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


3. “What if I don’t like the sales rep assigned to my account? Can I ask for a different rep?”

Personalities being what they are, sometimes we meet someone that we simply do not like. It happens. When I was first appointed as the VP of sales, my boss decided to publicly announce my appointment at a formal lunch for many of our major clients. At the luncheon, I sat at the head of the table with my boss to my right and our most major customer to my left. That would be the customer who was spending many millions of dollars with our company.

I vividly remember that right after the announcement of my promotion was made, she leaned over to me, said she was looking forward to working with me, and that, in fact, she had a small favor to ask.

“Mike,” she emphatically said, “I really dislike the salesperson that has been assigned to my account. As a matter of fact, I prefer never to see him again visit my library,” she continued. I knew that although the sales rep was good at his job, his personality could be somewhat abrasive at times.

The next day, I met with him and told him that I was re assigning that account to someone else. He told me he was relieved with my decision, since he did not enjoy working on that account.

The reality is, the information provider is in the business not only to sell library products and services, but also to keep the customer satisfied. We are in an annuity business, which means that once a subscription to a database is sold, we are expected to be back the following year to renew that subscription. As part of that process, it is expected that the vendor and the library keep in contact during the year. When the library enters into a subscription to receive access to those databases, both parties are establishing a relationship that is expected to last for many years.

If for any reason you are uncomfortable with your sales rep, you owe to yourself, the sales rep, and the library to work out a way to settle your differences or work with the sales manager to find another person to service your account. It’s not an unreasonable request.


4. “What is the standard rate on renewals?”

Speaking of renewals, I am constantly told about renewals whose price has risen by upwards of 10%–20% or more from the previous year. Sometimes, these price increases are foisted upon the library with no advance notice.

A data provider is simply not paying attention to the market when a library is expected to pay huge renewal price increases without some sense of advance warning and/or explanation. That type of heavy-handed approach will not win many friends in the library community.

On the library side of the table, the goal is to work toward a “zero sum game,” which means that you are looking to be as close to a flat renewal as possible. Ultimately, you would like your renewal rate to be as close to the same rate you paid the previous year. While this is unlikely to happen, inform the sales rep ahead of time that your expectation is for a renewal price the same as or close to the amount charged the year before. In this case, the best defense is a good offense. Both parties need to be aware of the other’s intentions.

To be fair, vendors are in business to make money, and expecting them not to charge a modest price increase year after year is unrealistic and not in the vendor’s best interest. However, I have worked for information industry companies that, in severe economic times, have graciously kept renewals flat for a number of years in deference to their customer base with the proviso that once economic conditions improve, their subscription rates would be expected to go up.


5. “Do I need to create a negotiation plan?”

During the past 5 years, I have made a good living by teaching information professionals how to construct a negotiation plan. Yes, you need a plan. Why? Perhaps the most important reason is that the vendor who is sitting across the table from you is fully prepared as to how to negotiate the best deal for his company. I can assure you much time is spent by vendors crafting a plan and devising a strategy to be successful.

The last thing that you want to do is come to the table unprepared. The best salespeople in our business are those who fully prepare themselves for their meetings with clients and prospects. Their success rests on knowing as much about the library, the budget, past spending behaviors, current subscriptions, new levels of topical interest, people with deci sion-making capabilities, etc. The list goes on and on.

Add to the current state of vendor consolidation the real ity that the construction of new libraries is somewhat stag nant and budget dollars for new resources at libraries are not abundant, and information providers may be more apt to negotiate lucrative deals to libraries. In other words: Fewer vendors plus fewer libraries plus flat budgets equal more possibility on the vendor side of accommodating the best deal for the library.

It is as important for the vendor to hold onto current business as it is to find new customers. Losing library customers because of huge renewal price increases is simply not an option that the vendor wants to face. The vendor is in business to keep your business.

It’s all about leverage—and at this juncture in 2017, the information professional has an advantage. It would be a waste of time if this leverage is buried in non-preparation. Be prepared, understand your power, negotiate from a position of strength with a well-thought-out plan, and success will be forthcoming.

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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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