The Negotiator Magazine

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Transforming already positive customer relationships may seem easier. However, it is surprising that colleague account managers and we sometimes struggle to get maximum benefit from good, existing relationships. We've often said heard others say:

"We have a great relationship with this customer, but we could be doing a lot more with them."

What's interesting is that a year later, we're usually saying the exact same thing about the exact same customer. We've not done a lot more with them. There could be numerous reasons for this. Sometimes we're afraid to shake things up at a top account. We all have fires to put out at other accounts. We may decide to just leave well enough alone. Ultimately, all of these excuses prevent us from achieving excellence and reaching strategic goals.

Transforming a relationship with a solid account can win championships. Phil Jackson spent an enormous amount of time coaching Michael Jordan. Why? A 10% improvement in Jordan yielded more championships than a 20% improvement in the bench. You end up having more to work with. These are accounts where you have relationships at multiple levels. You can take risks, and try new approaches to old challenges.

Andy experienced a certain level of frustration even with his best account. He had already secured a significant amount of business. He had broken many barriers to get that far and his customer relationships improved as he and his organization worked more closely with the customer. That account considers Eli Lilly as its most valued partner. In preparing for a meeting with the CEO and one of her VP. s, Andy decided to frame out a negotiation that centered specifically around changing our business relationship.

He stated up front that while both organizations had benefited from our business relationship, we had the ability to do more. He shared a one-page framework with the customer. They agreed with most of the information. The transformation came as a result of Andy listing options to enhance their overall business relationship. He had put forth a handful of options, or ideas, that he thought had the potential to take everyone to the moon. This led to the CEO and VP to expand on his ideas and present some of their own. Ultimately, they all agreed to focus on two new projects that neither party had thought of before, bringing new revenues, value and relationships to the account. This advanced the business relationship to a higher level, and resulted in having Eli Lilly recognized at the customer. s annual leadership retreat as an example of a best practice for how the customer organization wanted to approach all of its business partnerships.

Account managers focus on transforming simple vendor relationships into true partnerships. Traditional give-and-take approaches toward negotiation often result in just that; one party demands value, while the other party gives it up. This is the drawback of the transactional orientation to selling and negotiating. Working relationships are either damaged or prevented from growing and yielding value to the parties involved. A transformational, problem-solving negotiation approach to account management breaks this pattern.

You can acquire the skills and strategies for breaking up patterns of conflict and creating strategic partnerships. Negotiation as a transformational tool is essential for sales executives as they manage their sales forces, as they manage internal negotiations with all business functions within their organizations, and as they manage the critical customer relationships we seek to broaden, deepen and enrich.

Grande Lum is a founder and partner of ThoughtBridge (, a consulting firm that mediates labor-management disputes, advises organizations on mergers and alliances, and provides negotiation training and facilitation services for corporate and non-profit clients. His negotiation work includes consultation with clients in the pharmaceutical, health care, information technology, and financial services industries regarding internal and external negotiation dynamics. A practitioner for over a dozen years, Mr. Lum has written articles on multi-party negotiations and collaborative negotiation for numerous journals. he is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard Law School.

Anthony Wanis-St.John is a consultant for ThoughtBridge ( [site not found]), a consulting firm that mediates labor-management disputes, advises organizations on mergers and alliances, and provides negotiation training and facilitation services for corporate and non-profit clients. His negotiation consulting has helped executives, engineers, consultants, account representatives, and sales forces increase their negotiation skill while building working relationships inside and outside their organizations. He has taught negotiation skills at the Program of Instruction for Lawyers at Harvard Law School. Dr. Wanis-St. John wrote his Ph.D. thesis at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University on back channel negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators during the Oslo negotiations.

Andy Ayers is Regional Manager with Eli Lilly. He has an insider's perspective on negotiation, having structured large and small partnerships with hospitals and health systems, health management organizations and managed care organizations as an account manager and in his current role as Regional Manager

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