agreed or even discussed. Rushing to a close will either expose your position as weak or will expose you to the risk of becoming salami sliced, i.e. having to give up “slices” of value in return for keeping to the agreement.

If you are being “closed on” – beware of this for exactly the same reasons. Once an agreement has been made in principle most people find it psychologically very difficult to get out of this. Manipulative negotiators can take advantage of this.

The conventional counter to any pre-mature close is to simply say something along the lines that no matter how much you would like to get to an agreement there are still X issues to be discussed. Then take advantage of the other side’s mistake by firmly putting down your demands on these issues and stating that as soon as the other side agrees to your proposed conditions that they can have the overall agreement.

I have also come across examples of pre-emptive anti-closing in the form of the lead negotiator on one occasion stating at the beginning of a negotiation that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”. This was essentially also a protection against salami slicing, a technique we knew the other side was particularly fond of and good at.

Most professionals know when it is time to go for a closing. At that stage it is best to ask the other side if there are any further outstanding issues and if not to summarise the agreement. If there are outstanding issues you need to check if these are substantial – in which case you should not try to close or, if they are only minor, both sides agree to deal with these at a later point. This is fine but beware these from impacting on the total value of an agreement.

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