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Key Takeaways

  • Successful integration of negotiation concepts into day-to-day business operations depends on organizations viewing negotiation training as a competitive advantage rather than a one-time workshop.
  • To use negotiation as a competitive advantage, companies should approach it as a continuous learning journey, align incentives with collaborative problem-solving, and involve the entire organization in upskilling and reinforcing collaborative behaviors.
  • Despite differences in industries, negotiation patterns and assumptions tend to be similar. Understanding each organization’s unique challenges is important while recognizing commonalities in human nature and solutions that can be applied across industries.
  • Preparation in negotiations is often overlooked but is essential for successful outcomes. Changing the mindset and establishing effective preparation habits are necessary, and having a framework or system in place is important for efficient and effective preparation.

Executive Summary:

Ladies and gentlemen, we are thrilled to have you all with us today for another exciting episode of the NEGOTIATEx podcast. Today, we are joined by Logan Kessler, Engagement Leader with Vantage Partners. Logan works with clients to develop negotiation strategies and account management processes in various industries such as healthcare, financial services, and manufacturing. 

Logan’s experience also includes the following:

  • Coaching clients through sales negotiations.
  • Launching and maintaining alliances with partner organizations.
  • Delivering workshops and training on diverse topics.

Prior to his current role at Vantage Partners, Logan served as a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic. With the introduction done, let’s delve deep into the insights Logan shares in this episode. 

Logan’s Unconventional Path to Vantage Partners

Nolan initiates the discussion by inquiring about Logan’s background and how he came to work for a negotiation firm in Boston. After graduating with a degree in international affairs, Logan joined the Peace Corps and spent two years in the Dominican Republic, which led him to pursue a master’s degree in international affairs at the Fletcher School. 

While in graduate school, Logan took a negotiation course and became interested in pursuing a career in consulting. He then discovered Vantage Partners, where he has been working for almost seven years. 

Key Differentiators in Successful Integration of Negotiation Concepts into Day-to-Day Business Operations

Logan’s extensive experience working with multiple corporate clients over the years makes him an expert on helping individuals transition from receiving one-time training to effectively integrating negotiation concepts into their day-to-day business operations.

He highlights that the key differentiator is whether the organization views negotiation as a one-off workshop or a must-have competitive advantage for their organization to win in the market and serve their customers. 

He notes that some individuals are not fully engaged and treat the workshop as a box-checking exercise, while others are interested in learning and improving and believe that the skills and frameworks they are learning will move the needle on their individual performance and organizational success. 

According to Logan, the biggest difference between the two types of organizations is the leadership’s reinforcement of negotiation skills and integration into the organizational culture. Aram asks a follow-up question about the possibility of weaving negotiation skills into more aspects of an organization’s operations, and Logan acknowledges that it depends on the organization’s budgetary and mindset constraints. 

Using Negotiation as a Competitive Advantage: Getting Beyond One-Off Workshops

Moving on, Nolan asks Logan about the best practices that companies can adopt to use negotiation as a competitive advantage. The latter responds by emphasizing the importance of approaching negotiation as a continual learning journey rather than a one-off workshop. 

He suggests different ways to dissipate negotiation knowledge, such as synchronous and asynchronous learning, and that embedding knowledge requires ongoing practice and teaching. Logan also recommends aligning incentives and performance measures to reward collaborative problem-solving negotiation rather than positional bargaining, as the former is deemed to be more effective. 

Additionally, he emphasizes the importance of making negotiation a whole organizational effort rather than just teaching it to one business unit. 

Exploring Cross-Industry Negotiation Patterns and Collaborative Problem-Solving Behaviors

Aram notes the importance of having a common mindset and language to avoid problems and take advantage of opportunities in an organization. He then turns to Logan and asks about his experience working with different industries and the similarities, differences, and surprises he has encountered in their practices.

Mr. Kessler highlights that while the contexts and challenges may differ, the underlying negotiation patterns and assumptions are often similar across industries. Understanding each organization’s unique challenges and dynamics is necessary, but equally key is recognizing the similarities in human nature and the solutions that can be applied across industries. 

Additionally, he mentions the importance of aligning incentives and performance measures to reinforce collaborative problem-solving behaviors across the organization.

Mastering Negotiation Preparation: The Key to Successful Outcomes

Lastly, Nolan asks Logan to share thoughts on the importance of preparation and how one can effectively navigate negotiations. The latter mentions that preparation in negotiations is often overlooked due to time constraints and emphasizes the need to change the mindset and habits around preparation. While it may seem difficult, it is necessary for successful outcomes. 

