The more information you divulge, 
the more ammunition you give the other side

As a corollary rule to a prior Practical Art of Negotiation post (“Sometimes the best thing to say during a negotiation is nothing”), another reason not to talk or to share information with the other side is that the more information you divulge, the more ammunition you give the other side. Don’t be surprised if the other side is collecting this information (as ammunition) and then unleash it on you when you are in the worst possible negotiating position.

I’ll share an experience from my technology consulting days where I was serving as the lead technical architect for a steel refractory supplier in the year 2000 (an old Conan O’Brien reference for those pop culture aficionados out there). Back in the late 90s, there wasn’t a concept of cloud computing like nowadays. Nearly every company ran their own infrastructure on-site or at a data center.

I led the storage infrastructure review for my client and we brought in a number of storage vendors to review options. After several rounds of vendor pitches and negotiations, my client agreed to purchase an EMC Symmetrix 3000 series storage array at a reasonable discount for both sides. Payment terms were a small deposit (somewhere in the range of 10 to 25%) with payment due upon shipment. Normal payment terms applied (net 60), but this allowed EMC to book revenue as soon as the product shipped - and back in those go-go days of the dot com era, revenue growth was king.

The client was happy and EMC (especially our sales rep) was happy as we had signed the contract after the tech bubble had burst in March 2000 - so any sales contract that had a high percentage of closing was solid gold.  

Then one day out of the blue after we had signed that sales contract, EMC surprisingly released a brand new storage array - the Symmetrix 8000 series. Not only was this new storage array able to handle larger capacity drives, it had a new internal switching technology which made it much faster. I remember getting a pointed email the morning of the announcement from my client tech lead (who had a very well-earned reputation for being extremely volatile) asking what in the world was going on and why didn’t I know about this before his company purchased the “old” Symmetrix line. There were also a few choice words that have been lost to the sands of time.

At this point, I was in damage control. I called our EMC sales rep and he gave me a faux defense that he was just as surprised as I was on this new Symmetrix line as he was “only a sales guy and not involved in all the technical stuff”.

I remember telling him “You know, I find it hard to believe that you didn’t know this new storage array was coming. I don’t understand why you didn’t give us a heads up. We might have decided to purchase this one instead.”

“Well you can always buy the new 8000 series if you like - but it will cost you about 15% more than the 3000 line that you are under contract for…” As the last words trailed out of his mouth, I could almost feel his grin getting wider over the phone.

I hung up the phone in frustration and I sat and stewed for a few minutes plotting my next move. Eventually, I was able to assuage my client fears as I played up both the added cost and the uncertainty of the new platform and new technology. We decided to move forward with the 3000 line and continued our planning around that.

We had a number of other project activities lined up that were dependent on the installation and configuration of the storage array - so I had been calling our EMC sales rep at least twice a week to check on the status of shipment.

Our sales rep kept telling me “Don’t worry - you’ll get it before the end of the month. The end of this month is also the end of my quarter - I have as much of a vested interest as you that your storage array ships before then.” The vested interest obviously being able to count my client’s storage array shipment against his current quarter sales numbers.