10 Tactics to Refine Your Dealmaking (With Integrity!)
Dec 6, 2021 | Business
This year, we’ve closed more deals than ever in Bolt’s history — partnerships and agreements that have added billions to our valuation
This wasn’t an accident. It was a process. We completely changed how we negotiate deals, and we learned a lot in the process. I want to share some of those improvements and tips, because these were all things we learned the hard way.
But before we dive into the specifics, an important point: People think that to win a negotiation, the other party has to lose. That’s not true, and it’s incompatible with our culture at Bolt.
Win-lose negotiations aren’t successful over the long haul. What we’ve learned and seen time and again is that the best deals expand the pie and leave both parties feeling like they got something good in the bargain.
So how do you get to that sweet spot? Here are ten tactics that might help:
1) Tell the other party what makes them valuable to you.
It’s disarming and changes the framing. It makes them trust that you are truly valuing them. It also takes away the secrecy in deal-making, in a way that feels like letting the pressure out of a steam valve.
Too many people are afraid to do this, but they shouldn’t be. Do it early and often. It also forces you to define why you are doing this deal in the first place: That extra level of thinking is powerful.
2) Explicitly ask: “What matters to you?”
Walking into a negotiation with assumptions is one of the most dangerous things you can do. Ask what matters to your counterparty, and you might be surprised at their answers. Keep asking clarifying questions if their answer is unclear. Learn what makes them tick and what their sticking points are.
3) Explicitly share what matters to you
Don’t get trapped with positional bargaining. Explain to the other party why terms matter to you.
This tactic should be matched with specificity, clarity, and honesty. You can’t just walk in and say, “I need 10% revenue share.” That’s not good enough.
Instead, explain why that threshold is important to your business model. Explain what you’re facing or why that particular data point matters. Walk them through your thinking and logic so they can see that the negotiation is about creating a partnership—not just padding your balance sheet.
5) Put It in writing
Most deals stall because they stay in the “talking” stage. A good rule of thumb: Talking = conceptual; drafting = real.
Our team takes the lead on putting together a first draft of a solution, and we move quickly to create and share first drafts. This shows our possible partner two things: 1) We listened and heard you; 2) We’re eager to push the ball forward.
I get it: No one enjoys writing that first draft of the agreement. After a fun meeting and possibly a meal, the last thing anyone wants to do is go home, open up a blank page, and grind away at the particulars. But that part is critical, and the sooner it gets done, the closer you will get to an actual deal.
6) Compress timelines
Time kills all deals. Why? Because things change. So at the outset of any agreement you should, 1) Align on a timeline; 2) Commit to it with some skin in the game; 3) Establish process and boundaries to overcome obstacles.
Clarity here creates clarity elsewhere, and it allows you to stick to a schedule and a system that pushes the process forward—as opposed to waiting for an email thread to revive itself or for a phone call that never comes.
7) Know your worth
I’ve personally felt this one: Neither you nor the other party should feel disrespected in a deal. My style and Bolt’s culture is to be kind. Firm, but kind.
Sometimes people misinterpret this as soft, and they will be aggressive or pushy in a way that rubs us the wrong way. This isn’t acceptable. If you’re ever treated disrespectfully, put your foot down and be assertive.
8) Be willing to walk away
Sometimes—despite your strongest efforts—deals stall. At this point, communicate clearly that you can’t move any further.
It’s okay. You want a quality deal—not just any deal. It’s why the trust building process matters throughout, but that has to be matched by your own convictions about your company, your product, and your integrity.
The willingness to walk away isn’t about walking away in a huff. It’s about knowing that there’s endless options out there for deals and possible partnerships—and that one negotiation is rarely a make-or-break.
9) Always be closing—especially at the end
Most deals die near the finish line, and many of them don’t have to. When you’re near agreement, that’s when you should double down.
The last 10% of negotiation can be as arduous as the first 90%, in part because you start to expand the circle of people involved and that increases the points of friction. It’s around this time when it becomes easy to assume things are going to go right—and that’s a fatal mistake.
Never take your foot off the gas on a deal until it’s done.
After a deal is done, make sure to celebrate the victory. Celebrate it with your team and celebrate it with your new partner. It’s good to pause and reflect on the key points for why both parties wanted to do the deal in the first place. It’s good to reinforce the values that led you to the deal—not just the nuts and bolts of it.
This also has the added effect of propelling the partnership forward in a positive way. If you celebrate, you are commencing something important and powerful for your organizations. Honor that and have fun.
A bonus tactic: Don’t over-celebrate
We’ve made this mistake many times at Bolt. The professional basketball player Giannis Antetokounmpo has taken as a motto something I think is powerful for businesses: “The past is your ego. The future is your pride. The present is your humility.”
To change the world, you need to live in the present. Too much celebrating is about the past. What you’re celebrating is the moment, but if you overdo it, you’re missing sight of what’s happening right now and what you need to do right now to keep growing your business.
And that’s it! These 10 tactics were hard-won lessons for us when negotiating deals at Bolt. But by following them, we’ve had more deals and better deals than ever before.
The best part is these tactics are most congruent with Bolt’s Conscious Culture—we weren’t Gordon Gekko-ing our way to success and leaving a trail of wreckage in our wake. Our partners all feel good about where we landed, and both sides have grown because of it.