When trying to win new business, it’s frustrating not being able to set yourself apart from your competition who are vying for the same contract. Having a range of supplier negotiation strategies in your arsenal, along with a solid grasp of negotiation skills (https://piscari.com/negotiation-
training/) can mean the difference between winning and losing deals when negotiating with tough procurement professionals.
7 Negotiation Strategies For Suppliers
Building rapport is an integral part of being able to get a deal over the finish line. Maintaining open communication channels with clients while having a solid negotiation strategy helps build rapport and strengthen the quality of the deal. Being responsive, attentive, and approachable is absolutely key when it comes to forming crucial relationships with decision-makers, and can often be the deal breaker if there are multiple suppliers trying to win the same contract.
Reach Out to Procurement More
Build a relationship with Procurement 12-18 months in advance of negotiating a deal with them. Here’s some tactics to engage busy procurement professionals:
Send them your latest thought leadership, not your sales pitch
Follow them on LinkedIn and make meaningful comments on their posts
Invite them to breakfast roundtables with their (non-competing) peers
Know Your Customers and Build Credibility
You can’t pitch if you’ve not done your discovery call effectively. Have a predefined list of questions that help you understand the client’s context in a lot more detail – before selling them anything.
Get reviews and feedback from your previous customers and publish on LinkedIn and other marketing channels. It’s one of the 11 touch-points for a prospect about how you provide excellent service to customers with similar requirements.
Anchor Early and Demonstrate Value
Negotiation 101 is about anchoring. Your first commercial offer to your prospects has to be realistic, at the top-end of market expectations, and be linked to the value/ROI you create. Without this, you’re open to trained negotiators taking you apart.
Flex Your Finance
If you need a helping hand when trying to get a deal over the line, be flexible with the payment terms that you can offer. Many suppliers request that payments be made within 14 days on invoice. However, knowing how far you go, in exchange for something else in the negotiations that are valuable to you is critical.
You have to understand the customer’s negotiation context. You have to be able to empathise with them, and build a bridge towards them.
Empathy doesn’t mean weakness or yielding in the negotiation. It shows that you understand them and want the best deal for them and you.
Demonstrate Your Credibility
Don’t be afraid to showcase what you’ve done for other clients (anonymised if need be). It’s important to make customers aware of your credibility and how well your company has delivered consistently over time.
Start Winning More Procurement Deals
Have a solid negotiation strategy in place to deliver more balanced deals with procurement. Follow these principles and tactics to negotiate better deals, every time, especially when you meet tough procurement negotiators.
Engaging with procurement can be daunting, even for the most seasoned sales professionals. It can often feel like you’re having to re-sell to procurement, but that’s rarely the case. Once you engage with procurement around a meaningful discussion, you’ve typically been short-listed as the (or one of two) preferred vendors subject to negotiations and contracts. However, unless you understand their processes, systems and objectives, your likelihood of success is low.
Procurement teams in large organisations are trained negotiators, with tools and methods that can be intimidating. The first step to successfully navigating this territory is to take some time to understand the procurement process. Remember, the process is there to drive efficiency, consistency and auditability. Once you know the framework, you’ll be in a stronger position to ensure that not only are you in the final two, you’re blowing the other party out of the water.
In this article, we’ll cover:
What stages are typically included in a procurement process?
The difference between public and private sector procurement.
How to ensure you get beyond the final two or three after an RFP.
What is a procurementprocess and why is it important to sales professionals?
Just like sales teams have a sales process, procurement people have procurement processes (yes, more than one).
As a theme, procurement people tend to be data-driven, rational and process-oriented. They like spreadsheets, processes, assessment criteria, scoring mechanisms, risk management and frameworks. So it follows that they’d have a well-documented process in order to help them source vendors cost-effectively and efficiently.
Tip: Often, large organisations will publish their procurement policies so you can see the steps to become an approved vendor.