Logan also highlights the different levels of preparation required depending on the nature of the negotiation and stresses the importance of having a framework or system to prepare efficiently and effectively.

Logan, Aram, and Nolan delve into a wide range of topics. We invite you to share your thoughts on this highly informative podcast by emailing us at team@negotiatex.com.

Thank you for your time!


Nolan Martin : Hey everyone, welcome to the NEGOTIATEx podcast. So excited to be able to introduce one of our peers, Logan, with us today. So Aram, want to go ahead and kick this thing off?

Aram Donigian : I thought you were going to go ahead and introduce him there for us. It is a pleasure folks, to welcome Logan Kessler to the program. Logan works with clients to develop and implement strategies for maximizing value from both inter and intra organizational collaboration and relationships with customers, alliance partners, and suppliers.

As an engagement leader with Vantage Partners management, consulting, and training practices, Logan has worked extensively with leading companies across a range of industries, including healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and medical devices, financial services, energy and mining, manufacturing and food products. Logan's recent work includes coaching clients through sales and market access negotiations, developing and implementing customer negotiation and sales strategies, embedding negotiation and account management in organizations as key business processes and practices, structuring, launching and maintaining alliances with critical partner organizations, enabling successful sales organizations with account management training tools and strategies, transforming how companies approach and manage their key suppliers, and designing and delivering a broad range of workshops and trainings across diverse topics such as customer negotiation influence without authority in sales, leadership.

Having had the opportunity to be in the training room with Logan, I will tell you he's a fantastic trainer and teacher. Prior to joining Vantage Partners, Logan was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Dominican Republic, working with cocoa farmers to improve their crop production processes and form strategic cooperative organizations to improve their leverage in negotiating with intermediary buyers. Logan is currently pursuing an MBA at the Berkeley Haas School of Business, holds a master's degree from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and a bachelor's in International Affairs from Eastern Washington University, which is also where my brother graduated from.

Logan is based in Seattle, Washington. Logan, thanks for being with us today.

Logan Kessler : Thank you so much for having me. Looking forward to this conversation.

NM : As someone who has lived in Washington, is it rainy today? How's the weather?

LK : You know it is actually sunny today, which is unfortunate because obviously, I know the sun is out, so therefore I must be leaving Seattle later this afternoon on a flight of course.

NM : Well, Logan, thank you so much for being in with us today.  So I have to ask, so how does a kid go from Alaska, growing up and end up working for a premier negotiation firm in Boston?

Negotiating As A Competitive Advantage: Insights From A Practitioner And Trainer [03:49]

Yes. Yes, it was, it was a little bit of a long and winding road to quote the Beatles. I grew up in Alaska, born and raised, third generation Alaskan actually. I ended up going to college at Eastern Washington University, as you mentioned. Ended up studying international affairs and got a minor in Spanish. Turns out around 2010, shortly after the financial crisis, not a lot of job opportunities for liberal arts, bachelor degrees and international affairs without some kind of international experience. So that led me to the Peace Corps that a little over two years in the Dominican Republic, absolutely loved it. Totally changed my kind of outlook on life. That led me to graduate school for international affairs.

Going into graduate school, funny enough, I actually had a concurrent application into the Navy. Just so happened that Fletcher got back to me first and said I was in before the Navy did. So I went to the graduate school, while in graduate school and even going into it, I, you know, I was sure I knew my plan. I was going to graduate in two years, no problem, and then either join the military or become a diplomat for the Foreign service. You know, what do they say about best laid plans? My first semester I took a negotiation course with a mentor of mine.

Now, Rob Wilkinson, who I believe is actually a former guest on your show, very first semester, took a negotiation class with him. About three weeks in, I was like, wow, free whatever plan I had, this is what I need to be doing. This is so interesting. And so I talked with him and I said, how did you get to where you are and how do I do what you do? And he kind of turned me onto a couple different places to look and some different opportunities. And, you know, I found Vantage Partners where I'm working today, kind of tweaked my coursework over the next year and a half to focus and set me up for a career in consulting. And that was nearly seven years ago.

AD : Time flies when you're having fun. I didn't know you almost went into the Navy.

LK : I almost did. I almost did. They were just a couple weeks behind Fletcher in their acceptance process or denial process, whatever the outcome may have been.

NM : Yeah, from two Army guys, you made the right choice by not going into the Navy, so… 

AD : Hey Logan, you are both a practitioner and trainer and I know you've worked with corporate clients, kind of, that are all over the spectrum kind of brand new to some of the systematic formalized negotiation processes and tools and training that you bring and some folks who are very well-equipped and have been doing it for some time and have really built it into their organizational processes.  What are some of your observations as you look at clients who kind of progress from maybe a one-off training to actually practicing and implementing these concepts day in, day out in all aspects of their business?

