"In business, you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate," said John Foster, Esq., who led a recent Web conference called "Power Negotiating Strategies and Techniques," sponsored by Meeting Professionals International.

Foster, senior partner at Foster, Jensen and Gulley, Atlanta, spoke of the importance of negotiating as a business skill for meeting planners and outlined the principles, procedures and strategies that can help planners become more adept at the bargaining table. "We don’t have any choice not to be a negotiator," said Foster to the online gathering of about 125, held September 22. "The challenge is to become a good negotiator."

For starters, planners need to have an understanding of the other party’s objectives. With regard to hotels, Foster cited eight criteria hoteliers consider when determining the quality of a piece of group business: room rates, catering dollars, total revenue, arrival/departure patterns, seasonality, rooms to space ratio, group’s meeting history, and contract terms. How effectively a meeting planner is able to negotiate these points often depends on some key factors, he said.

One key factor is competition. Letting the hotel know that you have other choices is the most important source of negotiating power, he said. "Most people have more power and give away more power than they realize," he said. Knowledge of the hotelier’s industry or business prospects will give planners a sense of how much negotiating flexibility and leverage they have. If the company is doing well financially and has high occupancy rates, the planner may not have as much leverage to negotiate certain points. For example, if a group has a history of low booking pickup and is asking the hotel to eliminating attrition clauses, that may be too much risk for a high-performing company to take on.

"Negotiation is the process of getting to the contract stage," Foster explained. The first stage in the process is designed to get the negotiations moving in a certain direction and involves strategies like the "flinch" technique, whereby one party tells the other that the first offer won’t cut it. The middle stage keeps negotiations going after talks have bogged down or are falling apart. At this stage, Foster recommends the "trade-off" approach. "Don’t give a concession without asking for one in return." The final stage is where a negotiator tries to guide the other person into a certain position or decision. The "good guy/bad guy" approach is often used to motivate the other side to deal with the "good guy" so they don’t have to deal with the "bad guy."

In the end, effective power negotiating results in both sides feeling like the winners and remaining business partners, said Foster.

MPI will issue a white paper on the session by the end of the month. For more information, go to www.mpiweb.org.