The Negotiator Magazine

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Dear Paul,

First, congratulations! Any small business that is contemplating going into negotiations with a major corporation is talking in the multiple millions of business revenue, given the size of current hurdle rates. I have many suggestions, but you will have to adapt those that fit since we are low on facts here.

When negotiations are first proposed, I would start with some careful fact-finding with the top person on the corporate team. You need to confirm whether you are the only firm that will be involved in this role or whether you are one of several firms. Parallel negotiations with multiple potential companies are possible and you need to know that because it will change your planning. If you ask, I am quite confident you will get a straight answer. Itís not only an ethical matter, but it is also essential to maintaining the reputation of the corporation in the small business community.

In this initial discussion, I would also clarify the scope of the negotiations. If these negotiations are for a business relationship based on current product that is one direction. If they are also about significant changes to your product or your operation, of course, thatís a far broader element.

Importantly, this also is the time to find out about the decision process and the authority of the negotiators you will be meeting. Assuming you have the decision-makers, this would also be the time to suggest that you begin working on an agenda with your counter-part.

All this said, you are quite right to focus on the size disparity as something you will need to manage in your strategic planning. The inherent advantage of size can be a major factor in any negotiation. Talented negotiators, creativity and hard-working support teams can be found in organizations of all sizes.

The corporation is most unlikely to employ any of its top executives in the negotiations unless this is a far grander deal than I imagine. Most likely you have no other choice than to use at least some of your top people unless you go to an outside consultant. Additionally, unlike the corporate giant that can shift resources to continue essential functions during prolonged negotiations, small companies rarely have that depth of resources.

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