Category Archives: Negotiations

Are Your Suppliers Ripping You Off?

A recent post over on the public defender‘s blog asked if suppliers [are] still ripping us off. And it’s a good question, because it’s a common, constant, fear that is never talked about. Not only is it often the biggest elephant in the room, but it’s the biggest herd of elephants as there’s typically one in every room of every buying organization.

But rather than asking an array of speakers what their thoughts are, we’re going to get right to the point and give you the answer, which, surprisingly, can be summed up in six words.

That depends, are you letting them?

While your job in Procurement is to get the best damn deal you can, keeping costs as low as possible while keeping the benefits high to maximize value, the sales person’s job who is selling to you has, as their job, to get the most amount of money for the least amount of product and service, maximizing their profit and, more importantly, their bonus (which is typically 100% tied to the order value).

If you don’t do your homework and establish the true market price or true should cost price, then its likely that they can convince you that a 3% decrease on their current price (which is 30% over should-cost) is a savings and you walk away thinking you won when you are still being ripped off big time. We have to remember why so many suppliers were, and in some case, still are, resistant to e-Auctions — because these expose fat in supplier margins faster than any other sourcing exercise when you invite new, hungry, suppliers who will lower their margins just to win business.

In certain verticals, such as electronics and office supplies in particular, most suppliers make their profit by charging you as much as possible, which they do by offering you great prices on a small set of products and markups on a large set of related products that your users are just as likely, or more likely to order. For example, an office supplies vendor will give you the best deal on the 5 park of laser cartridges but the 10 pack will be 3 times the cost of the 5-pack, and the office manager, wanting to minimize orders, will order the 10-pack not knowing the 5-pack is the preferred product. And in electronics, they’ll give you a great deal on system configurations that sound good, but are sub-optimal, and then make money on upgrades a year later. For example, a desktop with the brand new processor, lots of space, and a HD screen, but only 4 MB of RAM when they know the default usage means that the machine should really have 8 MB of RAM. But there are only 2 slots, so both chips will have to be replaced at full retail rates down the road (as no special pricing was negotiated on upgrades, only full system replacements).

But it’s not just your indirect and MRO suppliers that will pull a fast one, any sleazy salesperson who sees an opening with a buyer who didn’t do their homework will pull a fast one. So if you don’t do your homework, and negotiate fact based, your organization is probably getting ripped off. Even if the costs are close to what they should be, chances are lack of hard fact-based negotiation means you missed out on value adds.

In summary, This Song’s Just Six Words Long, and whether or not you get ripped off is entirely up to you.

Anchoring Doesn’t Have to be a Problem …

… or even a concern, if you approach negotiations in a fact-based manner, instead of a seat-of-your-pants manner, like most negotiations are approached.

What are we talking about? We’re talking about the tendency for us to fix our thoughts around a particular number, point, or fact rather than thinking logically and independently about a decision. In particular, the fixation that occurs when people consider a particular value for an unknown quantity before estimating the quantity. From that point on, the estimates then stay close to the number considered, even if the estimate is way, way off. The absolutely proven phenomenon discussed in detail in the public defender‘s recent pro piece over on Spend Matters + on how to hone your procurement negotiation skills by learning the right way to think (fist part free, full article requires membership).

Anchoring happens if you begin your negotiation or event with a price that is based on current price, a recent supplier quote, a market index, or some other number that may or may not have any basis in reality. Anchoring is avoided if you start with a price that is based on a should cost model, for a product, or an amalgamated index by a large analyst firm or statistics bureau for services category.

The should cost model should be based on a detailed cost breakdown that takes into account raw material costs (at market indexed rates), average labour costs for a region, average overhead costs, and any advances in production technology. A current cost, a current market cost, or even a project cost from a trusted supplier is not a should cost – and negotiations should ALWAYS be based on should cost. It might seem a waste of time for a product you’ve sourced ten times over the past ten years, or a service that you’ve paid the same rate for from three different manpower suppliers over the past three years, but that’s a very small sample of the market price at large, or the should cost price.

So do a detailed should cost model (or, for a service, detailed market research and break it down against average salaries available through a number of portals, augmented with standard contractor / manpower / outsourcer mark-up) and start your negotiations around that reasonable, logical, point — even if it’s half of what the supplier is quoting. Remember, you can scream that they take their unreasonable cost off the table or you walk because you can say “look, I have a should cost model right here that backs up the reasonableness of my number — so we’re starting within 20% of this and adjusting as necessary, or we’re not starting at all”.

