One of the things I’ve discovered after being in business for several decades is that it’s
beneficial to view your clients as partners instead of just clients. To some, this might seem
obvious; to others, it might seem like a foreign concept. If your viewpoint is the latter, it might
be worth considering as it can be an effective way to grow your company and develop better
relationships with your customers.
How Do You View Clients?
Most business owners think of their clients as the people who supply them with business. While
this is accurate on the surface, let’s dig a little deeper and ask the question...Do you see clients
as friendly partners or opponents with whom you have to negotiate? The Old School attitude is
to be a tough negotiator. However, if you’re selling something, it’s your job to get the best price
possible. Your client, meanwhile, wants to try to pay as little as possible.
This is similar to the Marxist idea that business owners and workers are naturally in conflict
with one another. This way of looking at the world is called Conflict Theory by economists and
sociologists. Now, the relationship between owners and clients is a little different. However,
the idea of conflict is similar if you think in terms of having to outsmart or out-negotiate your
clients. As the process is viewed as one in which someone has to lose.
The alternative is to embrace a more modern view of seeing clients as partners. This idea
involves having a win/win outlook rather than a scenario where one side comes out ahead of
the other. If you’ve learned how to be hard line negotiator, it will take some time and
adjustments before you can embrace this new outlook. So it will be helpful if you look for and
understand the benefits as well. This perspective is relevant for any type of negotiation. I’ve
found that it’s an extremely important consideration in the bargaining that occurs between
shippers and carriers.
Valuing Relationships Over Cost
One of the adjustments you have to make when adapting a win/win philosophy is to
understand that price isn’t everything. You can “win” negotiations in a way that doesn’t serve
your long term interests. That’s because, in the long run, shippers and carriers depend more on
solid business relationships than on saving a little money on individual transactions.
Shippers and carriers are completely dependent on each other for their respective businesses
to run smoothly. Because these industries deal with constant fluctuations in supply and
demand, having stable, long-term relationships is of utmost importance. If negotiations are too
confrontational and emphasize price over loyalty, the result is often carrier churn which ends
up causing problems for everyone.
When shippers and carriers see one another as partners, they’re able to create customized
logistics solutions that recognize the needs of both parties. Rather than looking out solely for
their short term interest, each can view themselves as part of a larger process.
A Psychological Shift
The example, from my own industry of shippers and carriers, can be applied to almost any type
of negotiations. For in any business or organization, everything runs more efficiently when all
sides have an attitude of cooperation. Having a win/win outlook requires you to take a long
term view of your interests. You also have to learn to not get your ego invested in negotiations.
For there’s a psychological as well as an economic side to this attitude.
For old school negotiators, the process is a game or contest where the objective is to beat your
opponent. Many people are attached to this process and even enjoy it. Even if you take on a
win/win attitude, you have to be prepared to negotiate with others who still see it the old way.
As negotiating expert and sports agent Leigh Steinberg explains, it’s important not to show fear
during negotiations, especially if the other party is trying to bully you.
A Changing Paradigm
This shifting from win/lose to win/win is slowly gaining traction across industries. It’s a way of
thinking that helps everyone get what they want during negotiations. It all begins by taking an
honest look at how you see clients and others who sit across from you at the table. The more
you can see them as partners rather than adversaries, the easier it will be to come up with
solutions that benefit everyone.