Editor's note: We asked America's top negotiating pros--Kenneth Feinberg, Kevin O'Leary, Leigh Steinberg, Richelieu Dennis, and Eugene Driker--to share their haggling tips and strategies so you can ramp up your dealmaking game.
Sharing family stories
One of Richelieu Dennis's most important deals began with a deep personal connection. Dennis, founder and CEO of Sundial Brands, which makes beauty products, was at dinner with a team of buyers from cosmetics retailer Sephora. About half of the team were women of color, and one began complaining that she was always late to dates with her husband because she was spending hours using a hot-iron to straighten her unruly mane.
"There would be this cloud of smoke in the room when she'd leave, but she had no choice because there weren't any products that made her feel like her curly hair was beautiful," Dennis recalls. He told her that the women in his family had the same problem. His cousins, aunts, mother, and sister all had trouble finding products that helped them maintain their curls--so the family started making their own products (his grandmother's shea butter recipe is what many of Sundial's products are based on).
"We had that option, but people who didn't have that option were constantly complaining" about their hair, he says. The story struck a chord with the woman. Nine months later, Dennis sealed an exclusive deal with Sephora to launch his Madam C.J. Walker products, a hair care line for wavy and kinky hair. By then, "the relationship was on such a solid foundation that I don't think it ever occurred to us that we wouldn't be able to do something spectacular."
"We do things for people we like," says Alison Fragale, an associate professor of organizational behavior at University of North Carolina's Kenan-Flagler Business School. So try to physically meet your opponent before you negotiate. Mere exposure, she says, can go a long way--and the interaction doesn't even have to be positive to have a good effect.
Find points of commonality to establish camaraderie, Fragale says, "even if they seem insignificant." One study found that if people are told they share a birthday or a rare fingerprint characteristic with someone else, they're more likely to do a favor for that person.
When he was starting Edible Arrangements, a fresh-fruit-bouquet-delivery company, founder Tariq Farid had to persuade suppliers to work with his fledgling company. "I would research the story of the company I was meeting with to get a good idea of where they got their start," says Farid.
"Then, during the meeting, I would remind them about their start and how, at one point, they were like us." More often than not, this led to a deeper conversation in which the supplier would share stories of his or her humble, and sometimes tough, beginnings. "It created an immediate bond," says Farid. This bond helped set a positive tone for further negotiations.
Don't fake It
Be authentic when sharing personal stories so you can make a real, human connection. If you try to fake it, "the average person will know the difference," says Melissa Thomas-Hunt, senior associate dean at the University of Virginia's Darden School of Business.