Market Realities and Mind Games in Technology Negotiations (Software Acquisition Insider Tips V)

By Vinnie Mirchandani

Abruptly end a meeting mid-stream to make a point? Make the salesman sweat at quarter-end to squeeze a few extra discount points? Scream emotionally that you are going to report their price gouging to the regulators? Yes, I have used all of these techniques and many more in the negotiations/background deal advice I have contributed to as a Deal Architect. And I’m not proud of any of them.

My ideal way of conducting a negotiation is identifying an empowered executive in each of the competing (finalist) vendors and “signaling” where the economics and t’s&c’s should roughly come in. I would rather finish the negotiations weeks before quarter end and have the grateful sales executive move on to some other negotiation’s set of mind games.

No, I am not a walk over. My “signals” are based on a continuous monitoring of market trends. If you read my Deal Architect blog, I am into disruptive vendors and economics and very critical of “empty calories” in the price and performance of many of the industry’s large vendors. And lest I under play the complexity of the deals — plenty of legal, procurement, financial and, of course, IT folks are typically involved — the “signals” I am talking about are not stuff you can communicate in a 140 character Tweet.

My two favorite negotiation tools — vigorous bid competition and emerging market benchmarks — apply broadly across technology sectors. I will bring in SaaS economics to play into outsourcing deals. Telecom early termination clauses into SaaS contracts. Cloud computing benchmarks of availability and recovery/response times when negotiating support expectations from on-premise software companies. E. European and S. American competitors when Indian competitors only expect to see their peers in competition. On my other blog, New Florence, I am constantly looking for innovations in technology that are a rich source for the “unorthodox competition” I like to bring to negotiations.

The one humbling principle I live by: implementing technology is exponentially more difficult than negotiating it. So, I am constantly pacing myself to get the negotiation out of the way of implementation. It breaks my heart to see some buyers delay a project for months for another 2-3% in savings which should be far offset by the benefits the implementation team could have leveraged in that time frame.

Of course, not every client I work with is willing to be that “innovative”. Often I am stuck with a short “approved vendor list” to run the bid with. Worse, when it comes to renewals, many clients hurt themselves by not considering any alternatives to the incumbent. Some clients have transparency requirements which make my “back-channel” conversations difficult.

And even more so, it is tough to find enlightened vendor executives who accept the concept of market reality. Many are trained to rotely repeat things like “we have never accepted that price point or legal clause“. Unbelievably, many will pull out their quarter-end, blue plate special when I have told them I want to be finished of the negotiation way before quarter-end. Often they will adopt the Letterman version of “stupid salesman tricks” I have written about before. Others will take advantage of your offer to debrief why they lost the deal to try and claw their way back into the deal.

But when the deal is allowed to be driven by market realities more than mind games, I can tell you magic happens. It’s like a well fought chess game. There are rules and time constraints and each side is civil (at least somewhat) to each other.

But more importantly, both sides walk away feeling they won. Or at least tied. And us negotiators can scurry on out and let the business folks get on with making their magic with the technology they just bought.

At Gartner, and since with his sourcing advisory firm, Deal Architect, Vinnie Mirchandani has negotiated or advised clients on over $ 5 billion in software, offshoring, hosting, telecom and other technology and BPO contracts.