The Art of Collaboration: Turn Strategic Losses into Opportunities to Win

Andres Lares, Shapiro Negotiations Institute

Running an organization – or surviving within one – is anything but business as usual in the time of COVID-19. Lofty goals, aggressive growth strategies and strong momentum all hit a major obstacle as businesses shut down or adopt new realities for how to work. If you and your organization have suffered losses, you are not alone. If you are still struggling to regain your footing, you are not alone. This article examines how to evaluate your current standing and begin translating losses into new opportunities to win. 

Start with the value you bring to the table.

Losses hurt us beyond their financial implications; they have a psychological component as well. We perceive them as a failure or shortcoming as they happen against our will. Fortunately, this psychology provides the first opportunity to reframe the current situation by taking back some control. In this new climate, the rules of business are not the same, and we must adopt the age-old adage: know your worth. 

You can begin as you would with any negotiation by assessing the value you bring to the table and understand your own goals and needs first. Before you dive into the other party’s needs, or even what you hope to gain from them, you must prioritize your own values. Take the time to do a full inventory of your tangible assets, your financials, and your overhead. With this accounting, you can make an honest evaluation of where your margins have room to give a little, and where you are already in danger. 

Enter the negotiation as a fact-finder, not a deal-maker.

The pressure we experience in sales has not lessened with COVID-19, but it has changed. Speed is seldom as big a priority as it once was, which means our conversations with potential clients and partners may actually have more breathing room. Leverage the uncertainty to your advantage.

Enter the negotiation with open questions to assess the other party’s interests. Ask how they are managing through COVID-19. Ask if they have had to make dramatic changes or if they are encountering new challenges. Work your way into questions about what they are prioritizing right now, and what factors are driving their considerations. The more you can understand up front, the more you can prepare an offer or package that maintains as many of your key values as possible. If you feel like you need to compromise, you can do so in a collaborative manner to meet their needs without decimating your own. 

Be prepared to walk away.

Even with the best preparation and fact-finding mind-sets, our new reality for the foreseeable future will not always be conducive to success. If it seems impossible to reconcile the other party’s priorities or needs against the areas you are able to collaborate on, feel comfortable pivoting and taking more time to evaluate. Say, “let me review the terms internally and get back to you.” This implied compromise can help you reset and either craft a competitive offer or back out graciously, avoiding a bad deal for yourself or even both parties, and ultimately preserving the relationship for the future.

Sometimes losses are unavoidable, but sometimes the right strategic collaboration can lay a foundation for future successes. By sacrificing something now, you could establish a long-term partnership that lives beyond COVID-19, or open up an entirely new opportunity in the future. Collaborating on a solution during a sale or negotiation by its very nature doesn't always feel like the most exciting type of win in sales, but when survival is on the line, every bit counts. It might sting to give up something voluntarily, but it's much better than losing everything if you don't have to. 

Andres Lares is managing partner at Shapiro Negotiations Institute.

Sales & Marketing Management is the leading authority for executives in the sales and marketing field.

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