July 18, 2018

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The First Rule of Negotiating

A good friend of mine tunes pianos for a living. Recently, he told me about an inquiry he received.

“How much to tune my piano?” the customer asked.

“My fee is $150.”

“That’s way too much,” said the customer.

“Well, in that case, I can do it for $100.” And the deal was struck.

When my friend told me about his back-and-forth with a customer, I winced. Not because he offered to lower the price; people do it all the time in order to make a sale.

What concerned me was the fact that he either didn’t know – or didn’t observe – the first rule of negotiating: Find out what the other person wants. Otherwise, you’re flying blind.

Instead, my friend should have asked, “What did you have in mind?” For all he knew, the customer would have been okay with a $10 reduction. And he would have put an extra $40 in his pocket.

Setting Boundaries

For the sake of argument, let’s suppose the customer only wanted to pay $75. My friend could have either walked away feeling insulted or tried a different approach, such as:

“Sorry, I can’t cut my fee in half. But if I were to give you a 20 percent discount, would that make you happy?”

My guess is that a discount of $30 would have done the trick. If not, he would have at least established a boundary or starting point from which to reach a more equitable agreement.

Unlike piano tuning, recruiting is a business that involves dozens of negotiations every day. Some negotiations are obvious, such as settling on fees, guarantees, salaries and other terms and conditions that involve money. Other transactions are less apparent as negotiations, but are just as consequential. These include:

* Handling objections and concerns. Every time you receive pushback from candidates and employers, your skill as a negotiator is being tested. Until you satisfy the other side’s concerns, you can’t move forward. * Defining the candidate profile. Most recruiters qualify their candidates based on sketchy information or ambiguous job descriptions. To really understand the hiring profile, you’ll need to successfully negotiate two things: (1) access to a decision maker or informed HR staff; and (2) a winnowing down of the company’s wish list to the three or four most important qualifications. If you can’t negotiate a clean profile, you risk wasting everyone’s time, including your own. * Work flow mechanics. What’s your process for presenting candidates, submitting resumes, scheduling interviews and getting feedback? Whether these types of ground rules are one-sided or mutually beneficial is a function of how well they’re negotiated.

Of course, not everything is negotiable. But for every aspect of recruiting that is, the key to success can almost always be found by first asking the question, “What did you have in mind?”

- Bill Radin

Bill Radin is one of the most popular and highly regarded trainers in the recruiting industry, and has trained many of the largest independent and franchised recruiting organizations, including Management Recruiters, Dunhill, Sanford Rose, Snelling and Fortune Personnel. His speaking engagements include the NAPS national conference, the annual Kennedy Conference, and dozens of state association meetings and network conventions, including Top Echelon and