Negotiation Tips: Outside Services

Project Teams often face obstacles when trying to gain approval for consultants, niche experts, vendors, and other outside services. As organizations continue to face lean budgets and leaner staffing, how can you successfully negotiate for the outside help you need? We’ve put together a strategy to help you demonstrate your external support requirements, reinforce the value of your internal strengths, and evaluate alternate solutions that will still allow your Project Team to accomplish its objectives.

Prepare an executive summary of your project’s scope

Your negotiation efforts could be undermined early in the process by an incomplete or inaccurate understanding of your project’s objectives, so your first order of business should be to lay out the details of what your project is expected to accomplish and when. Once your stakeholders and executive staff understand the scope of the tasks in front of you, they’ll be more likely to give your request for outside support a serious listen.

Highlight your internal strengths

Of primary concern to many Project Teams is the perception that a need for external support points to a lackluster or inexperienced internal team. Of course this isn’t the case, and you’ll want to put that fear aside as quickly as possible. The best way to face that worry head-on is to show your stakeholders and executive team the depth of the talent and skill that resides within your Project Team.

Demonstrate the need for outside help

Once you’ve laid out the strong framework of skills provided by your internal team, it’s time to pinpoint those areas where an outside partner is needed to fill in the gaps. Be ready to respond to some of the questions commonly posed by reluctant executives: How do other companies in your industry handle this? How much will it cost? Is this something your Project Team should bring in-house? Your stakeholders may have a clear understanding of your team’s internal strengths, but you’re still likely to be presented with questions. Good preparation is the key to successfully defending your request for outside help.

Provide internal vs. external resource comparisons

It may be worthwhile to seriously explore bringing the expertise you need in-house. Is this a skill set you’ll need on an ongoing basis? If you’re looking for a mix of skill sets or expertise, are you likely to find one person with everything you need? Once they understand the challenges presented by this alternate scenario (increased salaries, delays while you recruit someone with the necessary expertise, training costs, etc.), your executive team can decide which route—internal or external—is the most effective way to go.

Offer an endpoint

Because many of your external needs will be project-specific, you may be able to identify a date after which each outside service is no longer needed. Recurring short-term needs can also be addressed during this discussion, as there will be significant stretches of time when they aren’t required, either. This information will dovetail with your internal vs. external resource comparison, and will help to demonstrate that your finite needs are better filled by outside partners, rather than staff members who will continue to be on the payroll after the need is met or the project is completed.

Discuss alternatives

Even if you’ve clearly demonstrated that your Project Team needs external support, your organization may still withhold approval for any number of reasons (cost, access to outside resources, a desire to internalize specific functions, existing obligations that limit your ability to seek new vendors, etc.). Be ready to discuss the likely impacts on project objectives, timeframes, end users, business collaborations, and even competitive advantages if the right outside support isn’t made available.

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