Finding excellence in negotiations

Upskilling for negotiations

When I first attended a negotiation training workshop almost 20 years ago, I quickly discovered that only a small part of any outcome is determined by predictable factors like relative power and relationship history.


In fact, the result is mainly driven by thorough preparation, acute situational awareness and self-control.


While some people may be lucky enough to have these capabilities naturally, for most it can take the insights of professional training, as well as years of commercial experience, to develop.


So, what does it take to call yourself a professional procurement negotiator?


There are seven key things buyers need to think about in order for them to reach a level of excellence:


  1. Preparation


Know your sourcing strategy, market, suppliers, people, numbers, your opening positions and your trading positions before you go into the room. This has almost unlimited benefits and so if you only follow one tip make it this one. Don’t be tempted to try and ’wing it’. If the deal is too big or too complex to be automated or auctioned, then it deserves professional preparation.


  1. Curiosity


Ask good open questions, probe the answers and listen more than you talk. Look out for signals and opportunities that sellers give you as they talk.


  1. Objectivity


This is not about you, it’s not about the other party, and it’s not about winning or losing. It’s about the result you need to achieve and the most effective strategy to achieve it.


  1. Sensitivity


Have the sensitivity to understand the situation from the other person’s perspective. This operates at three levels:

  1. Understand the needs or pain points of the other business, such as sales growth or profitability, and make sure you address these points in your proposals.
  2. Know the individual pressure points and KPIs of the seller. Try and understand what they are being judged on and think about how can you help them.
  3. Try to understand and serve their emotional needs in the negotiation, such as a need for approval, recognition or harmony. If your counterpart demonstrates that they see the negotiation as a trial of strength, let them feel like they’re winning.


  1. Composure


Remain calm and controlled in difficult situations. Be prepared to apply pressure, even when it becomes uncomfortable. Stay silent for a little bit longer than expected and many suppliers will start to negotiate with themselves. Make sure you’re comfortable having tension in the room. Test your counterpart’s position and push for more than you think is possible. If you’re being threatened, stay calm. Do not be put off by tactics, they are just part of the game. Call out the tactics, disarm them and move on.


  1. Integrity


There is a good moral case for integrity in negotiation, but, further than this, empty threats, hollow promises and inconsistent statements will be exposed quickly, and can damage the credibility of your business.


  1. Technique


There are many elements to having a good technique in negotiations including:

  • Knowing how and when to introduce new variables into the negotiation;
  • Knowing how to act conditionally, always trying to move any deal in your favour;
  • Using effective negotiating language;
  • Knowing the value of variables, and re-analysing them as they move;
  • Controlling the process and the speed of flow to suit you.

Once buyers can tick these off the list, confidence will quickly grow. And confidence is, of course, the final aspect of getting negotiations right.


Angus McIntosh is associate director at Total Negotiation, the global negotiation consultancy. His previous roles include being CPO at Beiersdorf and VP of petcare procurement at Mars


This contributed article has been written by a guest writer at the invitation of Procurement Leaders. Procurement Leaders received no payment directly connected with the publishing of this content.

Angus McIntosh
Posted by Angus McIntosh

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