Thomas Brooke

Negotiating Offers: What Does The Other Side Really Need?

We recently closed two searches for similar roles at similar size coatings manufacturers. In fact the exact same job title. On the surface they looked almost identical, and of course it’s never a matter of only one factor; but the two people hired had radically different priorities and so did the hiring companies. It was a fascinating contrast as both deals concluded about the same time.

In one instance, the candidate who eventually was hired was more than qualified for the role but had recently been cut in a broad restructuring and was now looking for stability, avoiding relocation, a strong base salary, and had a need for detailed insight on the medical benefit plans available. She didn’t have as much interest in at-risk bonus potential. The hiring company had a need for stability also and a stronger skillset than the previous incumbent. The culture was fairly risk averse.

In the other case, the candidate was looking for more long-term upside when he delivered results to the business as he was being hired to do; and frankly didn’t care too much about the exact salary number or cost of benefits. The hiring company needed to upgrade the department the person would be leading, and they needed someone who could see the future potential and was willing take the risks to get there.

Know what the other guy needs

If the client at Company A had not known that the candidate was primarily looking for stability and reliable benefits, they could have turned her off by failing to address her greatest areas of concern. It took some work to find answers for her and get to the granular level of detail she needed. And conversely, discussion and reassurance about job security would not have closed the deal for Company B because that candidate was looking for excitement, was willing to take moderate risk with good reward, and was mostly motivated to come to work looking to the future. Failing to structure an aggressive bonus plan would have lost the deal even if the salary was attractive.

In the end, both companies made good offers and the candidates accepted. Importantly, the intangible of goodwill was high in both cases because the candidates recognized that the decisionmakers, and the companies as a whole, had gone the extra mile to address their top needs as far as possible. Interestingly, neither candidate got everything they wanted; but they were still very happy with the overall outcome because they knew there had been good faith effort to give them what they were looking for. On the other side, candidate performance expectations were well understood going in the door, and there was plenty of opportunity to discuss exactly what that meant in practice in terms of deliverables.

There are many reasons these deals worked out but one key factor was the accurate communication of priorities by both parties in the context of a collaborative approach to the offer itself rather than the more oppositional style often seen. (That is also where having a strong search partner becomes highly valuable, but that’s another article!)

It is essential when negotiating for a hire that both parties do so from the perspective that they will be working together after the fact.

I’ve written about this aspect of hiring multiple times because it’s fundamental but it’s also often missed, because ego, or lack of experience in negotiating, or failure to understand the other party’s needs and limitations, can easily kill a deal, which is a tender little plant. It is essential when negotiating for a hire that both parties do so from the perspective that they will be working together after the fact. In other words, HOW the negotiations are handled and the extent to which each party truly understands the other are paramount.

Many times offers go south because the parties don’t understand what the other side is looking for: the hiring decisionmaker spends time talking about things of no interest to the candidate, or conversely the candidate asks for something that seems no big deal to them but is a major issue for the hiring company, which can easily queer a deal irretrievably.

This happened recently on a search where the candidate and client were both oblivious to each other’s priorities despite the best advice and ongoing communication. They each saw one thing they wanted in the “marriage” – but unfortunately, missed some very obvious signs that resulted in a Humpty Dumpty offer situation. The hiring company was shortsighted in their thinking – having a strong candidate in the role with a very small adjustment in one area would have led to their getting a key initiative under way much sooner, yielding substantially quicker results to the business as well as freeing up internal resources that were swamped. The total cost to them would have been no different – it was a matter of how it was structured. And on the candidate side, if he had been willing to take a moment to see things from the hiring company’s perspective, he would have realized that what he was asking for was too far outside their existing structure to be doable but that they were offering an equivalent total package with exceptional long term growth path.

Avoid Humpty Dumpty behavior

There was absolutely no reason in objective terms why the two parties couldn’t have come to an agreement, but neither would budge on what were must-have’s for the other side. Both parties had listened to other influencers who told them a particular mantra they bought into about what was reasonable , and they just didn’t hear each other. Please note, these were highly educated, multiple-degreed individuals with Fortune companies who were exceptionally good at their day to day jobs.

So what’s the point of all this?

Listen and ask questions

It’s simple: listen and try to find out the other party’s priorities early on, and keep checking to make sure you’re right and nothing has changed. Be clear about your own priorities. It may surprise you how a small concession from you could make a big difference to the other side. Be collaborative – a good hire is not a zero-sum game. It absolutely must be a win-win.

"Great partner on several international searches."David Wolf, Former VP International Sales, Carboline

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