How to Negotiate with Procurement


Procurement is an entity that tends to strike fear into the hearts of most salespeople and many executives. Interestingly enough, that’s who the negotiation system in Never Split the Difference was originally designed to prevail against. 

Here are some fine points on how to cope with procurement and help move them toward outcomes you desire.Negotiate With Procurement

1. Procurement Doesn’t Waste Time So There’s Likely A Deal To Be Made

Procurement doesn’t waste time with someone their company doesn’t really, really want. You’ve got them hostage.

In every negotiation, there is a favorite and a fool. If procurement is talking to you, then you are the favorite. Someone internally has come to them and told them they want you. They’ve already done all the market surveys and considered their options. They want you.

Procurement doesn't waste time with people they don’t want to make deals with. Why would they?

So, who’s really the hostage?  

What happens to the typical procurement negotiator when they fail to land a deal with a company their internal client has told them they want? Every procurement negotiator has someone behind them with their arms folded, tapping their foot and counting the moments until their product is delivered.

What happens with the internal pressure that’s on them to make the deal if they have to start the process all over again? 

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2. Use Tactical Empathy to Express That Their Job Is Difficult

When you’re talking to procurement, here’s what you’re dealing with: The typical procurement negotiator (but not all of them) fits pretty much the same profile as an international kidnapping negotiator. They’re demanding, intimidating, aggressive, threatening, and deadline exploiting.

And, by using Tactical Empathy, we can get an idea of what they’re dealing with. Procurement is a tough, difficult job. They’re expected to land the best deals for everything from drones to paper clips. The scope of expertise that requires just cannot possibly exist in a single person—or even a team.  

Every one of their days is either herding cats (e.g., getting answers from their internal clients as to what they want) or being chased by villagers with pitchforks (e.g., those same clients getting mad at them for not delivering). 

(Hint: This—or at least a version of this—is the beginning of your tactical empathy statement to them.)

I once said exactly that to a procurement negotiator who was in one of our Mastering Tactical Empathy training sessions. 

You know what she said? That’s right.

Usually, in every one of those sessions of 50-60 people, there is one procurement person. And that person is almost always keeping a low profile for two reasons:

  1. They know how most of the rest of the business world feels about them and they are sensitive to that reputation (and worn out by it).
  2. They are really good people trying to do the best they can for their employer (and are under a great deal of pressure from that employer).  

3. Identify The Pressure Their Under

Look at the procurement person you are dealing with as a great potential long-term counterpart who is under a great deal of pressure. There is often a direct correlation between how demanding they are and the amount of pressure they are under. 

Begin your conversation with some Tactical Empathy: It sounds like you’re under a lot of pressure.

This is a great response—especially when they call you at the last minute demanding a discount.

What you want has to become the path to what they want. You ask fair questions (yes, we are using the F word here!). They are legitimate questions asked respectfully, even deferentially. Never forget that there is great power in deference. 

Questions to Ask to Navigate Procurement

  1. You’re going to get your deal.
  2. How am I supposed to do that?
  3. How do I know the deal is alive?
  4. How am I supposed to spend time on this if I don’t know your team is on board?
  5. How am I supposed to put time into this if it destroys my profitability?
  6. How can I deliver if my profitability is destroyed?
  7. How do I know I’m the best fit for your team?
  8. How do I know you guys feel I’m the best fit for your team?

Any of these how questions is best preceded by an application of Tactical Empathy. Any of these questions that elicits a response like Because you have to if you want the deal tells you that you’ve done your job and you’ve pushed them to their limit. Make them give you this indication firmly three times, and mirror it to make sure you’re on the same page.

Next, make the deal or walk away firm in the knowledge that you’ve done your job and advocated to the best of anyone’s ability on behalf of yourself and your employer.

And if it’s a bad deal? Walk away.  

No deal is better than a bad deal. If the other side is determined to cut your throat, there are better, far more pleasant counterparts who will make great long-term partners out there just waiting for you.  

A brutal, punishing counterpart is just keeping you from them.

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About The Author

Christopher Voss is the CEO of The Black Swan Group, a firm that solves business negotiation problems with hostage negotiation strategies. Chris founded the Black Swan Group, in 2008 upon his retirement from the FBI where he was the FBI’s lead international kidnapping negotiator. Chris is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Southern California (USC) Marshall School of Business and Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business where he teaches business negotiation in both M.B.A. programs.