How Leaders Can Make Negotiation A Competitive Advantage For Their Organizations [06:27]

LK : Yeah, it's a good question. I think one thing you said in the question is kind of the key differentiator for me is do organizations look at their ability to negotiate on an individual and organizational level as, you know, a one off workshop because maybe they have the L&D budget or you know, they had one particular issue or challenge that is front of mind, or do they treat their negotiation capability as a must have competitive advantage for their organization to win in the market and serve their customers? And, it shows in our interactions with them, it shows in the room, you get some trainings, and engagements where participants, you know, haven't even talked with their managers about what they're learning today. They haven't done any kind of prep. They're not going to do a debrief. Their managers may or may not even know that they're in a training that day, right?

And you see it, they're there to check the box. Some of them individuals are interested in learning and improving and engaging, but they don't believe that the skills and frameworks they're learning is going to, you know, move the needle on both their individual performance or for their organizations. And that's, as opposed to the organizations that really do treat negotiation as a competitive advantage, you see their leaders in the room, you see them talking with them beforehand. You see them talking about it afterwards. You see them talking about how do these skills show up at both, you know, in absentia or in how they win today, but also how are they going to implement that moving forward. So, really I'd say my biggest observation and the biggest differentiator from going from, you know, a workshop on one day for a bunch of volunteers versus an organization that implements and lives their ability to negotiate successfully day in, day out starts from the top. And how do leaders reinforce that skillset.

AD : Yeah, and I would imagine it's either woven into organizational culture or it's not, leaders installing that. I'm curious as just a follow-up question, how often, what you just shared as you're describing, what's the possibility to, with a company that's interested? Do you kind of talk full range and you can share this and say, you know, because no one has an infinite budget and so, you know, is it a budgetary constraint and or does some of it also come back to a mindset constraint and there's the, you  know, bigger story to be shared with this is what it could look like if we were able to kinda weave it into more things that you're doing.

LK : Yeah, you know, there's always, there's one thing about what I, and you know, we do in this field is that, you know, we left black and white far behind, right? We're very much operating in the gray. And so I don't want you to hear me saying that one negotiation workshop is not impactful because there's, you are always going to reach someone in the crowd. You know, hopefully we're reaching everyone, but we want to manage expectations here. That are going to hear what you're saying and they're going to, it's going to resonate with them in a way that they realize that this is something I can do to improve as a professional, as a human being. Honestly, we'll probably get to the little bit of that later. But if you are talking about as an organization, how to systematically improve the way your people show up, and I'm talking about not just external facing interactions, but internal as well.

It's something worth giving thought to, and I know a lot of organizations do, obviously it's a reality. You have to make budgetary decisions and you can't do everything. And there are choices to be made. It's just a matter of is this going to be a priority for you? And so does that mean, you know, a one-off workshop, does that mean synchronous and asynchronous learning over time? Is that a three month, six months, nine month, two year learning journey? You know, the only limit on how we're able to build skills as our creativity and how we're going to work together and, and reach out and support your people.

NM : For those companies that have bought into the importance of negotiations. And those are obviously, you know, some of our favorite to work with because we do get to get very creative and think of exciting ways to teach this, deliver this stuff. What are some of the best practices that you've seen that they do day in, day out to help continue improving and using it as a competitive advantage, like you said.

Making Collaborative Problem Solving A Whole Of Organization Effort [10:31]

LK : I think the first thing is, approaching it as continual learning, right? I, if it's just a one-off workshop, you're going to get a couple of the people that we're already interested to begin with, but it's not going to get embedded over time. And so, you do need to think about it as a learning journey. And that doesn't mean a live workshop where you pull 20 people out of their day jobs, you know, for two days every other month. That can look like a lot of different ways, right? There's synchronous learning where we're live together, virtually in person.

There is asynchronous learning where you have kind of online learnings and readings. You can do shorter sessions, right? Little one hour virtual sessions to get together. But really as adults, we don't just learn one off, right? We learn, we practice, we teach, right?

And that's how we kind of embed that knowledge. So, really approaching it with the time perspective in mind, I say that's best practice number one and that's going to look a little bit different for every organization. I think the other thing that is really important is taking a look at how can you align the incentives and performance measures that are going to reward people to interact in the ways that you want them to.

One example that we see is, you know, we work with a lot of supply chain organizations, right? Procurement and, you know, we come in and teach them these ways of efficient, productive, joint problem solving negotiation, but then they go back to their day jobs and they're rewarded based on how much they knock the price down from the supplier's initial offer, right? And that is exactly teaching them, you know, incentivizing them to negotiate in a positional bargaining way that is not consistent with effective problem solving, right?