Buy, Buy, Buy, Once Bitten Twice Shy

Many procurement functions and executives see price negotiation and reduction as the primary element of their role. In doing so, they run the risk of missing out on the major benefits that can be obtained by focusing on other aspects of the wider value picture.
Full Value Buying: Moving Beyond Price Negotiation, Peter Smith & Jon Milton, 2015

Why? Is it because they think price trumps all? Is it because they don’t think there’s value in non-price factors and services? Is it because they once focussed too much on the bigger picture, didn’t do their homework, greatly overpaid, did not realize any savings, got hung out to dry, and are now once bitten, twice shy? And does it really matter?

As SI has been proclaiming for years, it’s not TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), it’s TVM (Total Value Management). It’s not how much you pay, it’s the return you receive. As Finance will tell you, it’s all about the ROI. Paying a bit more for a value-added service from the supplier that saves you money is a good return. Paying a bit more in a dual-source strategy to large suppliers with high-volume production lines to prevent otherwise likely stock-outs is often the best insurance policy you can buy. And paying a bit more to use a supplier you are certain does not use child labour, does not subject its workers to poor working conditions, and does not use conflict minerals, banned raw materials, or illegally obtained goods and services costs a lot less than the PR nightmare and lost sales that could result from a brand scandal.

But these are just some ways to increase the value of a purchase. In Mr. Milton and Mr. Smith’s latest paper on Full Value Buying they describe techniques, such as specification improvement and demand management that can generate returns above the 10%+ that an organization can typically save through skillful spend analysis or decision optimization (which are the only two traditional sourcing techniques that generate consistent year-over-year savings in the double digit percentages).

In the paper they address four major mechanisms that can affect the cost of a buy and the upper bound on cost savings that each factor can traditionally bring:


Mechanism Saving Potential
Purchase Price (TCO model) 20%
Specifications 30%
Whole-Life Factors 50%
Demand 50%


These numbers may seem high, but consider the following. Changing the specifications slightly to allow a lower cost material to be used which can also be used in a more efficient (and cost effective) production process can easily shave 50% to 90% off of 40% (or more) of the cost if a (rare earth) metal that costs $50 an ounce is replaced with a metal that costs $10 an ounce. Changing the design that allows the product to be easily disassembled and valuable metals recovered (upon forced recovery subject to environmental disposal laws) can turn a losing collection business into profitable recovery one. Buying Accounts Payable and Marketing extra monitors so they don’t have to print PDF invoices to enter them or documents they need to reference when composing project specifications can cut organization paper demand by over 50%. And these are just a few examples.

the doctor strongly encourages you to check out Mr. Smith’s (co-authored) latest piece for more details on how these mechanisms can be applied across a range of categories to not only bring costs down, but even value up to the organization. After all, he went to Washington. (Figuratively and literally.)

What The A-Team Can Teach Us About Supplier Negotiations, Part II

Today’s guest post is from Mason Lee, Manager of the Strategy and Operations Practice at Archstone Consulting, and Matt Kucharski, a Senior Consultant in the Strategy and Operations Practice at Archstone Consulting, a division of The Hackett Group.

In Part I, we discussed how the Hackett Group’s point-of-view on Strategic Sourcing Negotiations is that it is a team effort, and that you should be sending in your A-Team. We also overviewed the role of “Face”, the Frontman. Today we will discuss the rest of the roles.

“B.A”. Baracus – The Muscle
When all else fails, sometimes you need to bring the pain and, to do that, you are going to need some Muscle. “B.A”. pities the fool who takes NO for an answer. At the negotiations table, people often have a tendency to stop when they first hear that word. If you want to maximize the result of your negotiation, be sure to bring your “B.A”.; his role on the mission is to handle challenging topics like price. Just make sure that you have enough ammo (fact-based analysis) to give him the confidence to negotiate aggressively.

While supporting our client through their negotiations with a major Hotel chain, both parties were far apart on price. The hotel representative continually stated that the room rates offered were the best they could do and insisted that they did not have visibility into our client’s historic spend and stay volume. Armed with analysis, our “B.A”. presented the client’s historic data and proved more aggressive pricing was warranted if the chain desired to keep the business. As a result of providing proper ammo and “B.A’s” inability to take no for an answer, an incremental 15% savings was achieved.

