FlashMBA.com: The Evolution of Professional Skills Training

Tactical Tuesday: The Stepping Stone

Posted by Andrew Hupert on Jul 25, 2017 9:12:50 AM

Name: Stepping Stone

ladder-1529251_1920.jpgAKA: Climbing the ladder, HK Love Affair,  Getting the Right Sequence

Description: Using one partner or counter-party as a ploy to negotiate a better deal with a more desirable partner. Working your way up the ladder of potential partners.

 Sample usage (Alvin and Bob):

Alvin – “Who is Quantum Associates?”

            Bob - “Oh – QA. Yeah – they were an outfit I talked to a year or so ago.”

            Alvin – “I met one of their new bizdev managers at a party last weekend.”

            Bob – “A salesman from QA? What did he say?”

            Alvin – “I didn’t get the impression he’s a big fan of yours.”

            Bob – “Ours.”

            Alvin – “Yeah. Not a big fan of ours. You backed out of deal with them last year?”          

            Bob – “No. I pulled out of a negotiation. I learned a lot about them, they learned a lot from me, and we decided not to go forward.”

            Alvin – “You pumped them for information and spread the word around that you were moving into the IoT space.   Then you signed an exclusive deal with someone else.”

            Bob – “That someone else was Mississippi.Com, and that deal is the reason we are sitting here today. Yes, I did use QA to set up the bigger deal. But I never signed or agreed to anything. They were nice enough, but didn’t have much to offer as far as marketing firepower. MisCom did. It was a business decision.”

Intent: Increase the perceived value of your brand or organization by seeming to negotiate with key players in the counter-party’s market or industry.

Sign up for the  Managing Millennials Newsletter from FlashMBA.com  Style: Competitive

Category: Relationship, but also useful as an Information tactic.

How to negotiate - Stepping Stone tacticsPIFH (Power/influence;  Fear or Hope): Hope. Your counter-party thinks that you are a little out of his league, but he’s eager to prove himself.

Counter: Exclusivity. Big Guns. Foundation. Trial Balloon (with strategic commitment as the condition. “If I can give you this quality and this price, can you commit to giving me 60% of your production for the next 3 years?”)

Combination / Related: Frenemy, Best Friends, Marry Me


Notes: This is the basis for one of my favorite negotiating texts – 3D Negotiation. The authors, Lax and Sebenius, are big proponents of “away from the table” negotiating moves, and they talk extensively about setting up the right sequence of counter-parties.

If you need a partner and there are 3 potential counterparties in a market you care about, what’s your approach? Start by prioritizing your potential partners into 1,2, and 3 rankings. #3 is probably going to be most anxious to start talking – and that should set the stage for #2 to get into the action. Once you have conversations with 2 potential counter-parties going, it should be a simple matter to get #1 interested, since it now looks like you may be a potential competitor.

natural-pond-2428106_1920-614952-edited.jpgStepping Stones are going to give you two things – business intelligence and credibility. These counter-parties are going to explain the business, market & regulatory situation, and help you fine-tune your business model & strategy. The second thing it will do is give you credibility as you talk to others. If you do this right, your next rung on the ladder will be the one who initiates a negotiation – because he wants to steal you away from the first guy.

So once you are getting ready to talk to #1 choice, what happens to #3 nice guy? Sorry about that bud – you already served your purpose. If you are using this one, don’t plan on building any lasting friendships with the people you are stepping over to reach your goal. This is a Frenemy move.

 If you suspect that someone is using this on you, then you can try to raise the stakes with Big Gun. If he has more power than you, then it may devolve into a sad little Marry Me until one of you finally walks away – him towards a bigger and better deal, and you back to your lonely office.

Topics: Tactical Tuesday, Tactics

Written by Andrew Hupert

Got Tactics?

FlashMBA.com teaches negotiation

Fine tune your international business game at FlashMBA -- negotiation, communication, and management skills for the global businessperson.

Subscribe to Email Updates


Professional skills training delivered in a fast, flash-card format.

Online classes, slideshows, videos and articles focusing on soft-skills.

  • Negotiation
  • Communication
  • Leadership
  • Problem-solving

Manage your skills training like you manage your career.

Subscribe to Email Updates

FlashMBA's Negotiators Toolkit
Join the Managing Millennials Newletter

ChinaSolved: Business Solutions for International Negotiators

The International Negotiator: Apple in China (from FlashMBA.com)

Nothing stays off the table forever. Apple recently removed access to VPN services on its China App Store in compliance with government wishes. VPNs, or Virtual Private Networks, are the chief method...Read more

3 Negotiating Takeaways from the NK Coal Boat Maneuver

Win-Win with Chinese Characteristics The new US administration seemed to score a big coup in Asia last week, when China blocked a fleet of North Korean cargo ships carrying coal to Chinese markets....Read more

Three Negotiating Issues to Watch at the Xi Trump Meeting

The upcoming Xi – Trump meeting is the first face-to-face sit down between the two leaders.  The US side has been clear about what it wants from China, but it’s not quite as clear what it plans...Read more

The Future of US-China Commercial Relations: Welcome to the Multiconomy

Takeaway – Established Western brands will continue to defend their global leadership positions for a while yet, but Chinese corporates are taking control of growing niches and new...Read more

5 Negotiating Lessons from Sec. of State Tillerson’s Beijing Trip

That treacherous opening Chinese toast. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made his first official visit to China last weekend, and the White House probably sees it as one of the bright spots in a...Read more

Share FlashMBA Articles


Follow Flash