I took a negotiations class in college. Then I read 1 book on negotiations that taught me more than that class ever could. 

In my negotiations class, we learned that

  • You need to have a “BATNA”, a Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement, before going in. AKA you better know the last thing that you’re willing to walk away with. 
  • Negotiating is all about building long-term relationships. You want to develop a mutual relationship with your counterpart. 
  • Cultural differences matter. For example, while the US may be more direct in business negotiations, Latin America would care more about establishing non-business rapport with your counterpart before talking turkey. 

But, it was all theoretical or too textbooky. 

We didn’t learn things that would help on the job. For example, how do you convince someone in a different department to prioritize your project? How do you convince marketing channel owners to promote your campaign? And what are the tactical things you can do to improve relationships with your colleagues? 

Negotiating isn’t just for finance bros and deal-makers. Negotiating is everywhere, and it’s especially in marketing when you’re working on cross-functional projects. 

two people negotiating

How I convinced a Product Manager to commit resources to our project

I work on the Global Campaigns team at HubSpot. We put on campaigns like Not Another State of Marketing Report, Email Signature Generator, and Behind the Screens. The goal of these campaigns is to get leads. At HubSpot, leads are contacts that submit a form on our campaign pages that have never submitted before. They are new to us. Leads are valuable to HubSpot because Sales Reps can reach out to them to sell products. Typically, marketing teams are responsible for fueling Sales with quality leads. These are people who are more likely to buy a product from HubSpot. 

To get leads, you need to provide value. As a marketer, you always want to find ways to provide value first. Nowadays, consumers are in charge. It’s important that you provide them value before seeking value from them.

This means:

  • Writing valuable content on a blog that educates your target audience. 
  • Offering valuable pieces of information that people can download in exchange for providing their contact information (typically email).

In the process of selecting our campaign idea, we agreed that it should be around “website” as a topic because of HubSpot’s newly launched CMS Hub website management product. We wanted to incorporate one of HubSpot’s free tools, called Website Grader, into our campaign. Website Grader allows anyone to test their website’s performance in seconds. The only problem: our team didn’t own the tool. The product department did. 

It would make sense for two teams at HubSpot to work together. But that’s not always the case because teams have different goals. The product team is goaled on driving more product trials of CMS Hub (people can sign up for a 14-day free trial of the product. These people are typically considered more valuable than leads because they actually tried the product).  My team wants leads; not product trials. These are very different goals to include in one campaign experience. 

However, my team saw Website Grader as a great opportunity for HubSpot to acquire leads. The homepage was getting a ton of traffic! A lot. We wanted to capitalize on that traffic and turn Website Grader to be an acquisition tool. 

We’d provide value to visitors by not only letting people scan their site to detect website issues, but we’d also provide them with a free course that teaches them how to fix the issues themselves. We had to convince the product team of our proposal.

How we got the “Yes”

Negotiations are always happening. At the workplace, with your relationships, at the dealerships. Any time you feel that you have to convince someone of something, you’re negotiating.

People aren’t rational. People act based on their irrational and spontaneous emotions. If someone likes you, they are more likely to agree with you despite what the factual evidence suggests. Ever wonder why your parents/best friends/significant others are your biggest fans?

That’s why trust is important. If someone trusts you, they are more likely to come to favorable terms with you. 

In my case, I had built a relationship with the Product Manager of Website Grader a few months before this project kicked off. I had gotten lunch with him and learned about his background as a PM. I took his advice and shared stories with him about my work at HubSpot.

Previously, people on my team tried to convince the Product Manager to let the tool collect leads. But he wasn’t convinced.

I first asked the Product Manager questions about his plans for Website Grader to learn about his challenges and the opportunities that he sees from the tool. One challenge for him was getting more traffic to Website Grader. Bingo. A lightbulb went off in my head because our marketing team can help him there. 

Be on the look for those nuggets. See where your counterparts are struggling. Learn about their goals and opportunities. Because you’ll want to help them. You give in order to get. 

