working towards great client service

Negotiation: Forget the price tag, it’s not all about money!

In client service, negotiation is one of the most important skills that decide the result of project and affect agency-client relationship (Carrell & Heavrin 2008). Then how do negotiators walk through this bumpy path? To figure out the issue, I had a nice talk with Mr. Nguyen Tuan Anh, Senior Account Executive at Blue Ocean Communication.

I met him in a rainy afternoon when his team just finished a project with a FMCG brand thus he was kind of excited and had many to share with me. With a calm and confident manner in answering my questions, my first impression on him was the assertiveness and trustworthiness, the characteristics that you may find in an experienced account executive. During his five years in the industry, Tuan Anh has gained a lot of negotiating skills, which he simplified in three features: Play win-win, Sharing and Maintaining relationship.


The winner takes it all, the loser has to fall? No, no one loses!

“What is the purpose of negotiation?”, you would ask. At first glance, many may respond that people negotiate in order to gain as much benefit to them as possible, ignoring the opposite party. Nevertheless, the very first principle that every negotiator should remember is that negotiation in business aims to obtain an agreement to solve a common problem and achieve the profit for both sides. In other words, playing win-win is a MUST in a successful negotiation (Lewickin et al 2011).

Reproduced from: Borhan 2011.

Regarding this idea, Tuan Anh shared the same opinion when stating: “Business negotiation is not like bargaining at marketplace where seller tries to get the highest price, pay no attention to buyer’s profit”. Some of undergraduates, due to typical stereotypes and threats, may look at clients as evil and Mr. or Mrs. Expect-A-Lot-But-Pay-A-Little. However, from the interview with Tuan Anh, I had got through that the so-called ‘win-win situation’, which sounds cliché and difficult to achieve, is essential to every negotiation and trust me, both agency and client would like an ending that makes everyone happy.

Sometimes, win-win is too high to reach but in negotiation between client and agency, there are many ways that may help. One of those techniques that Tuan Anh was willing to share with my readers is the ‘one step back to get two steps forward’. Imagine you are in the middle of the negotiation when your proposed price is much higher than your client’s, it would not be a good choice to keep your price with the thought ‘my work deserves this amount of money’. We, professional negotiators should be flexible decrease our agency’s price while asking the client to raise their payment as well. By this movement, we will get nearer to the negotiated final price that pleases both parties. Besides, adding value is a helpful technique in dealing with clients. Significance such as discount for the next projects, adding service would be appropriate consideration for client to get the negotiated price.


Sharing for receiving

Researches on your client must be done before the arrangement as the more you know about your opposite party, the bigger chance you have to get the negotiation successfully. Nevertheless, what if there is important information that is essential for the negotiation that you can not get through research? Just ask your client! If they truly want to work with you, they are willing to share some of their preparation as they know that it would help the process goes more smoothly. On the other hand, your agency should do the same, share your agency’s interest and information as it will help to achieve the win-win situation (Lewickin et al 2011). This idea can be described simply by Solomon’s statement: ‘Before you tell clients what you think, tell them what you know’ (Solomon 2008, pp. 107).

Reproduced from: Kuma 2012.


Regarding the Solomon and his opinion, Tuan Anh seems to have the same idea when he admitted sharing information and interests would help the negotiation work well. Even so, that ideal circumstance does not always happen in real workplace, Tuan Anh stated. Usually, there is an underground limitation in the amount of shared information between agency and client, especially for those relationships which have just begun. In these cases, it depends a lot on the person who works directly with the client to make conjecture on issues that client would not like to share. BATNA is one of those subjects. Getting to know the other party’s BATNA without revealing your agency’s one will increase the chance of persuade clients (Lewickin et al 2011) although they will not let you know their BATNA so easily, according to Tuan Anh. Again, this case emphasizes the role of negotiator, who has to be sensitive and flexible to realize every little detail to get their required information.


Keeping the relationship

Turning back to the marketplace story beyond, what makes the difference between negotiation and bargaining, my readers? Carrell & Heavrin (2008) has claimed that the hardest goal of negotiation is to gain profit but still keep the long-term relationship with client, which is not really given prominence to at the marketplace.

With the same opinion, Tuan Anh believes that a negotiation only succeeds when agency and client get the agreement while their relationship is maintained and developed. There are many factors that influence this relationship. The most important one, as Tuan Anh has experienced, is the quality of agency’s work. If the performance is good enough, there is no doubt that clients would like to work with your agency in later projects. Besides, two issues that were discussed above also affect the relationship. If agency shows their willingness and efforts by respect the win-win principle and consider client’s situation, their relationship with client is in the comfortable zone. This has been the belief of Tuan Anh and Blue Ocean Communication, as its official website states: ‘We believe that quality is the best measurement of working effectiveness’ and ‘we aims to nothing but a long term relationship with our clients’. I guess this is also the goal of many other communicators and communication agencies.


We finished our short interview when the rain had stopped for a while, leaving me an anxious yet exciting feeling. As dealing with clients has never been an easy job, the concern is unavoidable; however, the workplace with those challenges really excites me. Although still being worried a bit, I left with a belief that my later negotiation work would be better as I have got ready for it. How about you, future communication experts?


Photography by: Hanh Nguyen 2012.



Word count: 1099



Anh, Nguyen Tuan 2012, interview, 21 August 2012.

Borhan 2011, ‘Win-win situation’, image, Socyberty, viewed 1 September 2012, <>.

Carrell, MR & Heavrin, C 2008, Negotiating essentials : theory, skills, and practices,Pearson Education, New Jersy.

Kuma, AJ 2012, ‘Interest’, image, Persuasive, viewed 1 September 2012, <>.

Lewicki, RJ, Saunders, DM & Barry, B 2011, Essentials of negotiation, 5th edn,McGraw-Hill, Boston.

Solomon, R 2008, The Art of Client Service, Kaplan Publishing, New York.


Story by Nguyen Duc Hanh.


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2 thoughts on “Negotiation: Forget the price tag, it’s not all about money!

  1. Pingback: Jazzlamb – J.A.Z Lambert » Negotiation

  2. Good attempt at creative writing Hanh I like the way you get readers in the mood, describing the interview atmosphere!

    ‘One step back to get two steps forward’ – is my favorite quote… but you left me hanging and wanting to know more… it would have been interesting to hear about how Mr. Tuan Anh utilized these negotiation tactics with that FMCG brand you mentioned at the beginning or with any past clients. Specific examples are always good to have. ~Mel C

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