In a matter of weeks, the entire world went virtual. Every industry’s supply chain was upended as they scrambled to figure out how to support everything from shelter-in-place orders to getting critical medical supplies to those on the front lines. The longer this pandemic continues, the greater the challenges become: insufficient labor to meet demand, unpredictable service levels as labor fluctuates and government policies change, inconsistent demand as supply lines surge and recoil at a moment’s notice. All of which is creating significant conflicts that need to be resolved — most of which are being resolved through virtual negotiations.
Negotiating is already a complex business activity that grows even more so when it has to be done virtually. However, getting your negotiation through the final mile virtually isn’t impossible. In fact, there might even be new opportunities to uncover. Below are a few tips to help you deliver on your negotiations as you navigate your way through this new world.
Change of Venue, Same Relationship
Many shippers, suppliers, customers, or vendors in your world were accustomed to doing business face-to-face. After all, there’s nothing more satisfying than “shaking on a deal.” Now, much of that dealmaking has transitioned to virtual. The good news is that, in most cases, you’re dealing with the same people as you did before. So, while the medium has changed, the relationships have not.
The other good news is that the same core principles of negotiation apply. You just need to be mindful of how virtual can impact your negotiation. For instance, when you’re not in person, it will be more difficult to pick up on and read body language. Therefore, you must be more attuned to listening for verbal signals of flexibility. However, dealmaking virtually does allow you to communicate with your team members behind the scenes, or even to access information and data on the fly in order to support your negotiation. The point being, don’t let virtual inhibit your negotiation — rather, embrace it and remember that the only thing that’s changed is the venue.
Focused on the Finish Line, but Flexible on the Route
Pre-crisis, you probably had a reliable carrier network that allowed you to meet your obligations and commitments. However, COVID-19 has likely created considerable disruption within your carrier network. To adapt, many of you have already started expanding your secondary and tertiary carriers to ensure that you can execute your responsibilities. In other words, you stayed focused on your finish line (your obligations and commitments), but became flexible on your route there (expanding your carrier network). That same mindset will help you in your negotiations as well.
No matter the deal you’re trying to negotiate, stay focused on your objectives — but be flexible on your strategy. In a negotiation, when people confuse their strategy with their objectives, it can cause everything from delays to deadlocks. So, if a carrier partner comes to you with a new AI-driven logistics strategy or wants to introduce a new labor model to support new demands, do you really care about their strategy, as long as it meets your objectives? This is where you must stay focused on your objectives and be flexible on the strategy, just as you did when expanding your carrier network.
Drive Accountability but Be Mindful of the Future
COVID-19-related delays are inevitable. Driving accountability will be more difficult, and you may even become more accustomed to accepting generic write-offs due to the situation. But be mindful that this current crisis is temporary. Therefore, the changes you make or the write-offs that you allow now can become the new norm unless you qualify them according to the extraordinary context in which they were given. Phrasings such as “one-time” or “COVID-19-related” can help you to ensure that the other side doesn’t come back, post-crisis, expecting your generosity to continue ad infinitum. Instead, you’ll be in a position to limit the changes made during an extraordinary moment in time.
By the same token, be mindful that when this is over, you will continue to have dealings with your customers, carriers, and suppliers. If you find yourself in the enviable position to get more than you typically would, just know those same people will be there, on the other side, expecting to “level-set” what they had to give up.
With all of that said, we know that this too shall pass. Managing the constant changes in a way that’s sustainable long after COVID-19 will take discipline, mindfulness, and commitment to a vision that extends beyond this moment. But if you take advantage of this time to incorporate the opportunities presented by this new virtual experience, you can come out of this in far better shape than you might have imagined.
Brian Buck is CEO of Scotwork North America.