Improve Your Negotiation Skills with THE U-SHAPED STORY / by Cristian Mitreanu

The legendary marketing professor Theodore Levitt used to say,

People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!
— Theodore Levitt

And since this insight remains as relevant as ever, whether in the context of marketing or that of selling/pitching, I thought that you might find useful a new bargaining framework that brings to the table more structure and a research-based foundation. Called The U-Shaped Story, the concept is concisely presented in a high-resolution poster/infographic (see below), which includes an illustrative visual example from the apartment rental industry, along with the brief description:

You have recently moved to a new city and are in the market for an apartment. Would it be easier to convince you to move to another city? Or to choose a different apartment?... That is the essence of the U-Shaped Story – a bargaining framework based on a novel theory, which posits that one’s needs are generated through a process of aggregation/disaggregation, where the broader needs are more valuable and the more specific ones matter less to the individual (Cristian Mitreanu, Spointra and the Secret of Business Success). Accordingly, when a need is placed in a bigger context, the preference for a solution that would address it tends to become less firm. The need and the associated product become less important to the customer, thus leading to circumstances that are more conducive to a win-win exchange. Easily applicable to most products and services, from apartments to cars to your morning coffee, the U-Shaped Story is closely aligned with the widely-known collaborative techniques of integrative negotiation (as opposed to distributive negotiation) and consultative selling (as opposed to transactional selling).

For more on the underlying theory of needs, I also included three screenshots from my children's book for grown-ups Spointra and the Secret of Business Success (The Aged Edition),...

cristian-mitreanu-spointra-3.png well as a further-clarifying excerpt from the draft manuscript (page 24) intended to become the Letter to the Reader in the book.

The theory goes on, then, to show that humans respond to these pressures with need-addressing behaviors that combine disaggregation and matching of needs to potential solutions that we are aware of and exist in our environment. However, the weight of each component varies, depending on the need that is being addressed. At one end, we exclusively employ disaggregation to address the overarching need “successful existence.” Then, gradually, the process shifts to defining needs by exclusively matching existent solutions or offerings in the marketplace. And this all happens simultaneously top-down, where an ideal future state is broken down into clearer components, and bottom-up, where needs that match existent solutions are being adopted and inserted into the overarching need. As a result, we generate a hierarchical structure of needs called the tree of needs. Continuously changing, as we interact with the  environment and process information, this structure includes all possible needs, regardless of the level of commitment we have to them. It is fluid and volatile, and some of its areas become clearer only when we focus on them.

Of course, this is the framework. The actual execution will depend on the medium of communication and your corresponding skills.

What has been your win-win approach to negotiations?


1. This essay was first published on LinkedIn on April 26, 2016.

2. Credits for the Poster/Infographic: Cristian Mitreanu (Concept and Art Direction), Xavier Tsouo (Graphic Design), Lauren Russell (Photo Curation), and RentSFNow (Photos).