So that's like around the incentives piece, around performance measurement, you know, or management. How are you working in, you know, their ability to collaborate across organizations within the organization, across verticals, excuse me, to be more collaborative and enjoy problem solving. Do you, you know, are you working that in annual reviews, annual feedback? Are you including different people in the review and feedback mechanism? I, one more best practice to share, I know I'm being long-winded, I apologize to you and the listeners here, but I think looking at how you can make it a whole of organization effort.

If you teach one business unit to negotiate in a collaborative joint problem solving fashion, but no one else in the organization interacts that way, you're very quickly going to fall on old and possibly bad habits, right? You can't just have kind of this Jekyll and Hyde thing where you negotiate with some people one way and others in another way to actually get that full benefit to the entire organization and reinforce those behaviors, looking at it across the whole entire organization and how to upskill everyone.

AD : Well, I'm glad you mentioned the last one too, because it really got to a point. Earlier you talked about the inward focus. I think it's really easy for us, I mean, especially as you're talking supply chain negotiations, other things to be so externally focused, it's us with somebody outside as you're talking about how you, these processes, right? To some degree with continual learning, but certainly more degree with regards to aligning incentives, performance measures and the kind of the whole organization approach. Those involve these internal negotiations. Talk to us about that. How difficult are those internal conversations on any issue and how do you coach organizations to, I dont know, to approach them more effectively?

Aligning Incentives And Objectives For Successful Internal Negotiations [13:53]

LK : Yeah. Aram, you know, as much as I do whatever we ask people in the training room, right? Where do your most contentious negotiations take place, right? 9 out of 10 hands go up when we ask them about their internal negotiations, right? Like the customer, the supplier, the partner, they can be hard, but usually we can make it work, right? But when I talk to marketing inside, oh boy, I get my heckles up, right? You're talking to salespeople. It's just you know, I maybe have my own theories about why that might be the case, but it's almost always true. Everyone talks about their internal negotiations being so much more contentious. And I think one part to think about that is kind of the frequency and duration of time, with which we have our relationships with our internal counterparts and how often we negotiate with them, right?

We talk so much in negotiation that you are teaching your counterpart how you want to work with them and how you want to negotiate with them. And when you meet with someone for, over the course of years, several times a day, if not a week, you fall into these patterns. And if those patterns start to veer you in a direction that is not efficient, not productive, you're not maximizing the value you're both getting out of these interactions, you know, the wheels come off pretty quick and you get stuck in this rut of how you're interacting with each other. And it's got to, it takes one person, if not both to signal to the other that they want to change the tune a little bit, they want to change the music and how we're working together. And that's really hard to do.

AD : It’s amazing that it does come up that often, and that it's hard to do when we should be aligned on the same company objectives. I wonder how much of it is also this, so the approach is different. it's where, we sit. And so the solution looks different if you're in marketing versus on the op side or, or on the legal side, or finance side.

It does go back to kind of that, the piece around incentives and performance management, right? Because am I trying to get outcomes for my business unit or vertical or am I trying to get outcomes for the organization? And the way we are incentivized and rewarded to achieve either of those has a huge implications for how we negotiate. We talk to a lot of clients that want to go to market as, you know, one ACME ‘insert organization name’ there. But then when you try to look at the way they're able to cross sell or collaborate internally to best serve their customer externally, the mechanisms just aren't there. And so the messaging and the operation of how they actually work together and go to market just are a little disjointed.

NM : Yeah, so I just wanted to highlight like, one thing that Logan had said there was, you know, kind of the differences when the entire organization is bought into it, they're all doing negotiations training, is that then we start to see them all speaking this common language when they're all looking at a very similar problem. They understand that, hey, they're trying to figure out the interest, generate options to meet those interests. Whereas whenever only one business unit may do that, they're speaking a completely different language that no one else even understands. And so I thought it was neat when I get to sit in on some of these big organization calls and kind of see that dynamic when it's not just one business unit, but they're all well educated, well versed in the negotiation stuff. So.

AD : And that really gets to mindset, right? I mean, it gets to a common mindset, common language, Nolan, I just, without that, you know, problems with it, opportunities abound. But Logan, what I wanted to ask was, in your bio, we talked about the work you've done with financial sector, energy, just a number of different, different folks. As you work across these different industries, either on the training side of the negotiation work or more on the consulting side, what are some of the, you know, things that you've found to be similar, different, or even surprising in terms of challenges they face or other lessons?