Examples of procurement processes:
This is an end-to-end process, typically used by large companies, that covers sourcing, negotiating, contracting, purchase orders and paying for goods/services. Procurement teams can use S2P software to drive efficiency using advanced tech and big data, e.g. Basware, Ariba, Coupa
The Seven-Step Strategic Sourcing Process
This is likely the process you’ll be involved with most often as a sales professional:
Step 1 – Identify Goods or Services Needed.
Step 2 – Consider a List of Suppliers.
Step 3 – Negotiate Contract Terms with Selected Supplier.
Just like sales teams have a sales pipeline, procurement teams have a savings pipeline. This is where they’ll track all the possible savings opportunities that they have identified, and where each opportunity is in the pipeline.
As part of this process, they’ll be analysing spend, reviewing who they’re spending money with, how often, and why.
Tip: If you’ve been identified as a key supplier with significant spend, and your contract hasn’t been tendered or renegotiated for three years, you’ll likely be in the cross-hairs of procurement.
Our advice? Be proactive and engage with procurement ahead of the end of your contract term or notice period (typically 6 months ahead). Think about new commercial models that deliver savings and improvements in quality/efficiency and negotiate a renewal that works for both parties.
Without this intervention, you may be pushed into an RFP process or simply issued with a termination notice.
How does the procurement process differ between private and public sectors?
The procurement process for public and private sectors is broadly the same — but there are differences in how they are funded and regulated.
Private Sector Procurement
Procurement serves a strategic purpose in the private sector, with goals including:
Driving supplier innovation
Improving output quality
Focusing on ESG/D&I
Managing risk and improving auditability
Procurement teams support the business to improve processes, focus on cost-quality management and identifying new/innovative sources of supply. Some businesses opt to have their Chief Procurement Officer (CPO) on the executive board, which underlines procurement’s strategic significance.
Public Sector Procurement
In the public sector, there are no shareholders’ dividends to pay out or publicly declared profit/loss announcements to make. However, spending is under significant scrutiny, due to the obligation to deliver social and economic benefits to the wider public. As a result, the procurement process has to be managed differently and is far more transparent than private sector procurement.
There are clear principles about the way in which procurement award contracts including:
What’s the difference between indirect and direct procurement?
Direct procurement refers to purchasing any part of a product/service that is purchased or consumed by the end-customer. These costs sit between Sales and Gross Profit in the P&L (often called Cost of Goods Sold). For example, bricks for a house, fabric for garments, ingredients for recipes, promotional items/rewards. Direct materials are easy to identify, measure, and are directly linked to the cost of production/sale.
Indirect procurement involves purchasing anything — goods and services — that isn’t for resale (GNFR). These purchases are necessary to support the business’ day-to-day operations. Examples here include marketing services, office supplies, IT equipment, etc.
One of the big differences between buying goods and services is quality control and delivery. It’s much easier to audit the integrity of a supply chain with physical goods.
In services procurement, there needs to be a multilayered QA process, often involving answering these questions:
Have all the services been delivered? (Cross-check with SoW)
Were the outputs delivered on time?
Were the outputs to the agreed quality?
Procurement Process Flow
There are two types of big-picture procurement processes typically:
Source to contract (more strategic): This is where procurement (or sourcers as they’re often called) work with the business to appoint suppliers (existing or new) to deliver against targets.
Procure to pay (more tactical): This is where procurement manages the flow of requisitions through to supplier payment. A lot of this is often embedded in systems and automated workflows.
The buying stages of procurement
Back in 2001, A T Kearney developed the seven-step sourcing model. To this day, procurement people still refer to it as their model for Source-to-Contract processes.
When do procurement use RFPs?
You’ll generally find that stakeholders in bigger brands (e.g. £300m+ revenues) will engage the procurement category lead when the budget is material: e.g. 100k+ per annum to run a formal tendering process. There are a number of reasons for this:
The increasing need for strong governance: i.e. an objective and controlled way of selecting and managing suppliers.
