Dealing with extreme demands

Here is a little story about dealing with extreme demands. Not so long ago I was with a group of senior executives presenting my fee negotiation programme and discussing the value this would generate for their firm (a major market leader in their field). I illustrated this with examples of what I teach, including my views on the importance of ambitious targets and good concession management, i.e. no gifts.

At that point one of those present interjected and, claiming to apply my principle, proposed that given that it would be such a privilege and important credibility builder for me to work with this firm, I should do the first workshop for free.

I dealt with that suggestion tactfully on the basis that I do not do work for free and that whereas I would be happy to discuss my proposed pricing – free would not be an option.

After the meeting I started to worry about my response. I realised that a more “elegant” or constructive way of dealing with this particular suggestion would have been to respond that the client could get what they wanted but only if they paid for it, i.e. if the concessions that they would be willing to make were worth more than the value of the fees they wanted me to forgo. I wished I had thought of this at the time.

Fortunately I received a call a few days later, confirming that the client wanted to go ahead at an agreed price. We discussed the specific suggestion made and my reaction to it.  I was told that some of those present had felt the demand to be outrageous but that my reaction was seen as appropriate and that my refusal to cave in was taken as proof that I knew how to negotiate and that this was exactly what was being looked for.

I draw the following lessons from this:

  • any meeting with a client can turn into a negotiation situation
  • keeping calm and sticking to your principles is likely to build your credibility
  • engaging in negotiations regularly keeps you sharp and alert
  • one can always prepare better and it pays to anticipate some of the most likely and some of the most extreme demands
  • don’t expect to be able to think on your feet and come up with the perfect response immediately, but…
  • reflect and learn (and don’t be too tough on yourself for not having been perfect)

I look forward to the next time someone will ask for something for free so that I can respond “sure, you can have what you want for free – as long as you pay for it”. It will be interesting to see their response.

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