Why won’t they answer the phone?
I’ve been doing the Alpha Group Negotiation Skills training since mid 2017 and a frequent request from trainees is for advice on email negotiations. Consequently, I’ve added an email negotiation scenario to the new 2019 course format and this blog covers some of the things we discuss. Drop me a line of you want to find out more about in-house training or open courses (email@example.com +353 87 9380216)
Changing the rules
From a suppliers point of view, more and more of their buyers are insisting on negotiating only via email. The bottom line is that the buyers are generally younger than the sellers (by 10 years on average). They are also more confident, with the backing of a multi-billion organisation, negotiate more frequently and are accustomed to winning. And now they want to change the rules of engagement and communicate differently. You might be used to meeting face to face, making a phone call to fix a problem, using all your senses to read and assess a situation. But now they won’t answer their phones and they actually want to negotiate by email. You probably won’t change them, so don’t try. Instead, put your energy into understanding them and making it work for you.
Who are these young buyers?
- Millennials, born mid-80’s to mid-90’s and therefore in their early 20’s to early 30’s.
- Highly educated and tech-savvy
Why do they negotiate by email?
Well, it’s not just negotiations. They’ll probably meet their future partner on a dating app and the call function on their phone will only be their 5th most used app. It’s actually the case that ALL of their communication is different versus the Gen-X folks that came before. There are some specific reasons though.
- Negotiation, for a buyer, is just about asking for things (with a high expectation of your agreement). So, why would they invest the time and energy in face to face or telephone contact when they can simply send an email? Nearly every other high value transaction they do personally will be online. When you think about it, why would a workplace negotiation be any different?
- This generation prefers to communicate more via email, text and instant messaging options as it allows for a certain degree of informal convenience and flexibility. The sender assumes that the recipient isn’t available or will pick up the message at a time that suits them, just as they send the messages at times that suit them.
- They send emails whilst they are on the go. Not so much, multi-tasking, which is highly inefficient, rather they like concurrent activity where they clear the ‘to do list’ whilst queuing for coffee, eating a sandwich or using the washroom. They are very task oriented and allow their down-time to be blurred somewhat.
- Negotiation is a potential conflict scenario so hiding behind the key board feels safer whilst making demands.
- All negotiators worry about the credibility of their opening position. “If I pitch it too high, I’ll look ridiculous, too low and I clearly haven’t a clue”. “If I negotiate over email then my opposition can never make a face, laugh or use a ‘flinch’ to undermine me. It’s much harder for you to make me feel silly”
- This generation of buyers is the most regulated in history. They have internal ‘Code of business conduct’ regulations, external ‘Grocery Regulations’ and they work in a climate of ass-covering. Email is a good way to record everything in a systematic fashion.
- Sending an email is a lot like making an offer and shutting up. It de-risks the interaction and negates the potential for an opponent to use the silent treatment to gain more concessions.
- With e-mail, you can’t read my body language and see that I’m terribly stressed or suffering from ‘impostor syndrome’. I’m much less likely to give something away, say too much or make a mistake.
- I can hide how terribly unprepared I am. It’s an extension of the old scenario where the buyer had the leverage and never had to prepare as much as the seller. Email enables a modern extension of that scenario.
- Email means I’m never under pressure to respond. I can take my time and be really considered, perhaps get input from other experts. It’s highly unlikely that I will ‘rush to close’ the deal and give away unnecessary concessions
- The focus on email communication lulls the person into a false sense of security. They appear to be saving time as they get a task off their desk. But it takes time to draft an email, re-read it, tweak it, think about it, tweak it again before finally sending. There is an automatic delay since the recipient is unlikely to be waiting for your email, constantly refreshing their inbox. In the Alpha Group practice scenarios, I’ve found that simple email negotiations take up to 20x longer to complete than a face to face interaction.
- Then the recipient can read it the wrong way, since you have no control over their mind-set when they read it. An errant capital letter can make the sender look aggressive so there is a higher likelihood of deadlock and relationship breakdown.
- Untrained, inexperienced, unimaginative negotiators will approach the negotiation as a task to be ticked off the list, with a single variable for competitive distribution. They will not have the skills or experience to understand that there could be multiple variables in scope for negotiation. The problem is that they are limiting their ability to collaborate on non-price variables to enable the delivery of the key price variable.
- Email is a ‘low bandwidth’ communication media. It’s just words, none of the other senses are stimulated. And it’s one-way. We take turns to send and receive messages which dramatically reduces the dynamic nature of the ‘conversation’ and the opportunity for creative collaboration.
What can you do differently?
Email can be very useful in a negotiation, especially at the start and end.
1. Stating broad objectives
At the outset, a clearly drafted list of your and their ‘needs’ can get both parties very deal-focused. You can use email to demonstrate the other non-price variables.
2. Move them off email
Potentially, you can use email in the early stages to demonstrate the complexity and the higher value of the deal such that they agree to a face to face or telephone interaction. At the very least you get them to engage in giving you valuable concessions that allow you to give them the price they want.
3. Recording the details at the end
Most buyers have been trained to gain concessions just after the deal has been closed. These ‘nibbles’ are much more difficult if you’ve drafted an agreement on email and you’re clear that the offer is contingent on the context. If the context changes, then so does the offer.
A well drafted email negotiation will protect you when the inevitable happens and your buyer gets moved to a new category. It’s hard to deny knowledge when its recorded in black & white.
If email is fraught with difficulty, an errant capital letter can make you look angry, then over-compensate with pleasantries. Don’t go excessively short-hand. Do all the things you’d do if you were face to face or on the phone. Talk about the weather/sport/business before you get stuck in. And don’t be afraid to use emojis!
6. Adjust your pitch
Remember, if they can be braver behind a keyboard, then their opening pitch will likely be a tad more extreme. You probably already correct for this in your thinking, but with email you need to over-correct.
Let me know what you think, I’d love to hear how you are optimising your email negotiations! If you would like to learn more about our training courses please have a look at the website:
Food First Consulting
+353 87 9380216