Lone fighter or teamwork - What is it like in your purchasing department?

A few years ago I was at an automotive supplier to train the topic of negotiations. My goal was to prepare the buyers in the best possible way and therefore there should also be a practical module. In this, I wanted to bring the buyers and salespeople from the company to the same table so that they could work together on preparing and conducting negotiations. But instead of accepting this great opportunity, the purchasing side said: "We don't want to negotiate with our salespeople, they are totally arrogant." Resistance also came from the other side: "We're wasting our time with our buyers, we can't learn anything from them." A real powder keg I was now sitting on.

Shutterstock.com | Andrii Yalanskyi

This was far from the only company where I experienced such statements. Both purchasing and sales did not want to engage with each other, preferring to swim in their own "soup". In this case, however, I had the full support of the management, which insisted on carrying out the practical module. That’s how it happened that the two departments worked on real cases of the buyers, prepared for them and then conducted a negotiation together. The feedback afterwards was very positive: "It really helped us to work on the preparation for a negotiation with the salespeople. It gave us a completely different perspective that we would not have thought of at all." The salespeople also commented positively and were amazed at all the things behind a negotiation preparation by the purchasing department. If that doesn't speak for interdepartmental teamwork within a company.

The supreme discipline of team negotiation

I was even more pleased that one of the participants wrote to me a few weeks later that they now meet regularly with sales before big negotiations to prepare them. This benefits both buyers and sellers and ultimately, of course, the entire company. Team negotiations are the supreme discipline of negotiations and need exceptionally good preparation. In many industries there are interdepartmental teams that enter into negotiations together with the buyers. To ensure that everything runs smoothly, everyone should be aware of their role. After all, there is hardly anything worse than when your own team has no strategy, no goal and no clarity - the other side then has an easy game. Let's take a closer look at the roles of the individuals in a team negotiation.

The negotiator

Every negotiation needs a person to lead it. This does not always have to be the purchasing manager or the employee with the highest position. Anyone who is suitable can be appointed at this point. The task of the negotiation leader is to put together a competent team in advance and, as the name suggests, to lead the negotiation. This person leads the team and is also responsible for ensuring that everyone is pulling in the same direction. He or she answers factual questions, has a broad knowledge of the negotiation issue and has studied the case intensively.

The bridge builder

In addition to the lead person in a negotiation, there are other roles. One of them I like to call the bridge builder. This person is seen as an identification figure for the other side. He or she has understanding for the negotiating partner, is usually very empathetic and ensures that the other side receives security and agreement. In practice, this role is often taken on by the head of technology or production - but this is not a must.

The ruthless one

A third role in team negotiations is that of the ruthless one, who can also sometimes make trouble with the other side. If he were not there, it would probably be possible to reach an agreement with the other side more quickly, but this role is still very important and often tickles out even better conditions. Before the negotiation, the team should think about the points on which it is unlikely that an agreement can be reached immediately - this is where the ruthless person digs deeper. In this role, an authentic appearance is an absolute must. The negotiating partners quickly notice whether someone is really like this or has just been pushed into the role.

The decision-maker

The decision-maker is often a dual role - i.e. the negotiator can also act as the decision-maker if this is advantageous. The decision-maker has the final say. He makes the final judgement and his word is valid for all. The team must take special care that in the end everyone stands united behind what the decision-maker says. If the other side notices that there is disagreement or even that someone disagrees with the decision, this can, under certain circumstances, destroy the previous success of the negotiations.

The moderator

Particularly in team negotiations in which several people are involved, a neutral moderator is needed. The moderator makes sure that the participants do not digress too far from the topic, he or she can order a break if necessary if things get too agitated, and he or she can also show a way out of muddled situations. He also keeps an eye on the time and steps in as soon as the negotiation becomes too emotional and brings it back to a factual level. Caution: Under no circumstances should the facilitator become involved in the negotiation and take sides.

Preparation is the be-all and end-all

A negotiating team in which everyone plays their part must be well-rehearsed. Therefore, a dress rehearsal should be carried out in any case, in which all materials and aids that are to be shown and used in the negotiation are used. Everything should be rehearsed from beginning to end to ensure that everything runs smoothly. The whole team definitely needs a strategy before the negotiation, as well as some flexibility and leeway. There must be enough time to test and discuss tactics beforehand. In the negotiation, cohesion is then required. For example, even if the roles of the bridge builder and the relentless seem to make life difficult for each other, they have a common goal. Disappointment, anger and disagreement have no place in a negotiation - after all, the other side is also well prepared and knows how to interpret such signs and use them to its own advantage. Finally, there is one more important point: first the price is negotiated and this is the territory of the purchasing department - no one else in the team negotiates the price.

How does your purchasing department act - both within the company and in negotiations? Do you have real team players or lonely knights? I look forward to hearing your experiences on this topic. Feel free to write more on LinkedIn or make a personal appointment.

You can also listen to more on this and other topics for future-proof strategies in purchasing in my podcast.