Tag Archives: supplier negotiation

How To Say Goodbye To Negative And Contentious Supplier Negotiations

Negative and contentious supplier negotiations ruining everything for you? Here’s how to negotiate in a positive and effective manner.


We’ve all been privy to supplier negotiations that have gone awry. The supplier begins to look uncomfortable. They avoid eye contact. Perhaps they even break out in a sweat, despite it being a sub-zero day. Alternatively, they get angry or perhaps they don’t say much at all, but then your relationship takes a nosedive and never recovers. They become the bane of your existence and you start wondering how the best deal could have turned into the very worst. 

No one likes negative and contentious supplier negotiations, and they often are the beginning of a poor partnership (not to mention relationship!). But are they necessary? Corcentric certainly thinks they may not be, and in fact, saying goodbye to this type of negotiation is one of the big supply chain and procurement ideas we think will change everything in 2021. But how do you do it? 

How to build trust in negotiations

The key to avoiding negative and contentious negotiations, says Corcentric, is to use trust-based and positive reinforcement based negotiations tactics. In order to build trust in negotiations, experts recommend six tactics: 

  1. Speak the supplier’s language

Supplier relationships are all about fostering an environment that feels like a win-win, and an important way to establish this in a negotiation is to speak the supplier’s language. What this essentially means is that you go beyond the facts of what you are being told and profile your supplier by trying to understand the perspectives, concerns, cultural and business implications, and even the less-than-obvious messages that a supplier might be giving you. 

In a nutshell, you listen a lot, and take the time to understand your supplier’s history, current business position, concerns, and even a bit about the person you are dealing with personally. A lot of this can also be industry-specific, and when learning about a supplier you also need to take into consideration industry norms and conventions, as well as industry terminology. Details that may seem small to you, include a unit of measurement (for example, a hectolitre), may be extremely significant to a supplier, so you need to be able to speak their language – literally and metaphorically. Doing so will help foster an emotional connection, and send the message that you’re committed to the supplier and the outcome, and will help build trust. 

  1. Manage your reputation

As many of us in the global supply chain and procurement community know, the world is certainly not as big as it seems. For this reason, your supplier’s reputation isn’t the only one you need to think about. 

Suppliers talk, of course, and what they say about you counts. So if you have a reputation for going hard on cost and squeezing out supplier profit, you had better believe that your supplier may already know this. Similarly, if you haven’t kept your word in a particular situation, or done something else detrimental that damaged your integrity, that supplier will have likely discovered this. In summary, if you’re known for any of these seven supplier negotiation fails, your reputation may be in trouble.

As such, always be careful of your reputation in the market. 

  1. Create an environment of mutual dependence

Regardless of your spend, if you’re bringing a new supplier onboard, it’s clear they will depend on you to some degree. And from your perspective, that dependence is power. But have you ever thought about it from the other perspective, insomuch as you need that particular supplier? 

Dependence is an uncomfortable psychological prospect, but research shows that its mutual existence does increase trust in a relationship. For this reason, try to establish the idea of mutual dependence by highlighting to your supplier the benefits of working with you and the positive mutual outcomes you’ll work towards. 

There’s significant evidence that procurement has already increased trust with the C-suite this year, so now it’s time for us to do the same things with our suppliers. 

  1. Make one-sided concessions

It’s something that many of us may feel uncomfortable with, but it is essential in gaining trust, and that is: make concessions. And not just any concessions: one-sided concessions. 

In negotiations, it’s difficult to not think that you, as the buying organisation, should have the upper hand. But in reality, what you are building is a long-term relationship in which you should be less focused on tit-for-tat concessions, and more on good outcomes. Before you concede, ensure that your organisation doesn’t suffer as a result, but you’d be amazed at what a single concession can do for trust in negotiations (and beyond). 

  1. Point out your concessions

Cringing at the idea of conceding? You might not like this news, but it’s a necessary evil. If you’re going to go to the trouble of conceding, you need to ensure that you deliberately point out what you have done. 

Why? Because pointing out your concession, including exactly how much you have given away and what that sacrifice will mean for your business (and hopefully, not just for your ego), shows that you are serious about looking after your supplier. Fortunately, doing this should also trigger their desire to look after you, further engendering trust. 

  1. Explain your reasoning 

Unfortunately, humans are simply not that trusting, especially in a situation which can be perceived as conflict, like a negotiation. For this reason, your supplier may assume the worst of you (and you the worst of them), before conversations have even begun. 

That’s why, when negotiating, it’s important to explain your reasoning for any demands you make. For example, say you require a certain percentage discount on volume orders. Instead of simply asking for this, explain that you need it to make your manufacturing feasible. Understanding your drivers will help give your supplier better insights into your business and how they might be able to help you. 
There is another, all-encompassing reason that we all need to avoid negative supplier negotiations. Discover what it is here, as well as many other game-changing ideas, in our compelling whitepaper 100 Big Ideas for 2021.

