Barking Up the Wrong Tree

Negotiations in China

Some reflections on negotiating business relationships

I have to be careful, each day I believe I’m getting better and better at discerning people’s position and desire in business and putting pieces together in ways where incentives are aligned and risks are sufficiently managed in so far as each party is concerned. However, I still find myself occasionally in a position where I feel like I’ve wasted my time with someone I’m vetting. Maybe it’s when I’m most engaged with my own side of the equation that I falter – though maybe it’s of little concern as I’ve only just recently gotten out on my own. Learning to stand on ones own two feet by means of my own endeavors is no easy nor small task.

Recently I have been in negotiations with a language training center to involve my language activities into their marketing mix in return for an invesetment. Things are looking iffy at this point and here are some of the lessons I’ve pulled out of the endeavor thus far:

Find the decision maker

Yes of course! Well who doesn’t know that! well like many text based understandings this lesson has found it’s solidification in a mistake. I originally began conversations with this company through a contact I had made through a networking event several months ago – what I failed to discern immediately was that she was not infact the key decision maker in their business, a partner yes, but the real ‘driver’ of the business – No. If your talking to the wrong person your just creating more wind between ears in my opinion, if you want to get something done you need to get to the key person making things happening and making the hard and fast decisions about the company.

Listen, THINK, Discern THEIR position

Again not rocket science but something I believe you always need to be developing a real keen ear and eye for. Deducing intention, desire, and position not just through what people you are investigating doing business with say but what they don’t say and how they word it. What kind of person are they? Where are they in their career? What do they want to accomplish with their business? How do you fit into their goals?… and if you don’t why would they do business with you? The last peice fell a little hard on my head during our last meeting. It was quite clear to me at that point that the real decision maker, who was now in front of me, would not have agreed to the conditions under which I began a ‘trial’ relationship with these guys.

You really need to be able to put your agenda aside, completely, and focus on building an understanding of that key decision maker and their business. I forgot to do this sufficiently, I think I filled in a lot of the blanks myself early on because I knew what this company was, their size, their service, their position in the market – more or less. However I did not know the heart, mind, and passion of the key decesion maker and I did not sufficiently consider how she would like to work together and what problems they were currently facing. Do I have a marketing product to offer them with fantastic ROI potential? I believe so. Is that relevant to the key decision maker? Let me stress this – it depends entirely on their position and of course your relationship with him/her. Small business is messy – I have a firm understanding of this. Time is always on short supply and catering to any agenda but your own is damn near implausible. I forgot this in my blind ambition to reveal how valuable a proposition I was making them. I pushed about how valuable what I had was instead of investigating what their current plights and agenda were for the business


  • Tammy

    I quite agree with you. No matter how, you’ve learned from it and would grow stronger. :-)

  • mike michelini

    yea man…..we have definitely both learned this along the way.

    but in a way to finding the right decision maker, everyone wants to be important, and for them to say “well, i am not the right person to be talking to, I am too low on the list” is hard to get out from them….especially here in China….everyone wants to be the great one!!

    also, sometimes that key decision maker may consult his / her “underlings”, so it may be worth investment in the others as well, to seem more genuine in your interests