Dan Kelly has made a reputation as The Negotiator Guru for his 13 years of experience of negotiating and IT strategic sourcing for both the public and private sectors. The company’s clients link up with them because these clients trust them to “source, negotiate, and manage” dense and complicated IT contracts, deals, or suppliers.
Clients who engage The Negotiator Guru know that they can use Dan Kelly’s deep understanding of business and his tremendous negotiating skills. Prior to The Negotiator Guru, Dan worked for the FBI. After a while, though, he quit his government job because he preferred the pay-for-performance model.
From the FBI, Dan Kelly moved to the private sector, where he helped out companies like Cargille, MTS Systems, and Syngenta, in various executive capacities, such as being the Global Head of Indirect Procurement.
Dan Kelly founded The Negotiator Guru in 2015 so that he could scale up his passion for negotiating to the global market. Since its founding, The Negotiator Guru has worked along the principle of being “built for IT executives, by IT executives.” To this end, all company stakeholders, from CIOs to CPOs, represent the IT industry.
After a while, Dan Kelly grew The Negotiator Guru into a worldwide organization that works with clients in all continents, and helps them fill their needs in real and practical ways.
Through Dan Kelly’s hard work, The Negotiator Guru was named to the #15 spot on the INC 5000 – Midwest. The company has also been named as the 2nd Fastest Growing Private Company in Minnesota.
Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Dan Kelly: Negotiations are my passion. For me, they are a craft that, once mastered, makes everything possible and opens every door.
Many people think that skilled negotiators are liers. This is a misconception. The best negotiators are honest; they build trust and are incredibly empathetic. Since I was very young, I felt a great pleasure negotiating win-win solutions with my parents, friends, and even my school teachers. I just loved seeing how fair and honest negotiations can create positive outcomes for everyone involved.
My passion for negotiations led me to the FBI, where I started my career and was in charge of Strategic Supplier Relationships. However, four years later, I discovered that being a government employee wasn’t for me. I wanted to be paid for performance and have unlimited growth opportunities.
After leaving the FBI, I tried myself in multiple leadership roles in companies like Cargill, Syngenta, and MTS Systems. But I always felt that I wanted to do something more. I knew that I could run my own show and have a much more significant impact on a global scale. So I founded The Negotiator Guru in 2015 to support the businesses’ real needs and solve real-life problems for my clients on every continent. Now TNG is #15 on INC 5000 Midwest and 2nd fastest-growing private company in MN.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Dan Kelly: There are no easy times when running a business. It’s always challenging times. What are “hard times”? It is when something doesn’t go as planned. And if it doesn’t, it means that YOU failed to plan, make enough money, or have a backup strategy if the initial plan doesn’t work.
My most challenging times were when I was starting. I did not know anything about recruitment or HR. I wanted to hire a great team quickly and get running. So I decided to do it myself without any outside help and moved too fast without adopting my processes. So once I had my first revenue spike, I decided to double our headcount at the time. Once I realized that my overheads were higher than my income, I had to re-structure, re-align our strategy, and make sure that we get enough business to continue running the company. So we shifted our focus entirely to lead generation to grow our customer base. I am still amazed how we overcame this challenge as a team, and instead of cost-cutting, we make through these hard times by pushing our revenues up.
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
Dan Kelly: One of the funniest mistakes I made was double-booking my calendar with meetings several times. It caused me a lot of embarrassment and fire-fighting. I learned from it that I should always use one calendar app across all the devices and throw the traditional paper agenda away!
Jerome Knyszewski: Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.
1) Do not delegate to give yourself less responsibility. Align your responsibilities properly with where to best spend your time. Understand the tasks and responsibilities you are delegating to be able to step in when things go wrong. For example, when you are delegating to your sales rep to negotiate a contract with the client, make sure that you are prepared to step in if things go wrong.
2) Give people space to breathe and accept when things are not done the way you like them. Delegation is an act of trust and decentralization. The person you delegate a task needs to have the freedom to improvise and make mistakes.
3) Delegate goals and outcomes and not pathways. State your objectives precisely so that the person understands what you require of them. Focus less on methodology and more on the end goal, ensuring that the person understands how they will achieve that. Use exact parameters when explaining what needs to be done. For example, if you delegate to someone to compile a presentation, don’t explain every nitty-gritty detail of slides layout, images, and fonts. Just outline the end results you would like to achieve with this presentation.
4) Set firm dates for “report and completion.” If you delegate a task, set a meeting or a call date right away to report on the progress. Continue monitoring the progress along the way to ensure that the person stays on the right path. Make it clear that you are ready to help at any point. Monitor, but don’t micromanage.
5) Conduct an assessment once the project is done. Ask your team to evaluate your performance as a leader and their own. Ask questions like, “What would you have done differently?” “What went well? Why?” “How could I have better helped you throughout this process?”
Jerome Knyszewski: One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?
Dan Kelly: This statement is false. True leaders shine through the work that is done by their people. The assumption that if you want something done, do it yourself is arrogant because it shows that you believe that your way is the only right way. Teaching others and helping them grow has tremendous social value. If you are really good at what you do, share your skills and knowledge with others to add value to society, and enhance your team.
Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?
Dan Kelly: Here’s my LinkedIn.
Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!