Negotiation Solutions: Finding Similarities In Diverse Organizational Contexts [17:41]

LK : Yeah, I think one thing that always strikes me is when we work with different clients, even within the same industry, but certainly across different industries, we always work really hard to understand their challenges, their dynamics. So we can teach them in the context of their, their day-to-day life, what their job looks like. What always strikes me though is that the dynamics that people describe and the challenges that they ask us for advice on are remarkably similar. And it comes down to, right, I think a little bit of human nature. I think it comes down to patterns and assumptions we have about negotiations that we bring into it. And you know, obviously depending on the organization, the role you sit in, the industry in which you live, you know, the standards of legitimacy that we're able to bring to bear are obviously going to be very different.  

The options we are therefore going to be able to generate very different, a lot of the interests that people have, the, you know, both personally, professionally, they stay remarkably similar. And, you know, we often hear folks say, oh, well that won't work here because of X, Y, Z, right? Well, I was with one of your, you know, another firm in your industry and they do it this way and it's a little bit different. Or, you know, I work with both sales and procurement teams, guess who each of them describes as the ultimate villain and then [laugh] in their day job, right? So, it's just, I think what always strikes me is that, you know, we are people and humans first, and we're trying to do the best we can and we just find ourselves up against different dynamics and challenges. But the solution is often very similar. 

AD : I've had a similar experience. I mean, I'd say we've had Nolan, I've had a similar experience. I like to start sometimes, and I think you do this too, Logan, kind of who do you negotiate with over what sorts of things, and then kind of the last column is and what makes it challenging or difficult, right? And so obviously as you're saying, like the context, the who and over what is different, and I love the even greater depth that you went to, which is, and the solutions they might come to are going to look different. And, the reasons those things are fair and reasonable are going to look a little different. But the nature of the challenges, those patterns you're describing, right? The human interaction or even some of the tensions around constraints, even though even if those resource constraints, whenever they're slightly different, there's a lot of similarity in those challenges across industry. It doesn't matter, you know, whether it's a group of navy seals or it's a procurement group.

NM : So one thing we often talk about and hear from others in the negotiation field is the critical importance of preparation. Wondering if you might share with us your thoughts on how one can get prepared to negotiate and really like to kind of dig in deep here.

The Power Of Preparation In Negotiations: Overcoming Time Bias [20:28]

LK : Yeah, I think, so it's funny, right? When we talk with our clients either in consulting or training engagements, right? We always stress, and I've heard you guys talk about it before too, preparing is probably one of, if not the most powerful thing you can do to improve your leverage in negotiation. And almost, you know, without fail, the response we get back is, I don't have time to prepare, right? And to me, I can't help but chuckle at that a little bit because people, you know, we just heard people describe all of the challenges they just have, how much time they waste by getting off on the wrong foot or being inefficient in negotiations. Something that takes a month and a half or two months that could have taken one meeting or a week, right? And I hear you saying you don't have time to prepare, but then you've got two months to waste by negotiating ineffectively.

And I'm like, okay, if you could cut that time from that two month negotiation down to a month and a half or down to a month or down to two weeks, wouldn't it make sense? Wouldn't you make the trade off to give 30 minutes, 60 minutes, two hours, half a day to prepare with your team to save you that in the long run? And it's just kind of that time bias people have that, you know, the time spent now just doesn't quite, you know, click that that's better time spent over the next, you know, down the road, couple of months or whatever it may be. And it's really just about kind of changing or evolving kind of your habit or your mindset about how you go into negotiations. And it's just, it's a habit change and it's hard. All right?

I'm not saying you can't just wake up one day and say, okay, I'm going to readjust my schedule and calendar to approach my negotiations differently. It is something you have to work on. I think that goes back to our kind of the how where we started today around, what do organizations do that are kind of treating as a one-off training versus implementing at an organizational level as a competitive advantage. The other thing I'll say about preparation is that not all preparation is, you know, created equal, right? If I've got a huge negotiation, contract negotiation I am entering that is expected to take a year, that is going to take a much bigger negotiation preparation across the team and over time than, you know, a one hour call I have with, you know, a good partner that I already have a good relationship with, right? So it's, everyone has preparation. They kind of describe that as the same thing. Sometimes that's a full day with the team and whiteboarding and flip charting. Sometimes that's an hour of just writing notes to myself. Sometimes that's five minutes in the back of my head, back of the napkin, drawing down some quick notes, right? But it's all about having that framework, that model, that system to prepare so you're doing it efficiently and effectively.

NM : Hey everyone, Nolan here. I have to jump in and end today's podcast for part A of the show. Be sure to rate, review, and subscribe to the NEGOTIATEx podcast if you haven't already. And also join us next week to check out part B of this awesome interview.

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