The adoption of a rigorous process, with an audit trail to ensure money is being spent wisely and professionally. This is especially important for PLCs, public sector bodies and charities.
Because sourcing, negotiation and savings delivery are specialist disciplines (just like marketing, IT and HR are for example).
RFPs are a procurement tool that encompasses a process and a template. It’s a way of enabling procurement to consolidate all the client’s requirements and specifications into one document and run a consistent and, hopefully, fair process. The RFP document is distributed to several potential suppliers and a rigorous process is run to get from longlisted providers to the final selected supplier via a negotiation.
Tip: Before you fill in any RFP, you must score your likelihood of winning. This can save hundreds of person-hours (literally) writing tender submissions. Score your RFP here with our handy tool.
Reminder: procurement’s typical objectives
Increase savings. There are very specific definitions of savings from a procurement and finance perspective.
Maximise ROI for the business. They need to get the best outcome at the optimal price.
Supply chain innovation is key to driving profitable growth.
Quality and reliability of product/service delivery is critical.
Supply chain diversity, inclusion and ESG are all now key priorities for procurement.
Reduce risks, increase flexibility and improve auditability. Note: risk comes in many different forms, e.g. reputational, operational, financial, etc.
Actions to take to make the shortlist (or keep your contract)
Check an organisation’s procurement policies
Take time to understand procurements’ needs and goals
Prepare thoroughly. 80% of your success will depend on your preparation
Align your services to procurement goals
Proactively engage procurement before the end of your contract
Negotiating with Procurement: What You Need to Know
If you’re an entrepreneurial company selling to bigger companies, you need to understand how negotiating with procurement professionals really works. It’s vital that you understand their unique needs and how they are different from other stakeholders.
In this guide, I’ll break down the most common pitfalls of negotiating with procurement, the tactics to watch out for, the mistakes that are too often made, how you can prepare, and secure more profitable deals for your business. Every time.
To improve your deal conversion rate and get better outcomes, these are the key things you and your sales teams need to understand:
Procurement have different objectives to your main decision-maker, so you must treat the negotiation differently.
They are another important stakeholder to engage in the “business unit buyer” map. Have a look at this video with Ray Makela for further insights selling to procurement.
Ideally, engage with them 12-24 months before you bid for a big piece of work.
Negotiation is a trainable skill, not a genetic trait. It’s seriously worth investing in high-quality training.
80% of your success in a negotiation will come from the quality of your preparation.
If you apply the tactics and lessons in this article, you’ll make better deals immediately and win more opportunities. I’ve refined these insights over hundreds of deals negotiated worth over £400m, with experience on both sides of the table.
Why should you read this guide?
Think back to a time when you were working on a big sales opportunity.
Does this scenario look familiar?
You’re close to agreeing on the terms at a price you can work with.
Just as you’re about to close the deal, your contact emails you: “By the way, “you’ll just need to get this past Procurement”.
Your heart sinks! The last time this happened the deal collapsed and six months of sales effort went down the drain.
Hence, negotiating with procurement professionals is different. They are different personality types to your typical decision-maker. They have different objectives and very different ways of working. If you want to succeed at winning deals with bigger companies, you need to develop new strategies for dealing with Procurement stakeholders. It must become a standard part of your sales management process and sales training. If in doubt, find a sales coach to act as a sounding board.
I wrote this guide to help you understand the complexities of negotiating with Procurement professionals during a sales cycle. You can use it as a practical tool to re-frame your discussions with Procurement and get the outcome you want.
Download our FREE guide to negotiating with procurement professionals
Problems faced by entrepreneurs, sales professionals and SMEs when negotiating with procurement
When you first meet -procurement professionals during a sales cycle, you will come across new challenges to getting a deal done. If you go in unprepared, you’ll quickly see the deal collapse. Or, you’ll walk out with a bad deal for you and, ultimately, the client.
