How CEOs negotiate – with a hug

Today’s Wall Street Journal had a thought-provoking article about “How Steve Ballmer Became a Rookie Basketball Mogul” in which we learn that even CEOs get nervous when they are preparing to meet NBA superstar players for dinner. (And they binge-watch to relieve stress just like the rest of us.)

More interesting is how he negotiated the purchase of the Los Angeles Clippers from Shelly Sterling after her odious estranged husband was forced to sell the team. Rather than have his people call her people, he arranged for mutual friend and former Walt Disney CEO Michael Eisner to call Ms. Sterling to vouch for him. During their meeting a couple of days later, Ballmer dropped his prepared pitch and instead focused on reassuring Sterling that he wouldn’t move the team to Seattle and that he was committed to seeing the Clippers win a championship. Ballmer knew that this negotiation was between two people, not two faceless corporations. He was competing against Oprah Winfrey, David Geffen and Larry Ellison, so clearly Shelly Sterling’s decision would come down to more than just money.

And the best part of the story is how he handled Ms. Sterling’s counterproposal to his $1.75 billion offer for the team. She raised the price to $2 billion, and asked for courtside seats, parking spaces and the title of “owner emeritus.” Mr. Ballmer agreed and threw in the title of “Clippers #1 Fan.” This man is brilliant. He understood what the other party wanted and valued, and he knew how important it was to respect, address and meet the other party’s underlying concerns. And when they signed the deal, Steve Ballmer and Shelly Sterling hugged.

You may not actually hug the person you’re negotiating with, but can you find where you can add a “Clippers #1 Fan” title?

What does authentic marketing look like?

shoutingAsk 10 entrepreneurs for the least favorite aspect of their job, and 9.5 of them will say “marketing.” We’re one-person businesses, so it can feel like shameless self-promotion when we talk about who we are and what we offer. I recently ran across several items that discuss ways to show your stuff in ways that feel authentic.

First is a post in LinkedIn, How to Respond to a HARO Query (HARO = Help A Reporter Out, a tremendous, free online tool that enables reporters and media outlets to post requests for experts in anything from trends in the natural foods industry to advice for new parents of triplets) HARO is an effective way to pitch your unique story to a reporter, but remember that you’re probably one of many responses a reporter receives. This post, written by a reporter who uses HARO, has tips for ensuring that your pitch will be as reporter-friendly as possible. I love HARO because it’s really the antithesis of marketing–I am just helping a reporter gather information and insights.

Next is a post from the always-useful LifeHacker blog, Five Things I Learned About Self-Promotion (Without Being a Spambot). The author shares most reluctant entrepreneurs’ feeling about marketing–“it feels gross and shameful”. Her advice resonates with me, as her focus is on being authentic, sharing rather than selling, and facing the ever-present Imposter Syndrome.

Another LifeHacker blog post from 2012, How to Promote Yourself (Without Being Sleazy), describes the approach of developing relationships rather than just prospects, with tips that I don’t usually see, such as know when to give up and stop pestering a contact. None of the tips are rocket surgery, but the post is clear and concise, and focused on showing your passion and talent.

And finally, a recent blog post from LexisNexis’ Business of Law blog, Get New Clients Without Being Pushy. IMO, most lawyers are reluctant entrepreneurs, and the legal industry is just now acknowledging that law firms must market themselves and their value. This blog post offers a simple way of crafting your elevator pitch by focusing on your value rather than on what you do. (Hmmmm, that sounds familiar…)