Negotiation in Marketing

Whilst marketing and PR success is often measured by output, much of our value is derived from our expert knowledge and areas where we humans still have the competitive edge.

In a blog post last year I discussed the rise of automation within communications and marketing. I concluded that, over time, the ‘bots’ (i.e. automation and artificial intelligence) are going to make huge swathes of the workforce obsolete, and not just traditional ‘blue collar’ jobs; communications professionals as well.

In our industry, whilst success is often measured by output, much of our value is derived from our expert knowledge and areas where we humans still have the competitive edge, namely, traditional ‘front-office’ skills, such as;

  • emotional intelligence
  • conflict-resolution
  • cooperation and collaboration

However, it strikes me that there is another important skill set very much overlooked within the marketing function: the ability to negotiate.

I’m not sure why this vital skillset doesn’t get more airtime; Perhaps we take it as a given that as marketers, we spend our days negotiating? Perhaps it’s the opposite and we don’t stop and realise how much time we actually spend negotiating?

Or it could be the case that with an astonishing gender imbalance within the profession (75% of marketing professionals are female), we prefer to think of negotiating in more nuanced terms…?

Whatever the reasons, we are not making as much as we should be of this vital skill.

There are many day-to-day situations were marketers need to negotiate, such as;

  • Negotiating good terms from vendors
  • Working with publications on media coverage and advertising
  • Negotiating with stakeholders on the allocation of resources; budgets, time, headcount

Negotiating: Facing the Fear!

According to Hubspot, 19% of people simply won’t negotiate because they’re afraid of looking too pushy. This is an amazing stat, and one which captures a real misconception about negotiating – that there must be a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’.

At around five years of age, children start to understand the idea of winning, and become competitive, but they have cared what others think of them and have been capable of feeling embarrassed since the age of just two and a half years old.

By seven or eight they are forming social rankings, very often based on the formula: winning = winner, losing = loser. We might think of negotiation as a sophisticated, learned skill set, but as any parent will tell you, young children are proficient negotiators!

Talking about ‘game theory’ might sound impressive, but most children will know, perhaps without realising, the three possible outcomes of a negotiation involving two parties;

  1. Win-win
  2. Win-lose
  3. Lose-lose

If we step back and think about how ingrained these feelings are, we can appreciate how hard it is to learn to negotiate without feelings of pressure and anxiety.

Here are some quick tips for better negotiating within the marketing function:

1. Know What You Want!

It sounds obvious, but when entering into a negotiation, it’s important to know what you want to achieve, and how you would feel if the negotiation didn’t work out the way you hoped. Think about all the variables and work out the zone of possible agreement (ZOPA).

Sometimes, what you think is a small, low cost, ‘give’ on your part, can be a high value aspect of the negotiation to the other party…and vice versa, obviously.

2. Your Creativity is an Advantage

The good news is, that if you’re a marketer, you’re already accustomed to thinking creatively! Use these skills to think around the negotiation, taking into account all you know about the other party, the larger context and even the small points which are causing you, and perhaps the other party, second thoughts.

3. But Do Your Research!

For all that creative thinking, when it comes to negotiating anything you need to make sure that you’ve done your research beforehand. You don’t want to be caught out, or surprised, when the other party is more prepared than you are. If nothing else, this might knock your confidence and throw you off your game!

4. It’s not a case of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’

Back to game theory, and our understanding of what a successful outcome looks like. The secret of your success will be ensuring that the result of the negotiation is a positive outcome for both sides.

There will be times when you feel you’ve “won” more or given more than you should. Try to focus on the larger context, by giving a little more, have you laid down the beginnings of a long-running partnership?

That’s not to say that ‘bots can’t negotiate…!

Computers which negotiate on our behalf will soon be a part of everyday life. For example, through the Internet of Things (IoT), devices in our homes will be negotiating complex energy contracts.

Our smart fridges will be working out if our milk supplier is really giving us the best price, and Jason Mars, CEO and co-founder of conversational AI platform provider Clinc, believes AI “can melt away the pain of financial services”. An example of this would be for a trading platform which could respond to voice commands, therefore removing all the key strokes’ .

Whatever the future is for AI and its ability to reason and negotiate for us, as marketers we still need to realise the importance of this vital skill set. I for one, will be making a far more conscious effort to think about each negotiation, no matter how insignificant it might seem – it could be an opportunity to impact my business relationships for the better!

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