7 Supplier Negotiation Fails We’ve All Experienced

Every procurement professional knows that supplier negotiations aren’t always plain sailing – and we’re sure you’ll relate to these seven scenarios.

By Oleksii Sidorov/ Shutterstock

It’s happened to even the best negotiators.  Leaving a negotiation with less than desired results might even be called a rite of passage for procurement professionals. It’s frustrating and time consuming but there are learnings to gain from every disappointing negotiation.

Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner of Conti Advanced Business Learning, interviewed seven procurement leaders to find out their most notable negotiation fails.

1. Pushing too hard

Using competition to push your advantage and lock it into a contract can be counterproductive. I recall a negotiation performed for a global IT project, during which we closed what looked like a great deal secured by a complete and detailed contract. Once the project began, the vendor quickly started to lose money. Having no leverage and way out from the contract, he eventually decided to stop the project. Ultimately, to continue our working relationship, we had to sit down together, find solutions and find fair compromises to make the project a success. Olivier Cachat, Chief Procurement Officer, IWG

2. Internal alignment

Involving executive leadership into a critical negotiation can be a very powerful ‘tool’, when done in a very concerted way. Our main objective was to secure supply for this material and ideally get a price concession when allocating more volume to this supplier. We briefed the President of our BU and explained the situation. We also explained in much detail that anything beyond a three per cent price reduction is very unlikely and that this supplier would rather threaten us to stop supply. While the first part of the actual negotiation was going well, our president decided to our complete surprise to become very aggressive with our supplier by threatening him to move to a different supplier if they would not reduce pricing by at least -15 per cent. Not only was that very insulting to our supplier, but it was also a complete bluff and our supplier knew that we were not able to move away within any reasonable/manageable timeframe. As a consequence, our supplier stood up and left the meeting, stating that we have one week to think about his offer to raise pricing by +5 per cent as they would otherwise stop supplying us. It took me two months to ‘repair’ the relationship and to convince them to continue supplying us at a flat price. Furthermore, I had to make additional concessions which we would not have made if our colleague would have stayed with our plan. Matthias Manegold, Head of Global Indirect Procurement, Liberty Global

3. Clarity on agreed terms

Make sure the final terms of a negotiation are clear for both parties. I had the surprise, for a new supply agreement (over 35M Euro), to discover that we were not aligned regarding the product specifications. Our yearly demand had been multiplied by 10 and obviously, during the negotiation, the supplier did not dare confess not having the capacity to deliver our needs. We needed to rediscuss and revaluate this challenge and find a way forward to solve the issue. It demonstrates the importance of always re-confirming the terms you reached.  Christophe Schmitt, Head of Strategic Supplies, Omya

4. Safety in small numbers

At times I have walked into a room and seen more than ten people around the table. In such a situation, it is very unlikely that any significant flexibility will be shown during the following hours. By nature, most people will not want to lose ground in public. As a general guide, I find the best agreements are made in smaller meetings with participants who have been briefed in advance. Unless related to celebrations, nobody likes surprises!Jon Hatfield, Director Global Supply Management, PPG

5. Stubborn suppliers

Sometimes even if you have evidence that you could get a better price for same quality the supplier will not move. This can happen especially in the Pharma world where changing supplier is time, money, and resource consuming. I also think this behaviour by the incumbent supplier is wrong. Ultimately pressure on prices will prevail and the new cheaper supplier will be a better fit. Romain Roulette, EMEA Procurement Director, Bausch Health

6. Changing protocol

Overcoming counter-productive pre-existing relationships of suppliers can derail negotiations. My corporation acquired a company that had strong links with the local supply base. The local suppliers were working with this company for decades and had developed ineffective habits that were hard to change. When we requested the existing supply base to apply standard requirements, we were confronted with resistance and opposition from these suppliers. A few negotiations went well, however we had to change all of the other suppliers. Francesco Lucchetta, Director Strategic Supply, Pentair

7. Lack of alternatives

It was a single source supply situation. Over ten years ago, I was renegotiating an IT outsourcing agreement that was expiring. Benchmarking data indicated that our prices were well above market. On the other side, the supplier knew that we had no other alternatives and they enjoyed a strong relationship with the CIO. In spite of our efforts, we only received a very minor price decrease. The next step was to start developing an alternative supplier to be in a stronger position at the next contract renewal. Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner, Conti Advanced Business Learning

These responses were collected by Giuseppe Conti, Founder and Managing Partner of Conti Advanced Business Learning (www.cabl.ch), a consulting firm that specialises in negotiation & influencing. This article is part of a series

How to Keep the Supplier Love Alive

We take a look at some of the ways procurement professionals should manage, and negotiate with, their long-term suppliers when things get tricky…

Nobody said it was going to be easy. Building and, most importantly, maintaining good supplier relationships takes hard work, commitment and focus. And the longer they last, the more they require this careful nurturing to keep the love alive and the flame burning.

