Secrets of a Superagent

7 tips from a superagent on how to negotiate a great deal.

Who knows more about negotiating a piece of the action than superagent Leigh Steinberg? He represents many of the top players in the National Football League, including quarterbacks Steve Young, Troy Aikman, and Drew Bledsoe. In one banner year, 1993, he negotiated contracts worth a total of $325 million.


We asked Steinberg to imagine that instead of a star athlete, a young software programmer knocked on his door and said: “I think I’m as valuable to my company as Troy Aikman is to the Dallas Cowboys. What tips can you give me on how to negotiate a great deal?”

Here are his seven suggestions:

1. Know what you want before you ask. “You have to look into your heart and be clear about what’s important before negotiations begin. For some it’s short-term economic gain, the ability to make big money quickly. For others it’s long-term economic security. For some it’s the quality of the people they work with, the management and the supporting cast. For others it’s autonomy and the ability to fulfill their dreams. Sit down with a piece of paper and make a list of what matters.”

2. If you think you’re an MVP, act like one. “You need to get comfortable with the concept of irreplaceability — the proposition that an organization can’t function without you. The more you make yourself instrumental to the company’s success, the more bargaining power you have.”

3. Become a free agent. “The basic philosophy of free-market societies is supply and demand. That means you gain strength if you have competing offers. It also means that no matter how happy you are at your current company, moving laterally to another company almost always produces better financial results than staying where you are and moving vertically. The reason is simple: someone is competing financially to get you.”

4. Being tough doesn’t mean being dishonest. “Never misrepresent yourself or pump up competing offers. You can’t start off a relationship dishonestly. But you can still be tough. Talk around unfavorable issues, don’t give precise figures, focus on what you want in the future. But be honest at all times.”


5. Know who’s on the other side of the table. “Learn everything you can about who you’re negotiating with. What have they done in similar situations? Are they trying to impress a boss by being tough? Study the person’s background, personality, psychology. You’ll find yourself dealing from a position of power.”

6. Don’t fumble. “People who negotiate for themselves have the same two flaws. One, we all have an inherent modesty that makes us uncomfortable asserting our best attributes to another person. Two, we all have an irrational side that makes us explosively angry when someone denigrates our skills. The challenge is to find a midpoint between submissive acceptance and extreme anger.”

7. Live to fight another day. “When your ego and pride are on the line, you must distance yourself emotionally, keep the total picture in mind, and operate under a paradigm of cooperation. The only thing that’s certain about any negotiation is that it will lead to another negotiation — and another, and another.”