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Buyers Meeting Point is home to two blogs: The Point is written by BMP's Kelly Barner and a diverse group of guest contributors. MyPurchasingCenter was acquired by BMP in 2020 we now showcase their content archive on BMP.

Let's End the Buyer-Supplier Negotiation Countertactics Spiral

This post was originally featured on Design News.

Every interaction a company has with its suppliers can set off an endless series of tactics and countertactics. It's like a wrestling match. Both sides invest so much time and effort in trying to anticipate the next steps by the other that the focus is turned away from the best interests of their organizations. This comes especially true during the negotiation phase of the procurement process.

Negotiations between buyers and suppliers have traditionally assumed a zero-sum outcome: Each party does not benefit except at the expense of the other. The end result of this tactic/countertactics spiral is a combination of inefficient decision-making, obscured visibility, and contentious working relationships. 

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Reverse Differentiation: Achieving Most Favored Customer Status

“The skills for becoming a champion caliber negotiator are acquired skills. Nobody is born with great negotiating skills. You are born with the skills of crying and breathing, all other skills you acquire throughout your life.” – Soheila Lunney


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Making Small Talk with Sales: Far Beyond Discussing the Weather

“The skills for becoming a champion caliber negotiator are acquired skills. Nobody is born with great negotiating skills. You are born with the skills of crying and breathing, all other skills you acquire throughout your life.” – Soheila Lunney


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For a Taste of Your Whiskey, I’ll Give You Some Advice

Good old Kenny Rogers, he gave us some great advice through the lyrics of the ‘The Gambler’: advice that stands true beyond the gaming table. Sometimes the best advice comes from the least expected place, and I have some advice for procurement professionals – from sales(*).

Every week, I take a break from supply management topics to learn about sales through webinars, white papers and blogs. Officially, I do it for ‘The Flip Side’, a Buyers Meeting Point resource that helps procurement professionals better understand their sales counterparts. Unofficially, I do it because creativity and objectivity can be elusive, and listening to sales’ perspective helps.

This perspective has changed the way I see the role of the individual procurement professional, the role of the department, and how we should leverage non-traditional approaches in search of better than usual results.

We are all in sales.

I used to see sales people as professionals compensated for closing deals. But contracts are a side effect of an effective sales process. The core of the sales process is quickly and accurately diagnosing opportunities for improvement and then winning over prospects to the recommended solution.

Procurement does this all the time – or at least we should. We ‘sell’ finance on a new opportunity to drive efficiency. We ‘sell’ the executive team on the strategic advantage we represent as an in-house dedicated function. We ‘sell’ internal stakeholders on the merits of a new supplier or a standardized specification that will save money.

The key is to be a quick study, sometimes adapting mid-meeting, in response to organizational requirements. We must prove we understand the challenges at hand, sometimes to colleagues that don’t have a clear perspective themselves. Once you accurately articulate a problem, brainstorming can begin on solutions to be ‘sold’ to internal customers.

Sales people believe buyers have the advantage.

I benefit the most from the Q&A that takes place during sales webinars. What do sales people really think of procurement? What kind of advice do they get from their mentors?

I’ll over-generalize to make a point: sales people see procurement professionals as a steely cold bunch. (One webinar participant commented that procurement conference rooms and offices are the coldest places on earth…) Our poker faces have apparently done the trick, because many sales people would like to check our backs for control panels to make sure we are human.

Sales believes procurement holds all the cards in the negotiation process. I have heard our advantages repeated multiple times from different sources: “Procurement already has access to so much information that we struggle to appear well-informed about our own market.” “We can’t enter the sales/buying process until they decide it is time for us to start participating.” “Procurement is so active in their use of social networking during the purchasing process that we are outpaced by our customers.”

Sales can compete on value creation.

We know that negotiating cost savings is no longer enough. We need to create value for the organization. We hear it from executives, associations, publications, and thought-leaders. Knowing how to get started is a challenge because every situation and opportunity is different.

Successful sales organizations evolved in response to the need for value creation a long time ago. With strategic sourcing came apples to apples comparisons on price alone. Suppliers couldn’t refuse to provide pricing, so they tried to influence the decision-making process by proving themselves of such value that they broke the mold.

The time has come to recognize supplier innovation. The increased focus on value by our corporate leadership, and the ability of sales to speak their language, will either open a door for procurement or clear a path right past us. If a sales person sees an opportunity to bypass procurement and reach the right execs, they will take it. Capturing value does not mean surrendering in the battle over price, just balancing costs and benefits. In that scenario, I want to be the one holding the scale.

Looking back and ahead.

The big-picture realization from my year of visits to The Flip Side is that the procurement/sales relationship is not about us v. them but about all of us. They feel the same stresses we do, and often see us in the driver’s seat when we think they are driving. They aren’t terrible people (mostly) any more than we are bloodless cost reduction zombies.

