SIG Speaks to Jeanette Nyden, Commercial Contracts Expert and Author

Jeanette Nyden is an internationally recognized contract negotiation expert. She’s written and co-authored three books to date. Jeanette provides tactical, customized contract drafting, negotiation and management training, coaching and mentoring programs to both sales and purchasing teams.

Jeanette has taught at major corporations, Seattle University and the University of Tennessee’s Center for Executive Education. While no longer practicing law in a traditional manner, she is a lawyer and holds a license to practice law in Washington.

Your presentation at the Western Regional SIGnature Event is about reducing value leakage in complex contracts--why is this such an important topic?

Industry studies demonstrate contract value leakage is from 17% to as high as 40%. Typically, value leakage comes from things like low adoption rates, non-value-added change orders, lack of innovation, etc. Performance- and outcome-based contracting best practices can dramatically reduce value leakage.

Additionally, businesses are seeking greater returns from their customer-supplier relationships at the same time many younger professionals are entering the field. This is a perfect time in the market to emphasize ways to implement performance- and outcome-based principles to reduce value leakage.

Can you talk about your background and education--how did you get involved in this field?

I am an attorney. I started in litigation, but I was frustrated at the vague, incomplete or inadequate provisions in contracts, so I started moving backwards in the contract chain. I moved from litigation to mediation, then to contract creation, and now I work with business units to draft the requirements before the contract template is even selected. I am really as close to the beginning of the contract as any lawyer can get.

Moving to working with the business units radically changed my perspective on establishing complex customer-supplier relationships. Litigators think in terms of how the judge or arbitrator will rule on an issue. Business units want the work done without any losses at a fair price. Keeping those elements top of mind (get the work done, don’t break anything, and charge a fair price) changed the way I drafted contracts. I look more at “cure periods” (get the work done), using triggers for price increases or decreases for volatile commodities (fair prices), and strong governance mechanisms (don’t break anything) to make the relationship perform at a higher level.

You provide commercial contract coaching and consulting. What are the major changes you’ve seen in this area over the course of your career?

I’ve seen many changes. First, I no longer work with “buyers” (people who are experts in a commodity purchase using a Request for Quote and Purchase Order to make repeated buys). Those types of purchases are increasingly automated. Purchasing professionals now manage a complex sourcing strategy with some form of intricate master contract for significant portfolios. This change has made the purchasing function extremely complex in both direct and indirect buys. Just about every purchasing person and many project managers need to understand the contracting lifecycle, obtuse legal terms, and how to manage increasingly complex customer-supplier relationships.

Another significant change is the workforce. Many experienced Baby Boomers are retiring and are replaced with well-educated Millennials. I see many more people in my work with at least a bachelor’s degree, if not some post-graduate course work. The problem though is that the experienced talent are not transferring hard-earned wisdom about drafting, negotiating and managing complex customer-supplier relationships. This leaves well-meaning less experienced talent struggling to establish high performing customer-supplier relationships, because book learning is no replacement for lessons learned on the job.

Finally, the last significant shift is the lack of time to train. Back in the day, companies would bring me in for 3 days, or more, of in-person training and team building. Today, it is increasingly difficult for people to leave behind their daily tasks for a one-day training session. In fact, LinkedIn published its own industry article citing lack of time as the number one factor younger professionals cite for not enhancing their professional skill set. So, companies like mine are finding ways to use eLearning to enhance the Millennial skill set in real time.

What are the core skills needed for someone to be successful in complex or high-stakes negotiations?

The most important skill is a willingness to see things from another person’s perspective. When negotiating a complex, high-stake, or high-risk customer-supplier relationship, everyone participating in the negotiation conversations must be willing to hear out the other side. A muscular— “my way or the highway” —approach will shut down the free flow of relevant information. People think that shutting down the conversation will shift the risk to the other party and away from their organization. Any lack of information will leave both organizations vulnerable to a risk event and associated loss. The public will always blame the brand name that fails them not the brand name’s tier two sub-supplier. It is only through sharing relevant information that both organizations can minimize the risks and see the promised returns.

What advice or resources can you recommend for people who are looking to improve their negotiation skills?

My advice is to keep learning. Not just in the ways that technology will change your job, but the way that it will not change. Today, and for the foreseeable future, people will still communicate with other people to reach an agreement to establish complex customer-supplier relationships. So, make sure that your negotiation and communication skills are top notch to stay relevant to your profession and your industry.

If you are interested in learning more about mastering performance- and outcome-based contracts, Jeanette’s company offers a range of services from a skills assessment, an eLearning program, in-person training sessions, coaching, and one-on-one mentoring. Visit for more information.


Heather Schleicher, Senior Marketing Director

Heather Schleicher, Senior Marketing Director at SIG, has more than 15 years of experience in business and marketing with organizations ranging from independently owned franchises and small businesses to $12B international enterprises. Prior to joining SIG's leadership team, Heather served as Senior Marketing Manager where she was responsible for creating, executing, and supporting SIG’s marketing strategies across all regions and lines of business. Before joining SIG, Heather led digital marketing initiatives for outsourcing, recruiting and workforce management provider Allegis Global Solutions. Previously, Heather managed the marketing department at a contracting consultancy in Washington, D.C.

Heather is actively involved with local and national non-profit organizations. She was the spokesperson of a two-year nationwide campaign to bring home missing persons and teach safety education and prevention. Heather has a BS in Corporate Communication from the University of Baltimore.