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Five Key Questions for Negotiators to Ask
Volume 41, Number 6 - November/December 2017

The first printing of my book, Buying and Selling Information: A Guide for Information Professionals & Salespeople to Build Mutual Success, published by Information Today, Inc., was in 2014. To support book sales, I embarked on a tour of libraries, library conferences, library school classes, local SLA chapter meetings, and national SLA conferences to speak about the relevance of the book for all information professionals. As a result, I traveled as far west as Hawaii and worked my way across the country through the Midwest, the South, and home to the East Coast. In those 3 years of travel, I talked with a wide variety of current and future information professionals.

My “touring” schedule brought me in front of many different groups. The very first stop in 2014 was at the University of Hawaii Library School, with an additional talk to the local SLA chapter in Honolulu. That was followed by sessions at all the major U.S. library conferences. Spring 2014 saw me giving a workshop, called Negotiating Econtent & Tech Licenses, at Computers in Libraries in Washington, D.C. At the November 2014 Charles ton Conference, the room that was assigned for the talk was relatively small and quickly overflowed. In 2015, at the I nternet Librarian conference in Monterey, a shared session with Richard Hulser, chief librarian and curator at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, was designed to give both vendor and library points of view. The room was enormous, and I wondered how many people, if any, would actually show up to hear us talk about “buying and selling information.” By the time we started, every seat was filled.

Similar occurrences of large crowds followed at other Charleston Conferences, local SLA chapters in various cit ies, and of course the annual SLA conferences. At the 2015 SLA conference in Boston and the 2016 one in Philadelphia, my sessions for ticketed events were “sold out!” and attend ees purchased many of my books.


Now I would love to believe that my good looks and charm brought those people to hear me, but the reality is that the topic of negotiating more successfully with vendors was, and continues to be, of incredible interest to information professionals. The task of meeting and negotiating with vendors is an important component of the everyday life in the library. Vendors will inevitably call on the library to attempt to sell their goods and services in addition to renewing current subscriptions.

Unfortunately, the curriculum at most library schools seems to overlook the training of prospective graduates in the fine art of negotiating. As a result, new M.L.I.S. graduates, who may be well-versed in the art of managing collections of data, are not trained to effectively and efficiently negotiate with the vendor community, whether for electronic or print resources.

Conversely, sales reps in the information industry are sent to negotiation skills training classes to better refine their techniques in this area. Major publishers and aggregators devote significant funds to train their reps and customer-facing executives on this important skill set. This can put information professionals at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiations.

During the past few years, a wide array of questions posed by information professionals have been asked of me at my sessions. Here are the top five questions, although there are many more.

Buying and Selling Information:
A Guide for Information Professionals and Salespeople to Build Mutual Success

(Information Today, Inc., 2014)
has become the definitive book on negotiation skills.
Buting and Selling Information


1. “Sometimes the sales rep will tell me that there is no price sheet. Is this something I have to accept?”

As a previous sales executive working with some of the best salespeople at the finest information industry companies in our industry, I am personally offended when a librarian tells me that a sales rep had the audacity to say that the company has no price sheet to share with them. Seriously?

One of the more labor-intense operations for any information industry company is figuring out what to charge, how to take into account and monetize the previous years of content development, determining the acquisition of new data and payment of royalties, maintaining current data, keeping pace with new technologies, and projecting renewal prices for at least the next 5 years. Figuring out a product’s price point is an exercise practiced by marketing and sales executives at every company that has ever set foot in a library.

Furthermore, the price to be charged needs to be compatible with the competition, since most aggregators and publishers are competing with companies that have similar products. It would make no sense to price a product completely out of line with what the competition charges. There is a price sheet.

You are well within your rights to ask for and receive a price sheet, because it most definitely exists at the company. If the sales rep is unable to produce said sheet, consider elevating the request to the next level of the company or begin finding another provider whose policies and prices are more transparent.


2. “What can I do if I am dissatisfied with the price of a new product or renewal as presented by the sales rep?”

Last year at the Computers in Libraries conference, I was once again asked about what to do if the librarian is dissatisfied with the price presented by the vendor. I replied that in the case of a price that doesn’t make sense, ask a simple five- word question, which is, “Can you defend your price?” In other words, how did the company come up with that price? If you don’t get a good answer from your sales rep, elevate the conversation up to the sales manager or even the VP of sales to find out. I can assure you this five-word question will get significant attention back at the home office.

As a customer, you are owed an explanation as to how the company arrived at its selling price. The company knows how it got there, and it should be willing to share that rationale with you. If your attempt at clarity is met with a brick wall, it may be time to look elsewhere for the data. You are allowed to ask the question, and, more importantly, deserve an answer. Furthermore, the vendor should be willing to demonstrate why their price is relevant.

At this year’s Computers in Libraries meeting, two librarians who attended my session the previous year told me they took my advice to ask the magic, five-word question when the price presented seemed out of line. And guess what? In both libraries, when the question was asked, it was courteously answered, and as a result, the prices for that vendor’s content was significantly reduced at both libraries.

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Michael Gruenberg is president, Gruenberg Consulting, LLC. He previously had a distinguished sales career spanning more than 30 years with a variety of companies including ProQuest, CSA, OneSource, Oxford Analytica, and Disclosure.


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