Becoming a contract negotiator was not my goal when I started my professional career. I worked as an intern and paralegal first and then I start working at Avaya, my current employer, where I discovered what a contract negotiator is and does.
I’ve discovered that as a contract negotiator you can either do only what the job requires or you can look beyond and climb to higher ground. I like to climb! It’s fun and it pays off when you take advantage of opportunities! Here’s what works for me. You can do it too!
In my experience you cannot study or read a book on how to become a contract negotiator -- it is something you learn, you embrace, and you develop as time passes, and there are as many ways to perform your daily tasks as there are contract negotiators in the world. To me every contract negotiator does things in a personal way. We all have tips, tricks and advice to share depending on where we’ve worked and for how long. The choices we make depend on personality.
Why listen, ask, be proactive?
When people ask me my best recommendation for a contract negotiator starting a career, I tell them three things: listen, ask questions and be proactive. These have become three pillars that brought me to where I am today.
When you are negotiating it is not always easy to understand why the other party wants a certain section to be added to the contract or why they are so adamant about deleting a sentence. The key is to ask the right questions not only of the other party (whether a vendor or a customer) but also of your team and the people that work by your side and trust you. They usually have the answers you are looking for and it is extremely important to build a good rapport with them. Help them understand that you seek to work with them towards a common goal -- you are not a roadblock or another obstacle in their path to complete a project, you are on their side.
Once you understand the objectives of the other party or your team, think about all the options you can pursue to achieve those objectives. It is always useful to discuss those possibilities with your team and a colleague that may have faced a similar situation before: they can provide their feedback and maybe add some information that you didn’t have at the beginning. Again, ask questions and listen to them.
Most companies have several policies and procedures that must be followed. It is very important for the contract negotiator to know them and know the right person within the organization who can help you or provide the right answer to your question. This is part of being proactive and staying ahead of the curve.
If you encounter the same problem or challenge repeatedly, it is because something is not right with the process or the way you are doing things. So what I do is take a step back, analyze what is happening and start thinking about ways that will either resolve the issue or make it a bit less complicated.
Don’t be afraid to speak up and present an idea to your team or manager. I was lucky enough to have awesome managers at Avaya what are always interested in listening to what I have to say or what I am considering. This has always been an incentive for me to move forward.
How to deal with new and changing technology
Technology and new offers are being developed so fast that it is almost impossible to keep up and provide the kind of support that I know is expected from a contract negotiator. It is up to the contract negotiator to remediate this and use the tools and information that will help everyone Involved to understand the path the company is following and what is coming.
Usually it is hard to get a straight and fast response from people when they are focused on launching a new product or finalizing an offer, but the situation changes when you show them advantages of working with you. The end goal is the same: we all want customers to like what we offer and decide to purchase it and we all want the process to be quick and uneventful but to accomplish this we need one another -- we have to work as a team.
When it comes to new offers I usually follow these steps as the seller:
- Identify what kind of product or service the company is launching in the short term and to accomplish that I search the applicable internal database, get a copy of the service description and read it or listen to webinars or presentations on the topic.
- Once you have a better understanding of these new offers, ask questions: of the technical team, of sales, of the services team and also identify who, within your organization, is in charge of determining how to leverage this new offer and the applicable terms and conditions that will have to be presented to a potential customer.
- After I spend quite some time completing steps 1 and 2, I like to share my findings with my colleagues, so we all know what is coming. You can talk about it during a team meeting, post the information on a spreadsheet, send a note or email to everyone -- whatever works for you. The important thing is to have something in writing that you can review when necessary.
Perhaps these recommendations will help you look at things in a different way and in case you have a tendency to be uncomfortable with the unknown, why not try to view it instead, as a challenge and an opportunity for growth.
Takeaways all around!
Being a contract negotiator entails more than what people seem to assume. I consider that we bring a lot of value not only to a specific deal but also to the whole company.
As a contract negotiator you can either do what is expected from you and stay within your scope of work or you can go beyond that and take advantage of all the possibilities you have to learn, understand how the company you work for operates, what products or services are being offered and what can be done from your position to improve. The important thing to remember -- the contract negotiator is a vital contributor. We are the ones responsible for communicating that message!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Carolina Colombo is part of the US Contracts Team and is responsible for contract support and administration which includes tracking and negotiating contractual documents in accordance with organizational policies and procedures, analyzing executed agreements, providing reports and/or information related to nonstandard terms and conditions contained in contracts, among other responsibilities. She also works together with different business units within Avaya on specific deals and proposals to provide products and services that are generally available.
Avaya is an American multinational technology company headquartered in Santa Clara, California, that specializes in business communications, specifically unified communications, contact center, and services. Avaya’s online advertised mission statement is stated as, “Avaya is a transformative force in digital communications software, services and devices, designed for businesses of all sizes. Through our open, converged and innovative solutions, Avaya is taking intelligent experiences to new heights for our customers, partners and their customers -- in the cloud, on-premise or hybrid.”