Pick someone you trust and who you think will have insights into the problem you're dealing with.
Ben had submitted a proposal and, aside from acknowledging that he'd received it, heard nothing from his client contact, Robert. It had been almost two weeks and he was getting concerned. Ben only had one other client, a big one, but this opportunity with Robert in Rome, if he landed it, would relieve a lot of anxiety about the vulnerability he felt relying on just one client.
So, Ben called an old friend, Tabitha, who worked in publishing and was negotiating deals all the time and asked if he could meet to discuss. Here's how their conversation unfolds (with Tabitha's remarks in italics.)
"Hi Tabby, I'm in the midst of this thing in Rome...yes, very exciting... and need some advice."
"Hi Ben! Good to hear from you. I just heard about the baby. Congratulations to you and Des. What did you name her?"
"Emily, she's beautiful and Des is fine. She says it was an easy birth. Thanks for asking. I'll be posting it tonight or in the morning."
"Having a second child has provided some urgency. Could I spend an hour with you this afternoon or when you have time? I'd like to get your thoughts? Cool."
When they meet:
Ben asks: "Tab, I'm worried that my price was too high or that they've found someone else to do the work. Also, I don't know if they'll need me to do five interviews or 20. I do know the project needs to be done for an August presentation to the senior guys in Rome. And that's a fixed date."
"Cool! I love fixed, unavoidable dates. First, you're perfect for this assignment. I wouldn't worry about them finding someone else. Look, two weeks have gone by. You'd have heard if they'd found somebody else. In any case, there's an easy way to find out what's going on. Ask."
"So, Ben, does your relationship with Robert use Skype, email or text messages? I know he's nine hours ahead."
"We started on email and FaceTime but since I spent all that time with him in Rome we now IM as much as anything."
"Okay, we'll wake him up with IM and see what's up."
Together, Tabitha and Ben composed the first text to say:
Hi Robert, I'm getting concerned about time. I know you have that August event looming. Have you decided how many interviews I'll need to do?
"Notice that my message assumes the assignment is yours. Also, I'm reminding him of the deadline in the spirit of helping him. My 'concern' is clearly in his best interests."
"Let's see, nine hours ahead, he should still be up, let's send this first message now and see if he responds."
Ben pressed send and waited. And yes, moments later came Robert's reply:
Sorry, Ben, last week was crazy. I'm on it.
"Wow, it worked! Okay, we're on. We've got the gig. Ben, let's follow up with another text to add a bit more urgency with a human touch."
We composed the following:
I'm a new father and will need time to schedule help for my wife while I'm away.
"This text reminds Ben that his relationship with you has a personal level as well as professional. It also reminds Robert that you are a caring person."
Robert didn't respond instantly to this second message. But the next morning Ben awoke to this follow-up message from Robert:
I just spoke to Fred, good news, your framing is acceptable. Let's talk tomorrow. 5p Geneva work?
Robert forwarded the text and called Tabitha, "Got a moment? Great, thanks."
Tabitha summarizes, "So now we have the assignment, the next step will involve refining the scope, nailing down dates and the number of interviews. Naturally, they could still push back on the costs. But, that August deadline is providing all the leverage we'll need."
And sure enough, the next day Tabitha got the following email from Ben.
Robert called to say his boss, Fred, wanted my day rate to be lower -$1,000.
Robert needs to get Fred's approval, but will be funding it from his own budget. He told me that with my travel expenses (estimated at $5K) on top of my $37K fee the proposal was too expensive, but he would be happy if all together it were kept under $37K. I'm fine with that.
I am planning to keep my day rate at $1,500 but knock a couple days off so that with travel my proposal totals just under $37K.
Lowering my day rate seems like a bad precedent going forward.
Tabitha was into it at this point and picked up the phone immediately and called Ben:
"Hi Ben, I've just got a minute here, but one word comes to mind: Respect. The most important thing to come away with in any negotiation is respect. Here's something you can say if they continue to push back on your day rate:"
"People choose to work with me because they respect my skills, knowledge and achievements for them and others. They pay my day rate out of respect and because they know that I will produce the results they need. In turn, lowering my day rate for you would be unfair and disrespectful to my clients who do pay my rate."
"I'd use this on the phone with Robert. And remember August is coming up fast. They have no real alternatives to using you."
"What's not to like! They're happy with the travel compromise and have gotten past the day rate issue. You got the go-ahead: fantastic, your first gig in Rome."
"My lesson for you: when in doubt ask. But ask in a manner that is clearly in your client's interest and, if possible, connect on a personal level. Someday you'll tell your daughter that she helped seal a deal that moved your consulting career to a new level. Thank you, Emily!"
"And thank you Tabitha, I couldn't have done it without you."