A seven-year-old book about deal making in the White House, “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln” by Doris Kearns Goodwin, has climbed back on the best-seller list.

Credit has to go to Steven Spielberg‘s megahit movie “Lincoln,” about the deal making behind the passage of the 13th Amendment, outlawing slavery. Goodwin, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, is struck by how much the film, based in part on her book, has “become part of a national conversation.”

Three Deal Making Lessons from Lincoln

One of the aspects being discussed is what “Honest Abe” was willing to do to make a deal. Congressman Thaddeus Stevens has a movie line that sums it all up: “The greatest measure of the 19th century,” he says, “was passed by corruption, aided and abetted by the purest man in America.”

We don’t recommend corrupt politics to make a deal. But that doesn’t mean you have to play fair either. Here are some strategies:

  1.  Make them a one-more-time offer.  If a deal is important but seems lost, don’t give up even though it appears your final offer was rejected. Now, we do not recommend anything underhanded, like the film’s trio of dubious lobbyists that are responsible for outright corrupt deal making, as they are authorized by Secretary of State William Seward, and later by Lincoln himself, to offer patronage jobs in return for votes.  Rather, we recommend a one-more-time final counter offer that can come in the form of price, speed, service, or guarantee.  This offer has to be made to the highest-level person in the prospects’ group.  It has to be made directly.  You also have to be prepared to answer the hard question, “If you were willing to make this offer, why wasn’t it in your original solution?”  We have seen a lot of deals won after the award with the one-more-time offer.
  2.  Split the pie.  Lincoln was a rail-splitter but not a pie splitter when it came to slavery. He felt the passage of the 13th Amendment must be an all-or-nothing battle. However, sometimes it makes sense to fight for a smaller deal inside of the larger opportunity.  The approach is straightforward to the prospects:   “You should give yourself two companies to work with so that you can get the best performance of each of them as they compete.”  You want to set a floor for the size of the smaller part you would take.  We use a 30 percent rule of thumb.
  3.  The surge.   At a crucial moment in the vote hunting, Lincoln the chief executive bellows to his team: “I am the President of the United States of America, clothed in immense power, and you will procure me these votes!”  This is the surge strategy.  This is when you put it all out there. This is when you throw everything you have at the prospects’ group. Have new closing pitchers called in.  Have each of your peer-to-peer players from your company call their counterparts at the prospect company.  The appeal is simple:   “We appreciate being considered.  We are grateful for your time.  We are disappointed and a little confused because we felt a strong connection between our two companies.  What can we do to bring this deal back around?” Your prospects will get immediately you are pushing to win the business.  You want to be foremost in their mind as they go through the challenges of getting a contract signed.

There really is a long road between making an offer and securing a deal. Remember if the why is strong enough, you will find the how.

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