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6 great tips to do business with Americans
Anirban Dutta
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July 06, 2006

A few years back, I learned a great lesson - how to blow up a sale when taking a positional bargain stance. For a minute, imagine this scenario: a PMOffice* director of a computer retail chain having a meeting with me, a software tools and services seller.

(*Whether it's new product development, software development, managing IT or the project office, PMOffice Enterprise is the preferred software application. Trying to bridge the gap between the front and back office, IBM is implementing PMOffice Enterprise in organisations seeking to improve their core business areas and strategically align people, projects and priorities.)

Dialogue exchange

Director: I hate to have this discussion with you. I am not in favor of outsourcing work overseas. I have run my organisation for 20 years from out of this office. I do not think tinkering my model will work.

Me: We have provided you market studies done by industry leading analyst firms Gartner and Forrester which show facts on how companies gain extraordinarily if they focus on core functional competence and outsource non core activities. We have also given you reference-able customer success data which clearly portrays how outsourcing can actually help organization like yours optimise operation. Could you please provide me some fact based reason why you think outsourcing will not work?

In my last rediff article How to negotiate with the Americans, I have promoted the virtue of providing fact based pitch and using true reference customers to the point of beating the horse to death. If you look at my response to the PMOffice director in the above mentioned example, I provided fact (Gartner, Forrester) and reference based (customer success stories) information. In reciprocity, I was asking for fact based information on anti-outsourcing from him.

As per classic cross cultural negotiation model, I should have been able to convince the director on my position (pro outsourcing) or he would have convinced me on his position (anti outsourcing). Neither of the two happened, midway through our discussion, he cut our meeting short and said that he will get back to us. In sales world, that is a kiss of death. We went nowhere.

Positional bargain

Positional bargain is the most commonly practiced bargaining method worldwide. We haggle over everything from apple prices in a market to prices for real estate property. As a buyer, we tend to offer low prices hoping for a good bargain; as a seller we tend to overprice our product thinking it's value is worth more than what it really is.

Positional bargaining works for most occasions, especially if the other party with whom you are engaged in a positional bargain has not emotionally committed himself to his position. But what happens in a scenario, when the person you are dealing with is really passionate about his position.

Either he will vigorously fight to defend his position or he will feel belittled if you logically corner him. Your ego may feel great, but you probably will not win a lifelong customer.

There are many schools of thoughts discussing different methods and techniques that discuss how to stay away from positional bargain. All these methods are true and tested in the field of negotiation. However, when you add the cultural and distance mix to the scenario, where the American buyer is sitting somewhere in Middle America and the seller is trying to promote her agenda from India possibly over the phone, it gets a tad bit more difficult.

America is going through a cultural jujitsu today. You see more and more conservative closed economy promoters like Lou Dobbs popping up everyday. The immigration debate over providing legality to Hispanic illegal workers has clearly made American views towards foreigners more bipartisan than ever.

Besides, for most outsourced accounts, the initial decision to outsource was made by C level execs from finance offices who decide to cut costs. The decision to choose the outsourced vendor then falls many a times to IT execs - execs that may not want outsourcing but are strong armed into it.

I believe that in order to successfully negotiate across cultures today with Americans, it is extremely important to be very sensitive to the people part of the equation first before working out a mutually beneficial solution.

Below is my take on how one can handle cross cultural negotiations with Americans, keeping today's political climate in mind.

Methods to negotiate cross culturally with Americans

1. Acknowledge the customer concern
2. Do not endorse the customer concern
3. Put a spotlight on the present situation
4. Focus on Customer issues - Discovery
5. Focus on Customer issues - Resolution
6. Focus on the Customer (the Person) Gain
7. Seek genuine help in championing your effort

Acknowledge the customer concern - By acknowledging the customer concern especially in today's sensitive America, you are not starting off on the wrong foot. This also makes the person across the table feel valuable.

Do not endorse the customer concern - There is a big difference between acknowledginbg and endorsing. If you endorse the opposing position, you are basically de-meriting your point even before you start your argument. It is not ok to say you agree with the opposing position if you do not do so, but it is okay to tactfully say no.

Put a spotlight in the present situation - Both you and your American business associate may not really want to be there. Address it by being real, saying that you were dealt a hand in the card game, so let us try to work it out to the best of our ability. I have seen that by getting real, I tend to get more concessions in North America than other parts of the world.

Focus On Customer Issues (discovery and resolution) - This is the main reason why your customer is having the conversation with you. Your pitch should focus mainly on understanding customer issues and figuring out a way to alleviating their pain.

Focus on customer (the person) gain - By personal gain, I do not mean a bribe! Americans are ambitious, individualistic people by nature. Especially in the business world, when you are dealing with head honchos, they tend to be more self focused than others.

Find a tactful way to know what they are measured against personally in the organisation chain then try to craft your solution that makes him match up to his measures of success. I have seen from my experience, that everybody likes this part of the sales conversation.

Seek genuine help in championing your effort - By this time, you should have a good grip on the customer issues and solution structure. Ask for help. Honestly, if you can get your customer to co-create their solution, there is nothing better than that. You may know the solution and technology as a consultant better than anyone, but your customer knows their business.

Unlike taxes and death, there are no guarantees in life. However, in true Vegas style, my odds of winning the computer retail director's heart for outsourcing probably would have improved, had I tried the following lines of communication. Going back to the dialogue exchange example I provided in the beginning of this article, it was obvious that the PMOffice director was anti outsourcing. He also felt very strongly about his model of running business in house.

Modified dialogue exchange

Director: I hate to have this discussion with you. I am not in favor of outsourcing work overseas. I have run my organization for 20 years from out of this office. I do not think tinkering my model will work.


Acknowledge the customer concern

Mr. Director, I hear your concern and
hesitation regarding outsourcing of the work


Do not endorse customer concern

I do not have the experience you have in this company,
so I may not completely understand your position

Put spotlight on the situation

We are both here to work this out regardless of how we arrived here

Focus on customer issues - discovery

What would you say are your biggest PM Office challenges?

Director: Well, we have some challenges around time management. Our SR's overrun budget because managers put people to work that have not gone through approval.


Focus on customer issues - resolution

Ok, I think we can definitely work an approach to address that.

Focus on Customer (The Person) Gain

BTW, what benchmarks are you measured against? Will the outsourcing have an effect on it?

Director: Of course I am affected, if you do not meet delivery dates, all hell will break loose. It all falls back on me.

Focus on Customer (The Person) Gain

So if we can create a solution, where all work has to be funneled by PMOfiice, will that help in achieving your objectives

Director: You betchya, it will.


Seek Genuine Help for mutual benefit

How do you suggest we go about implementing this where we can guarantee mutual success

Above was a very oversimplified way to explain the non positional bargaining where the focus was moved from changing Mr Director's anti outsourcing stance to core issues within his organisation. Of course there are many steps that go within discovering true customer issues and partnering in crafting out a solution.

Anirban Dutta works for IBM Software Group based out of Dallas. He can be reached via

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