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07 January 2024 ·

Navigating challenges in contract negotiations with unconventional clients - lessons from the field



Contract negotiations often follow a standard protocol, but dealing with unconventional clients introduces a unique set of challenges. These clients may have distinct expectations, unconventional business practices, or a corporate culture that defies the norm. This article explores some challenges that I have encountered in negotiating contracts with unconventional clients.

Unconventional clients refer to individuals, companies, or entities whose expectations, practices, and approaches significantly deviate from established norms within their respective industries. These clients often challenge traditional business conventions, adopting innovative strategies, unique corporate cultures, or non-traditional approaches to their operations. Dealing with unconventional clients requires a flexible and adaptive mindset, as their preferences and expectations may differ markedly from standard industry practices. Successful engagement with unconventional clients involves understanding and navigating these differences to establish mutually beneficial relationships.

Differing expectations

Unconventional clients may have expectations that deviate from industry norms. For instance, a tech startup might prioritize flexible working hours over stringent contractual terms. Navigating these differences requires open communication to align expectations and find common ground.

Example: In negotiating with a startup, their emphasis on a dynamic work environment challenged traditional contract terms. The negotiation process involved crafting a flexible agreement that accommodated their unique needs.

Non-traditional business practices

Unconventional clients often embrace innovative business practices that may clash with standard contractual frameworks. Understanding and integrating these practices into the contract can be a delicate balancing act.

Example: A creative agency's non-traditional approach to project management required contract adjustments to accommodate their iterative processes, challenging the conventional waterfall model.

Cultural misalignment

Unconventional clients may operate within a distinct corporate culture that influences decision making. Aligning the contract with their cultural values is crucial for a successful partnership.

Example: Negotiating with a client from a collaborative, flat organizational structure necessitated flexibility in contract terms to reflect their inclusive decision-making processes.

Risk-taking tendencies

Unconventional clients may be more inclined to take risks, leading to a higher tolerance for ambiguity. Balancing risk considerations in the contract becomes essential to avoid potential conflicts.

Example: A startup willing to experiment with untested marketing strategies required careful risk assessment in the contract to protect both parties' interests.

Innovative compensation models

Unconventional clients may seek alternative compensation models, such as performance-based or equity-based agreements. Crafting contracts that align incentives while ensuring fairness can be intricate.

Example: Negotiating with a tech client involved designing a contract that incorporated performance bonuses tied to the success of the software product, challenging the conventional fixed-price model.

To sum up: Contract negotiations with unconventional clients demand a nimble and adaptive approach. Embracing these challenges as opportunities for creative problem-solving allows negotiators to build strong, mutually beneficial partnerships. The real-world examples cited in this article emphasize the importance of flexibility, clear communication, and a willingness to innovate in navigating the complexities of contracts with unconventional clients.

The author Mohit Khullar, is an Executive Director with Grant Thornton Bharat LLP . Mohit has more than two decades of rich experience in areas of risk management, dispute resolution, commercial management, growth and strategy. Mohit is also a certified Coach from EMCC and is recognised as one of the top voices in Risk Management, Contracts and Mentoring by Linkedin.

Grant Thornton is one of the leading management and development consultancy firms that is part of Grant Thornton International which operates in more than 140 countries involving more than 62,000 professionals.

Mohit Khullar
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