Business Negotiation March 6, 2013

Open Information Between Buyers and Sellers in the Age of Partnership

In the United States and Europe there are deep seated structural barriers separating the organizations of sellers and buyers. For partnerships to work best, openness between the parties is necessary. However, there is a difference between openness and penetrability. Openness allows you to look at the other party’s processes, methods and even its books and accounts. Penetrability is different. It poses the question of whether you can become an important part of their business process, their long-term strategy, and of their decision making structure.

It is not unlike what the United States faces in dealing with Japan and its large trade surpluses. We want the Japanese to be both open and penetrable. The question is, “Is this likely or possible?” The following, which appeared years ago in the New Republic, is apropos to our discussion.

To understand this issue (openness vs. penetrability), recall the Tarzan movies of your childhood. The jungle may be closed to you because the natives, led by the chief, are shooting poisoned arrows at you. But if they are not, and the jungle is open (and inviting because of the gold that it promises), the progress of the safari through the jungle is constrained by the tall grass and the thick vegetation. Then again, the path through the jungle is hazardous because of the dangers posed by traps, laid by natives to hunt animals but inadvertently dangerous to the safari as well. In short, openness and penetrability are different things.

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