Political negotiators have known the power of back channels forever. These are people with whom unofficial communication can be routed between two negotiating parties while official communication is managed in front of the camera. Why not just put it all out in the open? Because there are delicate issues that need a level of both transparency and discretion in order for the negotiations to make progress behind the scenes while posturing can occur in front of the scrutiny of the public eye.
Selling large contracts that involve processes and personnel who are only tangentially involved requires you to have back channels. Put another way, your buyer might very well be willing to provide you inside information and back channel insight during a process managed by the Purchasing department. Your buyer needs to live with the result of the decision, while Purchasing just cares about the adherence to the process. For your own sake, you need to establish access to information through back channels early and often in a large contract sale so that you can get the information you need.
- Intention – Back channels are for both organizations’ benefit. You need to find someone who is looking to have a freer access than the process or supervision allows.
- Give to get – This is an exchange of information along the way, so you will need to decide what to share.
- Test to verify – You must make certain that the information you are getting from them is both reliable and unique, or otherwise they are not a back channel.
- Protect Your Sources – Be careful not to reveal your sources intentionally or otherwise.
Remember, in large deals, the coin of the realm is still information. He or she with the most information wins.