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Negotiation tips for the IT guy

Negotiations expert Jeffrey Gordon says there are generally three people in any IT negotiation -- the buyer, the seller and you, the subject matter expert.

An IT negotiation generally includes three players: the business owner, who makes the decisions; the negotiator, who does the talking; and the subject matter expert (SME), who understands how the product/service being acquired really works (that's you). SMEs are called upon to provide vital technical information during negotiations designed to elicit not only the best business deal, but more appropriately, the best way to meet the needs of a specific industry or environment. sat down with principal negotiator Jeffrey Gordon, a scheduled featured speaker at the Data Center Decisions conference June 1-3 in New York and a expert, to discuss some of the ways SMEs can make negotiations go smoothly.

What is a "subject matter expert?"
Jeffrey Gordon: Anyone who is called upon to participate in negotiations that has specific knowledge of the environment, the item to be purchased or any other related field. That could even include the person who is requesting to do the purchase, but it is not the negotiator.

What should the SME bring to the table in a negotiation?
Gordon: The value of a subject matter expert is his or her knowledge. He needs to bring know-how to the table. He needs to bring an understanding of the item being purchased, and he needs to do homework. He also needs to bring a bit of negotiating skills.

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What part of the process should SMEs be involved in?
Gordon: They need to be involved throughout the process -- before the purchase decision is made, during the negotiation and most likely during the implementation.

If they are not involved before negotiations -- the scoping phase -- you run the risk of buying something you didn't need or want. So you can see the line between should and must can be pretty blurred. They should be involved all the time. Without them you'll be at a deficit.

How should an SME communicate with his own side?
Gordon: SMEs need to take the time to work with their team before a negotiation so they understand what role they are going to play, and whether a negotiator wants them to be silent or ask question. They need to be involved in prep work so they can be a good team player. It's like sports … where players each have a role and they need to practice, so they understand what they are responsible for when they get on the field.

How should an SME communicate with the other side?
Gordon: The team needs to work together to deliver a consistent message to the other side. You learn to read your team and come up with ways of non-verbal communication. You have to decide in advance what going to be said to the vendor.

If in the middle of negotiating, somebody says something shocking, instead of speaking out, the teams should call a timeout and call a caucus. It gives everybody time to regroup and send a consistent message from one spokesperson.

If the negotiator needs help -- if I need information -- I will ask the SME a direct question that will result in a yes or no answer. And if I need to, I will follow it up with a question that demands elaboration. But I don't want SMEs spouting off information, because there is a possibility the SME could say something detrimental without even realizing it.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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