Negotiation – sealing the buyer/supplier relationship

A recent CIPS survey has highlighted that 40% of buyers have never been offered training in soft skills, despite the fact that 66% felt it would help improve their ability to negotiate.

Negotiation is a vital part of the procurement professional’s role and it’s something that most could easily master with the right advice and guidance, which is why we’ve scoped out some of the best ways to approach it if you’re looking to make a real impact next time you step into a supplier meeting.

Find some common ground. If you’re facing a difficult conversation, it makes sense to start things on a positive note. A good way to do this is to build some rapport around something you both agree on or enjoy. This could be anything from football, to the weather so long as it puts you both on the same page and gets your meeting off to a good start. It will also make both parties more inclined to strive for a positive resolution as things progress.

Take the time to listen. Listening is a vital relationship building skill. Not only does it show you have respect for the other persons point of view, it enables you to weigh up your own decisions effectively because you’re in receipt of all the information. You wouldn’t go out and buy a new sofa without asking your partner what style and colour they liked (or at least we hope not). Similarly, if you understand a supplier’s situation you’re more likely to come to an agreeable conclusion.

Be aware of your actions. They really can speak louder than words so be aware of your posture, your facial expression and your tone of voice when you’re holding that all important meeting. Face in towards the supplier, nod and acknowledge their comments, smile and make eye contact, keep a positive, upbeat tone and try to remain calm and composed. Your actions will encourage the other person to do the same and put you one step ahead in achieving a constructive result for both parties.

Be clear and concise/ steer clear of emotion. When it comes to communicating your own side of things, do so clearly and efficiently. Don’t be tempted to go over the same area more than once, just because it’s a sticking point. Bringing emotions to the negotiation table can lower a supplier’s estimation of your credibility and take away any professional advantage you created so far in the proceedings. It can also blind your own perspective and reduce your ability to make the right decisions.

Focus on the positive. Having a positive mental attitude is vital in driving successful negotiation. Imagine climbing a mountain but thinking ‘I can’t do it’ as you begin the ascent. The chances are that as soon as things get tough you’ll listen to that inner, negative voice and take it as a sign to go straight home. Similarly, if you enter a meeting expecting the worst how can you then strive for a successful result? Even a ‘no’ is still a platform for negotiation, it just means the other party needs a little more information before they feel comfortable considering your proposal.

Don’t give in / aim for the compromise. We would all like others to fall in line with our own way of thinking but the likelihood of that happening is slim. It is often at the crucial decision stage that many procurement professionals feel compelled to either give in to supplier demands or remain obstinate about their own, neither of which helps facilitate a positive outcome or supports a productive working relationship moving forward. So aim to reach a compromise where both sides fell their key needs have been met.

The relationship between a procurement function and its’ suppliers can only succeed when an environment of trust, equality, autonomy and respect is engendered. Successful negotiation is a crucial tool when it comes to achieving this and can lead to real innovation around process, price and the products or services on offer further down the line.

About the Author

Emma Lambert

With over 10 years’ international recruitment experience, 5 of which focused specifically in Procurement Recruitment, Emma will work with our Consultants to partner businesses and provide sourcing solutions for those niche roles. Having previously worked with Rupert Gaster (Director, Procurement Heads), Emma has ‘hit the ground running’ and involved with key campaigns. When not in the office, you’ll find Emma enjoying family time with her husband and young son, walking by the water in Hampshire with pit stops at the local bistro.

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