Q. Dear Zenagos,
I’m trying to put together a complicated deal that requires not just investment, but also city permits, state licenses, and environmental approvals. How do you put something like that together?
The key skill in any deal is relationship-building. For a complex deal, you also need to add organization and negotiation skills. Executing a complex deal typically requires multiple steps and involves many parties. Think of it as a series of mini-deals.
Break it Down
Organize the complex deal by breaking it down into several subdeals. Each subdeal will have a series of involved parties, each of whom you need in order to get that subdeal deal done. For each subdeal, you will need to build relationships and guide a negotiation. Map out the steps you will need to follow:
Learn the Regulations
If the subdeal involves acquiring permits, completing environmental studies, or other areas that are regulated by local, state, or federal governments, then you need to learn the regulations. Today, most regulations are posted online. It takes time to research them, but the information is available. You can also build relationships with local officials, who will have information about how to approach regulatory applications.
Analyze the Motivations
Each party in a deal has goals and motivations. Forbes writer Brent Beshore advises, “A successful deal serves the primary motivations for everyone involved, so figuring out everyone’s real interests is essential” (Beshore, 2013). You will need to research each entity or person who can influence the end result of each subdeal to determine what that person wants from the deal and how you can provide it.
Locate the people who can influence the people you need in your deal and build relationships with them. Harvard Business School professor James K. Sebenius and negotiations expert David A. Lax (2012) explain, “If you’re negotiating with a politician, you might want to reach major donors. If you’re dealing with a CEO, you could look to big customers.” Sourcing and building relationships can take time, so get started on this work as soon as possible.
Determine the BATNAs
Negotiators commonly talk about each party’s BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement) in a negotiation (Fisher & Ury, 1981). The BATNA is the next choice for that party, the thing that they will most likely do if they don’t do what you want. You may not know exactly what each party’s favorite alternative is to the outcome you are trying to achieve, but the more you work to build the relationship, the more you will learn.
Find the ZOPA
Negotiators seek the ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement) in order to find a solution that would be an acceptable outcome for all parties (Fisher & Ury, 1981). If you can find the ZOPA, you can make a deal. For a complex deal, it may take several steps to find the ZOPA, as one party provides one element that provides what another party wants from the deal.
Order the Subdeals
Once you have mapped out the subdeals, put them in order. Are there subdeals that can’t start until other subdeals are complete? If so, mark the second subdeal as dependent on the first. Are there parties that are involved in multiple subdeals? If yes, then these are especially critical people with whom to build relationships.
Make a Plan
Create a project plan for your deal. In order to do so, you will make guesses about how long each step will take and which steps will unlock other, dependent steps. No project manager expects the project to go exactly as planned, but documenting your steps will give you a sense for what resources you will need, whether they be funds you need to raise or people you need to add to your team.
Decide Whether to Go for It
Make sure to put a spot in your project plan for a go/no go decision. This step usually goes right before any significant allocation of funds or resources. Consider the value that you expect from the deal. Then, consider any potential upside if positive surprises come through. Finally, don’t forget to consider the risks. Assembling a complex deal takes times, effort, and often money. If you do decide to go for it, be clear about how you define success, and be ready to adapt.
Beshore, B. (2013, May 15). Deal-making 101: The basics explained. Forbes. Retrieved on March 2, 2023, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/brentbeshore/2013/05/15/deal-making-101-the-basics-explained/?sh=922477225a97
Fisher R. & Ury W. (1981). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. Houghton Mifflin.
Lax, D. A., and Sebenius, J. K. (2012). Deal making 2.0: A guide to complex negotiations. Harvard Business Review, 90(11), 92-100. Retrieved on March 2, 2023, from https://hbr.org/2012/11/deal-making-20-a-guide-to-complex-negotiations