Article by Tom Trone,
John Deere Forestry

Last month we explored the topic of taking control of your business by looking beyond the trees.

Loggers aren’t at the mercy of landowners and mills, but the prices and margins they receive for timber continue to be squeezed. Many loggers depend on a single or very few land owners or mills to sell their wood. Many don’t realize that there are options. You don’t have to sell your timber exclusively to a specific mill. There are other customers available in other markets. Loggers can reach out to more profitable markets, but also improve how they market their existing products and services. Once you’ve identified these opportunities, having strong business acumen, business savvy and negotiation skills are crucial to success.

Becoming an effective negotiator will help you in a variety of ways. It will help you strike business deals that are mutually beneficial for you and your customers, vendors, or business partners. It will help you build better personal and professional relationships that are based on mutual understanding. Most importantly, it will help you to be more successful in business.

You might think that negotiation is an innate skill that some possess and others do not. Or you might think that it’s something you can have others do for you. Or you might think you can get by on your wits. All of those perceptions are incorrect. Negotiation is a skill that you can acquire and develop with practice, and it’s something that you should become proficient at in order to enhance your success in business.

Here are a few ways you can improve your negotiation skills:

Be prepared and set objectives. A successful negotiation starts with a firm understanding of the other party’s interests. Take some time to think about their priorities and what they want to accomplish. Having this understanding will give you a better idea of what you can propose and what they are likely to accept. That makes it easier to find common ground. You should also have a clear sense of what you want to achieve. It may sound obvious, but too often people enter a negotiation without really thinking about what they want and why it is important. Also, think about your alternatives because negotiations do not always go as planned.

Price is not always the issue. A common misconception about negotiation is that price is always the most important issue. Often, price is a lower priority than you might think. There are many other issues that are part of a negotiation—volume, quality, and timeliness to name a few. If you are prepared and know what you have to offer, you might find your counterpart has some flexibility on price.

Don’t think in terms of winning and losing. Another misconception about negotiation is that there is a “winner” and a “loser.” In fact, neither party should feel dissatisfied. A truly successful negotiation builds a relationship for both short- and long-term, as the needs of both parties are met in a mutually beneficial solution.

Be calm, cool and confident. Your demeanor might be the most important thing you bring into any negotiation. If you bring a positive tone and are confident in your position, your counterpart will get the idea that you are sincere and trustworthy. However, if you are overly aggressive and adversarial, or if you’re timid and unconfident, the negotiation will not end well.

Negotiation is a skill that can be learned, practiced and improved. Look for opportunities to improve your abilities through training offered by consultants or through your local business groups like the Rotary Club or Chamber of Commerce. The more you learn and practice, the better you will become over time as you further your skills as a savvy business person.

Trone is Director of John Deere’s North American forestry business, and is responsible for all sales and marketing activities as well as product development. Over his career, he has owned and operated several businesses. He is also a lecturer at the University of Illinois where he has taught the subjects of en­trepreneurship, business strategy, organizational development and leadership.