Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Knowledge and Leverage is key to any Negotiation

I sat down at the table after the presentation was done. The meeting continued as our team and the excited client were now discussing actual steps of engagement. The deal was not done but they were going to try our product based on some of the feedback they had been getting from other new customers. Suddenly, the conference room door swung open and in walked the divisional head of the group. He just stood there for a second and stared down at all of us. He took a seat and flipped through a copy of the printed presentation slides. His next words and actions are something that I will never forget for the rest of my life. With his hands thumping on the table he announced in a loud voice, "Why would I want to buy this new product from a new startup when my teams have a working solution. I do not want my teams to invest their time or money learning new products. This is a waste of time". With that he got up, tossed the slides onto the table and walked out. (Keyword: Leverage)

It was a cold february afternoon in Ottawa (Hint). On the way to the airport, I was kind of disappointed about what had happened, but was reassured by the design manager of the client that he would revisit this with the divisional head soon. We did not hear from them for a while. We went about our business and were quite successful with a lot of other companies.

Many months earlier I had joined a new software company as an applications engineering manager. This new company was embarking upon delivering some ground breaking verification technology to the semiconductor design companies. The new technology had been developed in anticipation of the emerging seismic technology shifts and was built to handle the various complex technological changes in the entire design flow. Some of these design flow changes would basically force existing applications to rapidly scaleup to handle larger amounts of data. We were certain that existing applications could not handle these changes and would fail. We had worked with many of the vendors who were in this design eosystem and had the foresight to accomodate for this. (Keyword: Knowledge) Many of the design companies would encounter this as they shifted their flows to design the next generation of integrated circuits. The company in question above would have roughly about three months before this hit them. Of course we had told them about it in the presentation and the team was buying it until the Divisional head had waved us off.

In late August of the same year, we got that call from the manager at the client site. Their existing tools were failing and unable to verify the next generation designs. We went in and in less then half a business day had all (I repeat all) their new designs loaded up in our tools and verified. We were verifying the integrity of the designs faster and with much lesser memory than any of their existing solutions. To top it all, we were the only solution capable of actually completing the designs. In fact they were so bewildered by the speed of our technology that they acutually inserted deliberate flaws into the designs to ensure that we would catch them. And catch we did, everyone of them.

A few days later, I got a call from the VP of sales of our company. He was calling to ask me about my email to him regarding the No-Discount to this particular client. As a startup we were accustomed to handing out generous discounts to many companies just to get some revenues in our first year (FYI: Our software list price was around $ 150K). I basically told him that given the clients arrogance and the fact that they gave up their leverage, meaning that they were basically screwed without us, that I would not offer a single percent discount even if it meant a potential loss of sale. I mean in simple terms, we were their only option period. We had them by their balls. Why the heck would we negotiate down or even offer a discount. Long story short, they are the only customer that I know of who paid full list price on nearly 6 copies of the tool and with maintenace and support thrown in, it was well over $ 1.2M when the deal was closed.

The two keywords here are Knowledge and Leverage. Know what is your customers' pain not just for today, but for what's on the horizon. Educate your field marketing, sales and application engineers to keep a eye and an ear out for information that may help you negotiate better terms. Hot heads who some company insiders consider as god (because they usually speak in a loud voice) must be kept away from customers or even let go. This is simply because their ability to supposedly keep a well oiled machine on the inside may be compromised by the fact that they are not able to handle the same on the outside.

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