We can’t fully collaborate with sales in every category, but when the conditions are right, partnering with a supplier is the only way to a better solution. It goes against most of what we know about creating competition and harnessing the forces of the market, but recognizing opportunities for collaboration can be the difference between tactical and strategic category management. After all, ‘Every hand’s a winner, and every hand’s a loser … the secret to surviving is knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep.’

(*) Note: This post originally appeared as a guest post by Kelly Barner on Procurement Inisghts.

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‘Just One More Thing’ from Our Suppliers

If you watched Peter Faulk play the character Lieutenant Columbo in the thirty years ‘Columbo’ was on television, you undoubtedly saw him break a case by turning back at the last moment and asking, “Just one more thing…”, a question which always ended up breaking the case.

Maybe procurement need to stop and ask another question or two as well. In a recent blog post, ‘What Questions Should Your Clients be Asking’, sales blogger S. Anthony Iannarino talked about the challenges sales people face when they are not able to communicate the value of their solution because the buyers they work with are not asking the right questions. His advice provides some techniques for redirecting the conversation or asking the missing questions so that the necessary information gets across.

While we want to have a complete picture of each solution so that we can accurately compare our options, we’ve all made the mistake of asking questions that are so open ended that sales people talk ad nauseam about something we can't compare across the suppliers in contention. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t pieces of information we are missing out on.

Buyers Meeting Point’s long time advisor The Sales Guy has always advocated asking sales people something about their compensation package or their company's business development priorities so those factors can be brought into a thorough evaluation. What else should we ask?

Here are a few questions that The Sales Guy suggests working into your face-to face supplier meetings. Some are relevant for incumbents and some for new companies you are evaluating, but all of them will allow you to put together a better category management strategy and contract.

  1. “If you are selling to my competitors what products and services are they buying more of and what is the value provided?”  “What are they buying less of?”
  2. “We are spending $XXXK dollars with your company on an annual basis.  If I was to spend that same amount differently what changes would you recommend and why?” 
  3. “What can our companies collaborate on that would help your company bring new products to market and provide competitive advantages for my company?”
  4. “What business model changes is your company introducing and how might they be advantageous to my company?”


If you have a question for The Sales Guy, click here to submit it and we will get you an answer!

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So, You Want to Win a Reverse Auction?

“Reverse auctions are loved by corporate purchasing managers, loathed by suppliers, and rarely discussed publicly by anyone involved.”

– Max Chafkin, Inc. Magazine

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Where Do You Stand on the Use of Rabbits in Strategic Sourcing?

Sometimes the most interesting part of a blog post is the comment thread that follows it. Such was the case with a recent blog post on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network.

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Are you a King or a Joker?

This week’s trip to The Flip Side is based on a post written by Reed Holden on his blog Pricing With Confidence: ‘Procurement: Kings or Jokers’. Holden has written a number of books on pricing and negotiation. His primary focus is helping Fortune 1000 B2B companies in a number of industries maximize their growth through setting optimal go-to-market strategies.

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Flip Side Webinar Notes: Leveraging Patterns in Negotiation

This week’s Flip Side coverage comes from last week’s webinar on negotiation hosted by Think! Inc. The primary speaker was Brian Dietmeyer, CEO and President of Think! Inc and author of several books on negotiation including Strategic Negotiation. Although this event was predominantly geared to a sales audience, negotiation is negotiation. If you aren’t sold on the connection to procurement performance, read on to learn more about the ‘moment of truth’: when a sales person is facing their procurement counterpart across the negotiating table. 

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Is Your Buying Process Better Suited to PEDANTIC or SOCRATIC Selling?

On July 10th, Value Selling Associates hosted their monthly sales training webinar on Deliberately asking good questions. If you are interested, you can listen to the event on demand (without registration) on their site. VSA President and CEO Julie Thomas opened the event by describing the Socratic method, a problem solving approach that involves asking a series of questions to arrive at an answer.

The connection between the Socrates’ philosophy and the modern sales process is the idea that it is possible to be regarded as wise without having all the answers. In other words, you can ask a lot of questions and still be perceived as knowledgeable.

There are obvious benefits to the approach known as ‘Socratic Selling’. The more questions they ask, the more talking we do, the more information they collect – allowing the supplier to craft a proposal that more closely meets the goals and objectives of the buying organization. On the other hand, not all products and services lend themselves to this method. Transactional, price-driven category decisions don’t require a supplier to impress us with their deep thoughts – just to have the information we need to compare options and make an informed choice.

Tim J. Smith, Ph.D., and Chief Editor of the Wigleaf Journal (dedicated to Sales, Marketing, and Entrepreneurship), wrote a piece on this topic called ‘Pedantic or Socratic?’ where he compares two approaches to demonstrating wisdom in sales: one where the sales person effectively ‘tells’ the buyer what they need, and one where the sales person leads the buyer to a desired conclusion with a carefully crafted set of questions. Both can be effective in the right circumstances. 