What’s the problem? Procurement teams have a different agenda to the main person you are selling to. You need to see the world from their perspective in order to know how to deal with them.
Have you faced any of these problems when trying to get a deal through procurement during your sales negotiation?
Procurement seem to be creating unnecessary barriers to getting the deal done
The RFP process is crazily bureaucratic
You feel like you are being used as a price bench-marking tool as opposed to a real contender
It can take months to fill in the RFP and go through the process only to find out you didn’t really stand a chance in the first place
You can’t see the criteria they are using to select the supplier
The contractual terms they send you are outrageous and 30 pages long
The T&Cs say “these terms are non-negotiable… If you are successful in bidding, these T&Cs are legally binding on your appointment”
“What does success look like from the perspective of a Procurement Professional”?
The reality is: when a Procurement professional is negotiating a deal, they’re managing a number of complex variables – they’re not just being difficult for the sake of it.
The relative importance of each variable is different on every deal they negotiate.
Procurement’s objectives are to:
Increase savings on a deal.
Maximise ROI for the business.
Access innovative solution providers.
Improve the quality of service delivery, or as a minimum, maintain it.
Improve/maintain the reliability of service delivery.
Review the sustainability aspects of what they buy.
Reduce risk to the organisation (i.e. reputational damage, operational disruption, financial distress, etc).
There is no simple, single answer to the question “What does success look like from the perspective of a Procurement Professional”? Like any other sales process, you need a clear value proposition when negotiating with procurement.
Later in the guide, you’ll learn how to work out what is really going on, and some insights about what you can do about it.
Common myths about negotiating with Procurement professionals
Perception They only care about beating me up on price.
Perception They don’t care about innovation and creativity.
Perception The RFP is only used to beat up the incumbent supplier, we are never going to win.
Perception The T&Cs sent by Procurement are non-negotiable.
Reality This is untrue. It’s about how much they paid last year, how much is in their budget and how they can maximise ROI to the business.
Reality This is untrue. Innovation and creativity have been on the top 10 list of Procurement challenges for the last decade.
Reality This is untrue. There are easier ways to do this than run an RFP Process.
Reality This is untrue. There’s a secret no-one tells you… the schedules at the back of the Ts&Cs usually override the Master Agreement, so put your variations in there.
So, next time you are frustrated with Procurement, take a breath and look at it from their point of view. The underlying issues are much more complex than it appears on the surface.
What are Procurement Levers and why are they important to you?
Whenever I negotiate a large deal, I always think about which levers I am going to use to get the deal done. These are the kinds of levers, or negotiation tactics that I think about for every deal:
Consolidating spend across several suppliers and vendors?
Offering longer-term commitments in exchange for better prices?
Completely transforming the services we are buying?
Reducing demand (also called Demand Management)?
Getting some more competitive tension going in the process?
Changing the commercial model of the supplier?
In-sourcing or out-sourcing different parts of the value chain?
What are Procurement looking for and what is on their mind when negotiating?
Imagine you’re down to the last two suppliers shortlisted for a piece of work. When you’re preparing to negotiate with procurement, these are some of the things to consider before engaging in the next round of discussions:
Where are the savings going to come from?
What contractual clauses are important?
How are you going to measure that you are delivering a high-quality service and what happens if you don’t?
How are you going to govern (control) this contract and what are the remedies and rewards for under/over delivery?
Does price change as the volumes go up/down?
Are there any rebates baked into the deal?
How will Service Credits work?
What are the termination clauses?
What is the contract duration?
Who owns what IP?
How will you demonstrate the business ROI?
When preparing for your negotiation, have answers to all these questions in advance. If you have just received an RFP and not sure what to do, you can also use our Consultancy Support.
When is a saving not a saving?
It would seem obvious that if you offer a reduction in your price, or you give the customer something for free, then it’s a saving, right? Unfortunately, this isn’t true. It’s certainly of value to your client’s Decision Maker, but it may not help Procurement deliver their objectives.
