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Here’s how to hone your B2B negotiation skills

All of us need to negotiate—as a consultant, trainer or even advertising pro. The better you are at it, the more successful you will be in business

November 17, 2021 / 07:35 AM IST

You must have seen emails or advertisements for negotiation skills seminars and workshops conducted by Indian Institutes of Management, the country’s top business schools, or smaller private training firms. There are a couple of very aggressive advertisers in this space.

My work with many business-to-business (B2B) companies tells me that their marketing and communication people do not believe they need to master negotiation skills and see it as the job of their sales colleagues. That is a big judgement error.

All of us need to negotiate, whether as a consultant, trainer or advertising pro. The better you are at it, the more successful you will be in business. Mind you, I am not selling negotiation skills training here.

Every year, we start our negotiation with the management when we submit our annual budget and plans. In an economy that is buoyant and growing, arguing against budget cuts will be easier and forceful. It is not the case when markets are downhill.

Yet, one of the most important negotiations we all do is about getting our share of corporate resources. We just advised a client on how to put forward a strong case for more funds even as all the other divisions compete for the same.


If you are working in marketing and communication, you need to negotiate when you present some creative concepts. There are, of course, some marketing folks who do not like to argue too much or own up their creative ideas. They just go along with the flow and ideas suggested by clients.

Since creative ideas are purely subjective, it is critical for the marketing communication folks to use their negotiation skills to drive clients to take the right decision.

Take the example of attending a seminar or conference. When things are not bright on the economic front, bosses do not want to spend money or spare you for “productivity” reasons.

What they do not understand is that if you do not recharge yourself regularly, you will be less productive. So you need to negotiate your way through this too.

I have a few pointers to help you hone your negotiation skills but we warned, this article is not a substitute for attending a seminar on negotiation skills.

What do you want?

First, visualise the desired outcome. This is what you want, as in the vision statement of a company, immediately below is your aspiration and then the bottom-line choice.

You need to be aware of how much you will concede before you are even asked to do so.

Remember, if you decide you do not want to give up anything before going to the negotiation, you will be completely dejected if something is cut from the beginning. Conversely, if you are prepared to give up something and if you don't have to, it will make you happy.

Don’t leave it for the last

It is important to have the timing right. If you have something important to discuss or present, do not wait till the last minute unless you are confident you can force a quick decision in your favour.

This is a risky strategy if the boss figures out you could have brought it up earlier. If you pitch your case earlier, even if the answer is no, you still have time to think about options.

Have a Plan B

Have a backup plan ready. Most bosses or clients like options of mutual gain. When you present any case, try to come at the problem from many possible angles. In business, there are always several ways to solve a problem. The more your client or boss sees that you have approached the issue from all possible angles, the more they will be comfortable going with your recommendation.

Knowledge is power

In any negotiation, knowledge–not information– is power. When it comes to creative selection, everyone thinks he or she is the expert. If that person is above you in the corporate hierarchy, her judgement will have more weight. In such situations, if you want your judgement accepted, keep your sources of knowledge and supporting evidence handy.

If you are asking for more funds than usual, you should be able to demonstrate the return on investment.

Get some support

It will be a good idea to pre-sell your idea to an influencer in the organisation. For instance, you have an idea for a new selling approach. If the big boss says no one in sales will approve the same, it will be good to have someone from sales supporting it.

Quid pro quo 

Finally, do not allow any concession without getting something in return. This is the basic negotiation rule but is also hard to apply. It works like this, "If I agree to do that, will you agree to do this?" You need to prepare a list of things your negotiating opponent can do for you, and ask for those commitments, as you are being asked to give up things you have proposed.

Negotiation is a matter of give and take. If all you do is give, the other party will lose respect for you and you will have it tough when you negotiate the next time.

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M Muneer is the managing director of CustomerLab Solutions, a consulting firm.
first published: Nov 17, 2021 07:35 am
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