The Art of the Deal – Part 1

Ken KellyContributor IIIMay 25, 2010

“It is a matter of life and death, a road to either safety or to ruin.  Hence it is a subject to inquiry which can on no account be neglected”  -Sun Tzu

For those of you not familiar with the infamous 5th century BC Chinese military strategist, Sun Tzu, I urge you to read the translated strategy and tactic treatise, The Art of War.  Even today, this timeless piece is extremely relevant.  While it has never been suggested, could it be that the great Sun Tzu was concerned with some other type of dynasty?  I’ll leave you to ponder the similarities and the potential of such a thought.

Whether conquering a continent or your league, research and prudent soldier (player) selections alone cannot be your only sources of  strategic focus.  You must also focus on the art of the deal.  More simply put, you must master and practice the art of successful trading.

A couple of years ago, I broached this topic with a reference to “snake-oil” and while I still believe this term applies, that is not to say that it is always accurate.  In many cases, snake-oil may aptly describe your strategy for completing a trade while, in others, it may be a trade of equals that makes both teams better.  The key here is in understanding four very important elements of each trade:

  1. What you have
  2. What you want
  3. Variables
  4. Psychology

1)  What you have – This is not a subjective assessment of the player(s) involved, but the “what-is” of the situation.  Note that this does not mean that you have to publicly disclaim the what-is, but you do need to understand, objectively, what the strengths, weaknesses and tangibles are of the player(s) you are attempting to move are.  Without this, you are leaving yourself open to being wooed, surprised or otherwise stricken with accepting out of emotion and not from a position of sound reason.  Understand fully what the player offers YOU first, before engaging in any negotiations.

2)  What you want – I don’t know how many times I’ve come across coaches that are offering trades but don’t know what they are really looking for.  I personally love this situation because it allows me to “sell” assets that I don’t need for potentially whatever it is they are offering.  These types of coaches are easy marks in my book.  Obviously, the players being sold must be assets that I want, but in many cases I use these players as the gateway to a bigger, more impactful, deal.  In many cases, just the response and resulting dialog to a trade offer is enough to open the door well beyond what was desired in the first place by the offering coach.  You must take off the blinders when being approached and not see just a single player in an offer, but an entire team of low hanging fruit.  Once a coach is in a selling mood, he can be taken advantage of in many cases.  Remember that “no” is the only answer that has no retort.  Even then, it doesn’t close the door to further discussions.

3)  Variables – These tiny, and sometimes not-so-tiny, tidbits of information are extremely important to understand.  What is the situation of the other team?  What does his depth chart look like?  Is his team aging, young … rebuilding?  Are other coaches targeting the team in question already?  Has he finished 2nd in his division 3 years running?  Every detail that you can uncover can be woven into an elaborate sales pitch that paints a favorable and convincing picture.   These are the pawns in your game that will need to be managed to setup and ultimately close the deal.

4)  Psychology – Arguably, this is THE most important factor.  None of the other items in this list matter if you approach a fellow coach in a manner that doesn’t setup the trade properly ahead of time, offends him or otherwise shuts him down before you have a chance to get to the details.  You cannot use a one style fits all mentality when designing a trade.  Is the other coach one that will buckle under pressure and give you an “ok, let’s do it”?  Is he one that, when pressured, defaults to “no”?  Is he one that if given time to sleep on it, will always back out the next morning?  Is he the type that is susceptible to subjective phrases about  value … or how his team is “much better” after the deal?  Understanding the psychological behaviors of your trading partner is an absolute must in getting a trade done quickly and efficiently.

By doing a little bit of homework on these four items before approaching a fellow coach, you will significantly increase your chances of closing the deal and making your team better.

In my next article in the series, we’ll go to much greater depths towards making you the next Sun Tzu (not Ndamukong Suh) of the modern era … or at least in your league.