Here’s a simple example of different types of savings and what they really mean:
Is this a contract renewal or re-negotiation with downwards price movement based upon like for like volumes?
Does the saving include a discount against a list price or standard rate card?
Does the negotiation include free additional licences?
Is this a contract termination with services delivered in a new way or service no longer required?
If we have no experience of buying this service (i.e. no baseline cost), then any savings will be “cost avoidance”
Are we being offered something that we didn’t have before for free?
Have we got a comparable, actual set of prices and volumes based on invoices?
Are we expecting a price increase from an existing supplier on an existing service and a reduction in the increase is achieved? If yes, this is “cost avoidance”
Are we being offered “free implementation support?”
Why do your clients train their Procurement negotiators?
There’s a wealth of evidence that points to a direct improvement in business performance if negotiators are professionally trained. This chart is one of the most compelling indicators that “Organisations with high negotiation maturity post significant increases in net income”.
That’s why your clients train their negotiators, and that’s why you should too! If you want more information, have a look at our Negotiation Training Programmes.
Characteristics of any negotiation
In any negotiation, be it a business deal, buying a car or your relationships, there are common traits to the negotiation itself:
More than one party is involved
There are multiple agendas that are rational, emotional and political
People are staking out their positions and interests
Negotiation personalities need to be understood, i.e. collaborative, adversarial, partnership, amiable
Is it a transactional or strategic negotiation?
You need a framework to think through the negotiation and optimise success for all parties. This is particularly important in procurement negotiations as you are dealing with highly trained buyers.
Common negotiating mistakes and why we fail to reach agreement
Given all the negotiations I’ve been involved in, I’ve made some mistakes and learnt from them. These are some of the lessons learned:
Believing that what we bring to the table is more valuable to our counter-party than it actually is
Personalities getting in the way of a good deal (i.e. inability to separate the people from the problem)
Lack of preparation. Virtually every professional buyer will have a Procurement negotiation process. You need a way of thinking through the three key stages of your negotiation
Not reading the personality type of your counter-party
Lack of empathy, i.e. failure to understand the other party’s perspective
Making the scope too narrow or too broad
Lack of objective criteria on which to base agreements
Winning the economic case and losing the relationship/trust
Not understanding the difference between interests and positions
Sequential negotiation strategies in complex situations – it can be seen as “chipping away” at value. It’s often better to put multiple variables on the table at once and negotiate what’s important to both parties
Believing you have to make a decision in the room
What are the traits of a successful negotiation?
This is by no means a comprehensive list. However, this, combined with “avoiding the common negotiating mistakes” is a good place to start planning your next negotiation:
Start with the end in mind and tack towards the prize or end-goal
Usually, making the “first offer” anchors the counter-party to your reference point (this has been well researched internationally)
Asking open questions, seeking the views of your counter-party and active listening all promote collaborative negotiations and win-win outcomes with the best overall value. Balance this with knowing when to close the deal
If you’re new to dealing with Procurement professionals, take on board the principles and ideas in this guide. It will demystify what Procurement really want and reduce any anxiety you may have about them.
Ultimately, understand your audience, know what they want and prepare before you engage in a meaningful negotiation with them.
I hope this guide has proved useful and debunked some of the myths about professional Procurement buyers. We are, after all, only human!
About the Author: Mike Lander
Mike Lander is a successful entrepreneur and expert negotiator, with a proven track record of buying, growing, and selling businesses for seven-figure sums.
He has a uniquely valuable perspective on negotiating commercial deals, having worked on both sides of the table as a Procurement Director and an entrepreneur.
He now uses his specialist knowledge and experience negotiating hundreds of deals worth £400m+ to empower leaders and sales teams to negotiate more profitable deals with procurement.
Download our FREE guide to negotiating with procurement professionals