Pedantic Selling

Pedantic selling approaches are easy to recognize: presentations full of details about features and functionality that clearly communicate availability, pricing and benefits.

This approach works perfectly well with traditionally purchased indirect categories like office supplies or janitorial services. There are no deep dynamics to uncover, just an office full of professionals that want to have pens on hand and clean workspaces.

Socratic Selling

Socratic selling, also called consultative selling, are focused on uncovering information about the buyers motivations and needs, both to inform the sales team and to help the buyer better understand their own position.

When a category is associated with a change in strategy or will enable operational change, deeper probing is in order for both sales and procurement.

Knowing the Difference

Many sales organizations are trying to move to more Socratic or consultative models, because they believe that such an approach will result in increased trust, longer contracts and larger deals. Regardless of the prospective size of your purchase, you are likely to encounter some open-ended questions early in the sales/buying process as the supplier rep works to ‘qualify’ the deal: to figure out if and when it may happen, and how large the opportunity is.

As you get further through the process, however, a Socratic sales approach can actually be a red flag. Is the sales person trying to build a foundation on which they can either up sell you or secure a longer contract? If the questions being asked seem to repeatedly lead you from the product or service you are focused on to a complimentary offering, beware of how it affects your buying intentions. Determine up front whether your category is likely to be relationship-based and don’t let anything short of a full internal team meeting change your course.

But if your purchase is strategic in nature, and if it will require the long-term cooperation of the solution partner you select, learn to appreciate and benefit from a Socratic sales person. Take the opportunity to learn as much as you can about what your organization really needs and what will ultimately motivate an award decision and a solution choice. Just remember that you don’t have to answer all of the questions out loud to benefit from them being asked…

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Flip Side Webinar on ‘The 10 Minute Guide to Income Statements’

Last week’s webinar on reading income statements, hosted by The Executive Conversation, provided a great overview of one of the most common financial statements. You can watch an on-demand version of the audio and video without registering by clicking here.


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Flip Side Notes: Satisfying Other People’s Needs

Of the many causes of communication breakdown between procurement and suppliers, one of the most contentious is the statement of requirements. Before an RFP or RFQ is issued, procurement spends considerable time with internal stakeholders understanding category requirements as they stand and then probing deeper to determine what are really requirements and what the stakeholder just wants.

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Flip Side Webinar Notes: Social Media and the Sales Organization

Last week I attended a webinar run by the Sales Management Association on the topic of social media and sales operations. This event gives us a second look at the topic we first considered last week with the TAS Group’s ‘Enabling Social Enterprise through Sales’.

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Flip Side Webinar Notes: Social Media Darwinism for Sales?

Last week I attended a webinar run by the TAS Group called ‘Enabling Social Enterprise Through Sales’. The focus of the event was to look at how much time sales professionals are spending on various social media sites and what kinds of activities they are engaged in.  If you are interested in experiencing the content for yourself, you can view the webinar on demand (registration required) or view the slides on slideshare (no registration).

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One Sales Person’s Perspective on the ‘New Buying Process’

One of my favorite sales blogs is, ‘The Sales Blog’ written by S. Anthony Iannarino. He is a sales executive and coach that believes in the value sales people can add during the buying process.  Since we are mentioning him this week on the Flip Side, I’d also like to extend our congratulations to him on recently hitting a milestone 1,000 posts.

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What is The Flip Side?

As a buyer, have you ever noticed how much effort sales teams put into the training, strategy, and education of their people? If you type "sales training" into Google, you get well over FOUR MILLION hits. In order to put that figure into perspective, typing "procurement training" into the same search engine pulls only 235,000 results.

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What is your Buying ‘Temperament’?

This week’s Flip Side post takes us to a sales article on ‘Selling to the Four Temperament Styles’ by John Boe.

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The Most Underutilized Strategic Advantage

This week on The Flip Side, we look at a blog post from on The Most Underutilized Strategic Advantage. With such a promising title, the answer to the question must be something big – huge even to be THE MOST underutilized strategic advantage.

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What do Suppliers Think of ‘Customers of Choice’?

As the economy starts to rebound and leverage positions change, becoming a ‘customer of choice’ is being discussed in many procurement conference rooms. You would think that us sitting around discussing how to be the most fabulous customers possible would be music to a sales person’s ears!

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Flip Side Webinar Notes: Closing the Gap – Your Sales Process and Their Buying Process

Last week, I attended a ValueSelling Associates webinar called ‘Closing the Gap: Your Sales Process and their Buying Process.” In this event, VSA looked at the differences in timing and expectations between the supplier and buyer sides of the procurement process. Two types of value come from this kind of event.

  • We get a window into Sales’ perception of procurement professionals and our process, and
  • We learn how to improve our performance by hearing which parts of our process may be preventing us from accessing potential value or innovation.
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