“Howling Mad” Murdock – The Unconventionalist
In many circumstances, it is impossible for a sourcing professional to know as much about the category in question as the subject matter expert they are supporting. In these circumstances, do not be afraid to bring in “Howling Mad” Murdock, your subject matter expert, to help you develop a creative approach and gain credibility as a result of their knowledge. Since some subject matter experts may not be experienced in negotiations, it is valuable to conduct a preparation session with the individual in order to gain alignment on the objective; if you just turn them loose, you never know what may happen.

During the course of lengthy negotiations between our client and HVAC providers, progress was at a standstill. Our client was facing an increase in equipment pricing from all engaged providers. Out of conventional options, our “Howling Mad” Murdock saw an opportunity to expand the scope of the negotiations and bring HVAC services into the mix. By combining equipment and services, our client was able to contract with a single supplier for all their needs and realize 20% in savings.

Hannibal – The Tactician
During the course of negotiations it is important to observe and proactively modify your plan based upon the actions of the supplier. “Hannibal” knows how to do this best. After establishing your preliminary strategy, it is crucial to be able to modify your ground-game based upon what you observe. Is a supplier representative highly analytical? Time to bring out the reports and quantitatively demonstrate where you stand. Is the supplier agreeing to everything? Maybe you have not asked for enough and need to recalibrate.

During negotiations with a German-based metals supplier we hosted, company representatives clearly believed they had won the business, were stonewalling, and were engaging in side conversations at the table. Our “Hannibal” knew it was time to act, calling for a break. During the pause in action, the team revised tactics and sent in the Sr. VP (who had been previously quiet) with a stern message and strong proposal. Our “Hannibal” also decided that only the Sr. VP should speak while the rest of the team remained silent and stoic to reinforce the seriousness of the proposal and shutdown cross-talk. The result of “Hannibal’s” plan was an additional savings of $500K.

The next time you reach the point of Supplier Negotiations it is of the highest importance that all planning, strategizing and due diligence have been completed before attempting to channel the characteristics of the A-Team. A great negotiations team should have the ability to leverage the expertise of “Hannibal”, “Face”, “Howling Mad”, or “B.A”. in order to capitalize on the unique elements that arise. At the end of the day, you’ll “love it when a plan comes together”.

Thanks Mason and Matt for this great two-part post!

What The A-Team Can Teach Us About Supplier Negotiations, Part I

Today’s guest post is from Mason Lee, Manager of the Strategy and Operations Practice at Archstone Consulting, and Matt Kucharski, a Senior Consultant in the Strategy and Operations Practice at Archstone Consulting, a division of The Hackett Group.

From 1983 to 1987, The A-Team delivered five seasons of action-packed episodes to its cult following. The ex-U.S. Army Special Forces unit, turned mercenaries, were constantly on the run for a “crime they didn’t commit”. The four “soldiers of fortune” who made up the team were Colonel John “Hannibal” Smith, Lieutenant Templeton “Face” Peck, Captain H.M. “Howling Mad” Murdock, and Sergeant First Class Bosco “B.A”. Baracus. The sitcom has left its mark on popular culture through its iconic van and catchphrases. But the creators of the A-Team were unlikely to be aware that they were also providing us with valuable lessons in Supplier Negotiations.

Supplier Negotiations are a critical step within the Strategic Sourcing process. After profiling a category, developing sourcing strategies, and engaging the market, it is time to more personally engage your potential future state supplier(s). The Hackett Group’s point-of-view on Strategic Sourcing Negotiations is that it is a team effort. Your A-Team should be comprised of individuals with different skill sets in order to increase its strength and ability to adapt.

“Face” – The Frontman
“Face” had a knack for making friends everywhere. “Face” was the master of the win-win, excelled at breaking the ice, and had an ability to get both parties feeling good. On your negotiations team, “Face” is the persuader and consummate influencer of the group. Use your team’s “Face” to open up the meeting and set the tone or when negotiations get rocky, consider channeling your inner “Face” to diffuse the situation.

In the show, “Face” also had a knack for scrounging up whatever resource the team needed no matter where in the world the team was. You can apply this invaluable ability in business. When negotiating with incumbent suppliers, chances are that there are opportunities for you to become a better customer. Give your incumbent the opportunity to constructively communicate what is not working optimally for them then send your “Face” back into your organization to locate a solution.

We had a negotiation in which our supplier and buyer were equally frustrated with each other (to the point of shouting and nearly ending the relationship) because the supplier was missing orders and the buyer’s orders kept changing. Our “Face” intervened, calming everyone down and eventually helped the supplier revise its planning systems all-the-while also going back into her buying organization and securing commitments to provide better forecasts.

Come back tomorrow for Part II!

Thanks Mason and Matt!