A week later, I put together a pitch deck about how we could turn Website Grader into an acquisition tool while solving for the traffic challenges and helping him hit his goals. This would be possible only with the resources that my marketing team had. We got a YES from him and his team. And our work is almost live. 

The book that I referenced earlier played a huge part in improving my negotiations skills. The book is called “Never Split the Difference” by Chris Voss. Chris is an ex-hostage negotiator who took his FBI hostage skills and applied them to business. The book should be at the top of your list. Here are my favorite lessons from the book: 

Building trust with your counterpart is most important. 

You build trust by being empathetic. Understand your counterpart’s challenges and goals so that you can see how you can help to solve them.

You build trust by staying true to your word. No one wants to work with a low-integrity person. 

Listen actively

Don’t assume what the other person wants. Listen first, then use mirroring, silence, and a calm voice to make the other person feel safe. 

Be a mirror: Negotiation is about building a relationship with the other person. And the best way to do that is to listen attentively to what the person has to say and make him or her feel listened to. Don’t assume you already know what the other person wants. 

Mirroring is repeating the last few words the other person spoke in an inquisitive tone, instead of saying a generic “great.” This makes the person feel listened to. Mirror, then use silence to wait for their response. 

When speaking to someone who’s upset or tempered, be sure to use a soft late-night DJ (low and downward inflecting) voice to communicate calmness. It communicates confidence as well. 

Smile, even if you’re on the phone. Smiling can translate your vocal tone over the phone. 

Be empathetic

Recognize the other person’s perspective and use labeling to gain trust and diffuse negative dynamics. 

You need to understand what’s important to the other person. 

Tell your counterpart that you understand and acknowledge their position and feelings. 

Label the other person’s fears, bring them out into the open. Use phrases like “It looks like” or “it seems like” or “it sounds like.”

Get a “That’s right”

”That’s right” can be more powerful than “yes” and reaffirming the other person’s worldview is an essential step. 

  • Get the other person to say “That’s right” over “yes”. It’s more sincere and honest.
  • How? Listen -> mirror -> label -> paraphrase -> summarize (get the other person’s confirmation: “That’s right”). 
  • The other person will now be ready for what you have to say. 

Don’t be afraid of no

Every negotiation begins with “no.” Acknowledge the other person’s right to use “no” and engage within their worldview to gain a lasting, meaningful “yes.” 

First, get them to say no. It allows the real issues to be brought up. 

Then ask “What would you need to make this work?” or “what about this doesn’t work for you?”

Never leave feeling taken advantage of

Compromise often leads to both parties feeling unhappy. So never settle for a bad deal. 

Don’t use deadlines. They are arbitrary. Take the time you need. But you can use a deadline to put pressure on the other person. 

Be careful using the word “fair.” Set up “fair” early: “I want you to feel that I’m treating you fairly, so let me know if you feel that I’m being unfair, and we’ll address it.”

Avoiding loss can be more powerful than the promise of gain. So re-frame things so that the other person feels like their losing out by not accepting the offer.

Let the other party start the negotiation so you can counter. 

Give a ballpark number, or ranges (especially for salary).

Offer non-monetary things that might not be important to you but might sway the other person. Like WFH once per week. 

Use “how and “what” questions

Use “how” and “what” to avoid yes or no answers and get the other person to expend energy to solve your problems. Don’t use “Why”.

Opened ended questions work. “How do I know she’s all right?” 

“How am I supposed to do that?”

“What are we trying to accomplish here?”

A powerful way to say “no” instead of saying it: “How can I do that?”

Bargain Hard

Know your limits. And be ready to walk if things don’t go the way you want them to. 

No deal is better than a bad deal. 

Know that you don’t know everything

Negotiating is a game of information. Whichever party has more information typically leaves with a better deal. 

Always be on the lookout for new information that could change everything about your current negotiation. 

  • Look for what you don’t know. 
  • Dig in and question things. 
  • Use what you know but don’t be blinded by what you know to the point that you’re inflexible.
Consider implementing these tactics on your next project, or in your everyday life. Let me know how it goes!

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