How to Communicate and Negotiate with Vendors in a Pandemic

Guest Author Bio: Darren has been working in the world of UK Supermarkets & Suppliers for over 25 years. He began his career as a buyer at one of the big 4 UK supermarkets, his final role was managing over £1bn,  and then after 13 years he decided to leave to set-up Making Business Matter because he wanted to help suppliers and supermarkets to work better together. This has been his passion for the last 18 years.

The ability to communicate and negotiate with suppliers during a pandemic like COVID-19 means adapting and improving your soft skills. Change management is the buzzword of recent times. This article will help you level up your communication to successfully negotiate, persuade, and manage your suppliers to allow you to maintain the best price for your goods and services during challenging times.

Negotiating with vendors during an economic crisis

Purchasing professionals should keep three things in mind when negotiating with vendors during times of an economic crisis:

  1. A different mindset is required when working from home/span>
  2. Face-to-face negotiations become online meetings
  3. Expect emails and written communication to increase

As Darwin, said, ‘adapt or die’. During unprecedented times, negotiators need to change how they negotiate, or they will lose more than they win. Purchasing professionals need to adapt to win.

Negotiating is an art. Yes, not a science, but an art, because people are involved and that means emotions are involved, which means that you can do better than a computer if you have the skills. People = art. Science = computer.

Your mindset when working from home

For many people, working from home has moved from a welcome, unusual, and a well-earned breather from all-day office meetings, to a struggle to adapt to the ‘new normal’. Cabin fever has become a normal feeling for many people.

What does working from home mean for the Buying Negotiator?

The psychologist’s advice is to avoid conflict. A negotiator lives with conflict and is used to conflict. A great negotiator manages conflict better than others. There are three steps a negotiator can take to avoid losing their negotiating edge whilst working from home:

  1. Be aware of cabin fever and keep your mental health a top priority
  2. Accept current realities. (Remember to access resources for wellness in challenge times on Procurify’s COVID-19 Resource Center).
  3. Prepare better than you ever did before. This 3-step negotiation preparation template to plan your negotiation will help. Use this template to increase your confidence, to plan your tradeable, and to know which tools will help you to be the best negotiator you can be in each negotiation.


Face-to-face negotiations become online meetings

A skilled negotiator knows that the words, the body language and the tone are all important. These three things are important because they help you to read the situation. Obviously you need to build relationships to succeed in business. It’s like a game of poker with your friends – you want to win and also you want to maintain your relationships. Negotiating with long term suppliers and partners is the same, especially in a pandemic where mental health is a concern for everyone. 

In a face-to-face meeting, the small words give us away. In an online meeting, even the smallest delay or background noise means that you didn’t pick up on small details. For example, if the supplier says, ‘I need around $6,000 for the materials that are to be delivered in June’. The ‘around’ word was the giveaway word that meant $5,000 might be ok.

Online meetings remove many of those signals. Almost like a boxer boxing with a blindfold, it’s like taking swings in the dark. Your challenge is to know this and then to use your words, body language, and tone to best effect.

The advantage for the effective negotiator is that everyone is ‘in the same boat’. So even though the rules have changed, it is still about who can learn the rules better. Both opponents are negotiating via a Zoom call, but if you are aware of the limitations and can optimize and exploit the opportunities, you can still be the better negotiator.

Tips for negotiating online

The following three tips for negotiating in an online meeting will help. Every negotiator knows that influence and persuasion are free tools, you just need to know how to use them. Maximizing your ‘online meeting power’ is about ensuring that you come across as the best version of you. The most powerful you. Not the most intimidating:

  • You will have all seen an old black and white film where the person is being interrogated with a shining light in their eyes. Light makes a minor impact. Don’t underestimate the importance of light. Make sure you light yourself correctly. 
  • Frame yourself well. Frame yourself in the centre of the camera, eye-level, and the right distance from the camera.
  • Our eyes see 576,000,000 pixels while televisions see about 4m, and laptop screens about 1m. This means that you will struggle to see the non-verbal cues that you have relied on before such as the ever so quick in-take of breath. You cannot change this, but you can seize the opportunity. Get better at asking what your vendor is thinking and by recognizing their online body cues For example, an intake of breath can become an exaggerated shake of the head or a tapping of the fingers to demonstrate impatience to signify ‘I need to go very soon’. Crossing the legs that show defense can become a pulling of the ears via Zoom to demonstrate that you have heard enough.

Expect more emails! Virtual communication increases

Negotiating on email, on WhatsApp, or any other written communication has challenges and advantages. This 7-minute video will help you to see the top seven mistakes people make in negotiations and how you can overcome them.

One particular example is people’s approach to email. Most people are braver when they are ‘keyboard warriors’. The same can be said for those that negotiate over email at work. There is also the added element of miscommunication that can happen because the tone and the body language are missing. These give us additional clues in the form of non-verbal communication that help us to really understand what is being said. Sometimes the negotiation is to move from emails to a phone call or from a phone call to a meeting. The key take-away is that to get a face-to-face meeting can be the very first negotiation.

The bottom line: how to negotiate with suppliers and vendors in challenging times

Know that the rules have changed with the onset of COVID-19 and negotiate with suppliers and vendors in the most optimal way.

A different mindset is required when you work from home. Know when you have cabin fever and keep your mental wellness a priority. Face-to-face negotiations become online meetings. Know how to influence in an online meeting because it requires different influencing skills than in face-to-face meetings. Lastly, negotiating by email or virtually may become the new normal, so remember to up-level your remote communication skills.