By Brian Feinblum, Chief Marketing Officer
Molly Fletcher has learned a lot over the past two decades while negotiating an estimated $500 million worth of deals on behalf of hundreds of the world’s premiere athletes, coaches and television commentators. She reveals the strategies, tips, and insights that have made her wildly successful first as a sports agent and now as a corporate consultant and keynote speaker, in her newest book, A Winner’s Guide To Negotiating: How Conversation Gets Deals Done.
MEDIA CONNECT sat down with Molly to ask her all about the book, her career, and more:
MEDIA CONNECT: You estimate that you’ve worked on 500 million dollars worth of deals on behalf of 300 clients over the past two decades. What’s been the key to your success?
Molly Fletcher: Relationships and reputation. In the sports agent industry there are more agents than there are athletes to represent. It’s a really competitive business, so you have to be able to effectively build, manage and grow relationships. You have to be able to build relationships with prospective clients while ensuring that you are continuing to develop relationships with your current clients and deliver consistently. You also have to be able to develop relationships with team personnel and manufacturers so you can deliver deals. How you behave within all of those relationships determines your reputation. You often have to negotiate with the same parties multiple times, and they will avoid you and vice versa if they don’t trust you. Reputation is built on honesty and integrity and allows long term success.
MC: Why do you assert that effective negotiating comes down to seeing it as a conversation built over time?
MF: Too often we take a shortsighted view of negotiation. It’s far more effective if you see negotiation as a conversation. Over time, you can have a trust for a process and an approach. Inside of any negotiation, you are trying to solve a problem. There is a gap. In order to get clear on how to close that gap and how to support each other, it requires a conversation. You have to ask questions and be curious, get clear on what gaps exist, and determine how to close them. Most negotiations aren’t clear-cut. There is going to be some ambiguity that you have to work through together. If you try to apply a cookie-cutter approach to negotiation, you’re likely to get blindsided. You have to prepare without question, but you also have to be able to adapt and have a productive conversation.
MC: You write in A Winner’s Guide to Negotiating that a great negotiator does five things well. What are they, and which one is the most important?
MF: 1. Set the stage; 2. Find common ground; 3. Ask with confidence; 4. Embrace the pause; 5. Know when to leave. People tend to have the most trouble with embracing the pause in negotiation. It’s often an overlooked part of the process and the one that is the least comfortable for most people. Embracing the pause requires the most intentionality and discipline. Our natural tendency is to want to fill the space. Instead, embrace the pause. It’s when you determine who will make the next move, and you can learn a lot from the move people make within the pause. Very rarely does everything happen all at once in negotiation. A pause can serve many purposes: it projects confidence in your position; creates anticipation and possibilities; limits emotionality; and adds perspective. Learn to embrace the pause.
MC: What were some odd or unusual things your clients had asked you to negotiate on behalf of?
MF: You see it all, and it’s a reminder of how many factors come into play during a negotiation. We all value different things. A person might be negotiating for a slight increase in salary, without taking into account other options (vacation time, ability to work remotely, etc.) that might be more amendable. Always consider what’s not already on the table. Athletes and coaches could get really creative with this. Some would want hotel suite accommodations on the road negotiated into their contract, or country club memberships or free childcare. We had one coach who really valued a free dry cleaning deal. Some who relocate for a job ask for “X” number of flights for their family to visit. You have to get clear on what matters most. It’s not always just about the money.
MC: As an agent-whether sports, real estate, literary, financial—how do you show the value that you bring to the table for a potential client?
MF: Whenever I pitched a client, I made sure to keep the focus on them. I always wanted to first understand what was important to them and what they valued in an agent. Then I could shift the conversation to how we would be able to drive value. Relationships and reputation were really important. I would give a prospect our client list and ask them, “Who do you want to talk to?” The best way for them to understand how I did business was to hear it from someone else. Of course, I would always provide comps and show them how we delivered against the market for other clients but it is much more effective when they hear it from someone in their position. And then once you sign the client, it’s all about execution. You have to deliver.
MC: Why should we be aware of the role of gender in negotiations?
MF: In my book, I talk about some of the gender stereotypes that still exist and how they can be manipulated. Gender is powerful, because either overtly or subtly, it can limit what we think we are allowed to ask for, and if we ask at all. There is a strong business case for diversity as we’ve seen reflected in numerous studies. Recent findings from researchers at MIT, Columbia University and Northwestern University found that people in diverse groups are “more likely to step outside their own perspective” than people in homogenous groups. Now think about how important that is to a successful negotiation in which a mutual win is sought. More diversity in negotiation challenges our assumptions, forces us to better articulate our positioning, and opens the door to more possibilities.
MC: What advice do you have for someone negotiating a raise or the acceptance of a job offer?
MF: The initial offer is often the best time to negotiate, as evidenced by statistics. A well-cited study estimates that by not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60. Many employers expect an initial negotiation, so it is a less intimidating time to negotiate. Even if you don’t negotiate, try to understand the roadmap for your compensation so you can set the stage for a future ask. Or consider whether there are non-monetary items you can negotiate. When negotiating a raise, be sure to set the stage. Know comparables. Be able to articulate how you have impacted the company for the greater good, citing specifics. Make sure you have carefully considered the timing of your ask. If you have done your groundwork, the ask shouldn’t be totally unexpected.
MC: You say the best shot at having a successful negotiation happens when you establish 360-degree awareness. What is that and how does one establish it?
MF: 360-degree awareness means that your vision extends beyond your own perspective so that you understand the goals, needs, gaps, values and fears of the other side. It is what allows you to stay a step ahead and anticipate, because you have taken the time to understand the negotiation from multiple perspectives instead of just your own tunnel vision. This anticipation and awareness makes you more prepared in your actions, and more easily able to adapt. The data you gain through 360-degree awareness will be even more valuable as your strategy unfolds throughout the negotiation.
MC: How do you know when to walk away from a deal?
MF: Negotiation can be messy, so understanding what you are willing to give up and what you aren’t is critical. Play out the repercussions of every move. Leaving should always be on the menu. That’s one of the first mistakes people make in negotiation—ignoring the possibility that walking away is even an option. The idea of “no deal” after all the work that has gone into the negotiation can be discouraging. I encourage you to always look back and see what you can learn from the process for the next time. A successful negotiation will end with a result that is better than your best alternative. If you settle for less than that; that’s most likely what you will get.