Negotiation Blog

Empowering Technologists at the Negotiation Table

By Leslie Mulligan

Courtship….not necessarily a word that springs to mind when describing a mega-deal taking place in America’s bastion of high tech – Silicon Valley – but that is exactly how Forbes described Mark Zuckerberg’s pursuit of WhatsApp in an article detailing the Facebook acquisition.  This seismic, $19B deal closed in less than a week once the principals sat down at the negotiating table, but only after Mark Zuckerberg and WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum built a true partnership during the previous 2 years.

Technologists typically don’t contemplate relationship building as a cornerstone of their negotiating strategy, but that profound relationship is precisely why the Facebook-WhatsApp acquisition closed so quickly, once $ were in play.  Beginning in the spring of 2012, after Zuckerberg reached out to Koum for a casual lunch, they got together almost monthly- sometimes for dinner, sometimes to hike trails around Palo Alto. Not only did they share philosophies on business strategy and innovation, they built a trust that enabled rapid closure on terms, once Google stirred the pot and made overtures toward WhatsApp.    

Inventors and technologists usually have an innate curiosity – they push the cutting edge of their domain, fostering innovating thinking and breakthroughs in technology. Turning this natural curiosity toward your potential counterpart at the negotiating table, you can gain significant leverage before talking terms. Find or create shared experiences and build rapport – and you are on your way to earning respect and ultimately trust. Cultivating this trust is essential to spur your counterpart to reveal their underlying motivations and deeper interests.    

Once you know what is really driving them, rely on another natural skill of most technologists – creativity. Creativity – and flexibility – allows you to think through a set of alternatives that will meet some, or many, of the interests you have uncovered. If they reject one proposal, you have others ready to propose that might win the day.  But this powerful give and take during bargaining is only possible if your partner trusts you. The $19B WhatsApp deal was done in a few short days because Koum fundamentally liked and trusted Mark Zuckerberg.  

The Forbes article claims that once the deal was “done” - Zuckerberg and Koum had shaken hands on the basic terms - that Mark Zuckerberg broke out a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label to celebrate, as he knew this was Koum’s favorite Scotch. Now that is indisputable evidence that the Facebook CEO had done the work to uncover the real interests of the WhatsApp Founder!

To learn more about how to Empower Technologists at the Negotiating Table, listen to the August 17, 2014 IMI Tech Talk radio program, hosted on KFNX News-Talk-Radio 1100, when host Tom D’Auria speaks with Leslie Mulligan of Watershed Associates about this topic.

Negotiating Tip

When negotiating over the telephone, be slower than usual to agree to new ideas or requests. You can always call back once you've considered how to say "yes" in exchange for some value.


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