But what happens when one half of the partnership doesn’t hold up their end of the deal; taking advantage of a long-term contract or a presumed arrangement which has started to have a negative impact on your organisation?

What do you do when a change of circumstance means you want to re-negotiate your terms?

How do you get yourself out of an undesirable, self-destructive partnership when to change things up could be costly and difficult to implement?

We joined a recent Negotiation Roundtable organized by CABL (Conti Advanced Business Learning), a firm that specialises in Negotiation & Influencing, on the topic of long-term negotiations. We wanted to hear advice from a number of procurement and sales leaders on how to manage those long term supplier relationships.

Giuseppe Conti, the founder of CABL, introduced the subject by highlighting that in long-term relationships there is a risk that one of the two parties take advantage of the situation. He then led the group to discuss a number of different ways for procurement professionals to manage, and negotiate with, suppliers when things get tricky.

Look below the iceberg

 For procurement professionals, this is a tale as old as time – how do you manage a supplier who increases prices without warning, when you were under the impression that you had a long-term agreement. Do you cut and run?

“That depends entirely” argues Laurence Pérot, Global Supply Chain Procurement Head at Logitech, “on the nature and origin of your relationship with that supplier.

“You need to consider how you selected them in the first place. Was there a good cultural fit, what drew your organisation to them? Cost reduction is just the tip of the iceberg.”.

According to Xinjian Carlier Fu, Sourcing Leader at Honeywell, “If you can satisfy all the elements beneath the surface (i.e. risk reduction, security, protecting margins and personal requirements) you will have a much more effective negotiation.”

Believe that you have the power

 It’s easy to be intimidated by suppliers who seem to be calling all the shots in your relationship. Xinjian Carlier Fu believes it’s important to have confidence in your own procurement power. “Don’t be afraid of [your supplier] relationship. They might seem dominating and intimidating but I like to use the analogy of David and Goliath.

“Procurement professionals should think of themselves as David. Don’t underestimate your influence or give up hope for your organisation.  You do have negotiation power. Don’t give up hope.”

“Unfortunately not every supplier is willing to work with you in a partnership. Sometimes not all parties are considered equal,” explains Guillaume Leopold, Former CPO at Coty.

Look for a win-win

Ifti Ahmed, Managing Partner at Titanium Partners, described that tricky situation of inheriting an existing supplier when starting a new procurement job. “This particular supplier wasn’t my first choice but it became my job to manage the negotiations and the budget. I did look for alternatives, of which none were suitable and so I did feel like I was in a tough position from a negotiations perspective. ”

“But we prepared well for these negotiations, ensured we had a greater idea of what they valued; what was annoying for them and what they wanted from the partnership, so we were able to discuss points for improvement on both sides and the new contract ended up as a win-win”

Giuseppe Conti also highlighted the importance of using partnership tools to effectively manage the supplier. This includes a Service Level Agreement with KPIs for both parties, performance reviews, alignment of senior management teams, bonus system, audits, 360-degree feedback. 

Make your position clear

It’s very difficult to build trust in your supplier relationships when staff turnover is high. Indeed, as Alessandra Silvano, Global Category Director CAPEX & MRO at Carlsberg, pointed out “many suppliers try to take advantage of frequent rotations in the workforce. But they need to know that you are aligned. Pricing should be treated in the same standardised way, not matter who you are working with.”

Work at it like a marriage

Regina Roos, VP & Sales Segment Leader Mineral and Mining at Schneider Electric, recommends you approach your supplier relationships like a marriage. “It’s not a one off event. There are levels of commitment and you have to keep working at it. If you’re not prepared and you don’t know what you’re getting into with a supplier it’s your fault. You need to make a commitment, and stick to it.”

Paul André, Director Reduced Risk Commercial Supply at JTI, agrees, arguing that “you need to be very clear on what you’re entering into – and that you don’t have a different expectation of the relationship you are building.”

Get to the crux of the problem

What should procurement professionals do when faced with a seemingly irrational supplier who simply won’t re-negotiate terms or agreements? Xinjian Carlier Fu suggests that you “try to identify the motivations underlying these actions or attitudes. Think about the possible constraints they might be facing. Then test your theories by asking questions – ‘Are you facing pressure to cut costs?’” When you understand what’s driving the supplier’s behaviour, you’ll find it easier to come to an agreement.

Work with suppliers you like

The value of supplier likeability is not to be underestimated according to Francesco Lucchetta, Director EMEAI Supply at Pentair. “Taking company culture into account is so important when it comes to selecting suppliers, particularly if you’re forming a long-term agreement. People are very different and to work with people you like is a really good thing. When the culture is unfriendly it’s hard to build trust in the relationship.”

For more advice on managing your supplier negotiations, check out the first blog in this two-part series – 6 Ways To Prevent A Negotiation Blow Up.