1. Talk first. No matter what the other side says you have to talk to them. Ask for email address, mailing address, whatever. You have to make some connection with this person other than through electronic dispatches hurled over the cyber wall. And picking up the phone during negotiations can be awfully handy to clarify, get context and attitudes not appearing on the printed page, and just connect. Civility goes a long way in this dizzy digital world.
2. Plan, have agenda. Emails lead to stream of consciousness negotiation. Priorities, planning and problem solving don’t lend themselves to short digital salvos.
3. Ask who has authority. You will go through email torture if you learn that all your negotiation efforts have to be approved by the man behind the curtain. The man needs to be cc’d and involved.
4. It’s not just the email. It’s not black and white. How many times have you pored over an email wondering why they were so rigid, inflexible? You are only seeing those words on the page—you are not hearing their conversations, their tone, their perceptions, their feelings. ….. Emails can often come across as too aggressive. Don’t fire off an email based on your first reaction—wait, reread their email and your response. Haste does make waste.
5. Ask questions. Ask such questions such as “who, what, when, where, why and how. Ask up front, not when the deal is almost done. See #4, it’s not black and white.
6. Be clear. The digital revolution did not do away with the need to write well and clearly—if anything it demands more clarity when no one is talking to each other.
7. Timing. You will not go to the inner rings of hell if you send the first email (unless you are caving and capitulating in that email). If you want a speedy reply, let them know. Likewise, if you have unduly dithered, at least man up and acknowledge your response was slow. And don’t read too much into delay—not everyone responds to emails within seconds, minutes or even 24 hours. Also, make it clear who needs to do what when and set realistic deadlines. Otherwise, you may be waiting forever for a deal that never comes to pass.
8. Humanize. Connect with the other side if only to commiserate on the local team or the weather. LinkedIn can help you connect by knowing their background. You needn’t pander or tread into verboten territory (religion, politics).
9. Price is not the only number. If this is a mathematical equation, i.e. offer is X, counteroffer is Y and you split the difference, you may have really botched deal. Why? Shipping, warranties, terms, service levels, returns, renewals, etc. can render a deal wholly unprofitable.
10. Written Agreement. Email won’t cut it. Sure you think email will constitute written agreement and it's binding. Maybe. How much do you want to pay a high priced litigator to find out? And how will that email agreement look when it comes time to collect on overdue AR, resolve a problem or sell the company? Get a written agreement.