Big Auction Shows How Negotiation Skills Pay Off

A recent story about an extraordinary auction of personal memorabilia collected around the world reminded me how great negotiators position themselves for their biggest deals. They build off smaller deals first, gaining knowledge, skills and trust of the other side that lead naturally to bigger stakes.

Negotiation skills on display at a big auction

You can get a great look at negotiation skills at an auction, where the atmosphere and agendas of the participants often create a bidding frenzy. Recently there was a huge auction of antiques and books collected by a globetrotting opera singer named Frances Yeend and her husband James Benner. This news story describes how the couple’s vast inventory of valuables were auctioned off by the same negotiator who helped assemble some of the collection in the first place. Some background: after Yeend died in 2008 at age 95, Benner (who is now 89) didn’t want family members burdened with unwanted items after he was gone. We’re talking enough stuff to fill a six-room apartment in New York and a home in West Virginia that the couple enlarged four times.

Benner approached several big New York auction houses, but negotiations fell apart when shipping the items to the Big Apple would be a major headache. So Benner looked back home, to a trusted local source who had sold him many valuable pieces: auctioneer Joe R. Pyle. A lengthy, strong relationship The Yeend-Benner collection was a huge windfall for Pyle and his firm because auctioneers typically earn a sales commission from the seller. According to the news report, Pyle estimated up to 3,000 lots would be up for sale, some having up to 50 items. The collection includes glassware, furniture, pottery, Persian rugs, ivory, and paintings stretching back to the 16th century. “This is a landmark collection, the likes of which we may never see again,” Pyle said in a news release. “There are things in this auction that are going to surprise even the most jaded collectors.” Before he could negotiate on behalf of the Yeend-Benner collection, he had to prove himself as a trustworthy auctioneer.

By handling the first stage well for his clients—getting some of those precious items into their collection—Pyle earned the trust to handle the far more lucrative last deal. It was his company’s biggest auction ever. “When Mr. Benner and Ms. Yeend were still actively collecting, they …developed a good relationship with Joe, and Mr. Benner knew he’d be able to bring a nice price for their items,” Jared Shinn, director of marketing and operations for Pyle’s auction house, told the Charleston Gazette. “That established relationship from the past led Mr. Benner to come back.” Your professional standards may dictate proof of your integrity. In this example, West Virginia requires auctioneers to be licensed, and everything that is sold must have a receipt with the auctioneer’s name, license number and permanent address. Even if this is not required for your industry, are you willing to take responsibility like that for your clients and prospects?

Your Game Changer Takeaway

The seeds of your next negotiation are being planted in the one right now. Integrity is the starting point for building trust. Trust consists of credibility (fostered through honest communication and meaning what you say), reliability (created by following through on commitments) and connection (demonstrated through empathy and nonverbal communication that you are willing to trust and are worthy of others’ trust). Standing behind your negotiations in an authentic way creates trust that can open more doors for bigger deals in the future.

The Molly Fletcher Company inspires leaders, teams and organizations to kick-start growth. A keynote speaker and author, Molly draws on her decades of experiences working as a sports agent. Her company’s Game Changer Negotiation Training workshops teach businesspeople the framework for successful negotiating, so that you can close more deals while building stronger relationships. Sign up here to receive our weekly newsletter and subscribe to the Game Changers with Molly Fletcher podcast on iTunes.