The Negotiation Jigsaw

There’s so much to think about when pulling a negotiation together, it’s like a 5000 piece jigsaw puzzle. There’s stakeholders, and culture and power balance to address; there’s team members to rehearse and prepare; there’s supplier conditioning to get right; there’s all the physical room and route to meeting influencing to work on; there’s even all that detail about what we’re negotiating for and how we might work towards a solution. Just like a jigsaw, but there’s no lid to help us visualise what the finished picture should be.

But we can find a lid. Out there is a small number of best practice negotiation approaches, which can guide and help you through the various thought processes which build high quality preparation into the negotiation activity. Sales teams get drilled in these areas on a regular basis, thinking about the way to approach a negotiation; purchasing teams, the people charged with getting the most appropriate value out of a supply chain and into use, get next to nothing.

It’s an old saw, but the spend on sales training in this area is a high multiple of the spend on purchasing training, and we’ve got to be disadvantaged by that. Worse, the sales team gets a different level of recognition from the business and accepts far less interference in the process. Imagine what would happen if a manager went into one of the sales team’s negotiations and said, “Don’t listen to them; we can’t really do all that in the timescale you want.” There would be a riot. But the same manager is free to stir the pot around a purchasing negotiation, represent different views and provide contrary indications. This inequality of viewpoint is insidious, and happens more often than not.

We need to ensure that we’re fully prepared for the activity of negotiation, and have available a strong toolkit. Remember, at that moment we are the very point on the spirit of the company’s commercial effort, and we need to be thinking like that. There’s no use in having a blunt point; the weapon will bounce off. So there’s a number of things we really need to be thinking about:

Have I got a great process I can use?
Find out what the company approach is meant to be and get familiar with it. It’s not just about you, there’s a bunch of people need to be on-board and a standardised process helps with that.

Have I had training in that process?
Although a few people naturally understand processes, training really helps to get behind the wrinkles and meaning of the process. You need to be right on top of your game, so don’t mess around; agitate for training.

Is my business thinking that negotiation is a corporate advantage?
If not, what can you do to communicate the commercial advantage from a joined up approach to negotiation. Find some witty stories / embarrassing examples which demonstrate what goes wrong and how it can be made better. Become a thorn in the side of those who resist taking advantage of a key differentiator.

Am I allowing enough time to prepare?
Always a challenge, but making space to prepare will deliver better results. We all know it, and if something else suffers to do a big negotiation well, then so be it.

Do I (and the business) actively learn from a negotiation so we can all be better next time?
If not, build a culture of review with colleagues. Start that behaviour, and show how an organization can seek to improve and learn on a regular basis.

There’s lots to go at here. Get a lid for the jigsaw and practice—it really will transform results.

Written by Mark Hubbard for Positive Purchasing Ltd
© Positive Purchasing Ltd 2014, all right reserved