Sales folks don’t like it when procurement folks whinge on price. And, let’s be honest, we have a tendency to whinge on price. When we do, sometimes they just ignore us.
Look at it from the supplier’s perspective… if you are obliged to renew a contract and the supplier sees no opportunity to sell you anything additional, why should they expend any effort on you as a customer, especially if they can slap on a 20% price increase and get away with it.
As the procurement person you are left leaving messages whilst watching the contract renewal deadline approach.
Or perhaps the supplier is talking directly with your business stakeholders and does not see any reason to talk to procurement, or does not like the direction you want to take the negotiations. So your emails get ignored and your calls go straight to voicemail.
High Risk Stonewalling Situations
Being on the receiving end of stonewalling is not fun. When licensing enterprise software, you are particularly at risk when:
- you have no choice, and the supplier knows it;
- the software is business critical and there are expiring licence keys;
- your relationship with the supplier is poor; or
- the supplier does not like the direction you wish to take the negotiations
The Six Stonewalling Mistakes
Avoid these 6 common mistakes to limit the likelihood of being stonewalled by the supplier.
1. Failing To Set Effective Project Deadlines
If you do not hand out precise actions and deadlines at the end of every interaction with the supplier, then most sales people will assume that they have a right to rest on their laurels until you chase them. Of course, when you chase them they can claim to be busy and stonewall you.
So continuously set clear deadlines for the project as a whole and then also for each particular task or deliverable requested. Make this part of your checklist for meetings with the supplier that you
a) check on progress;
b) reevaluate timelines; and
c) confirm expectations.
If possible, give yourself some buffer when setting these deadlines. If you need information for an internal meeting on Friday, tell the supplier that you need it on Tuesday. That gives you two days to chase.
2. Using The Wrong Communication Methods
You can leave six dozen voicemails for someone, but if you need to escalate those voicemails won’t be much use to you.
Emails are “for the record”. They should be formal, forceful and frequent. Describe clearly what the next steps are and the timelines. When things go wrong and you need to escalate to get temporary licence keys over the Christmas holidays, you will be glad that you documented the supplier’s lack of cooperation in an email.
Phone calls are for chasing – at least in this context. If you don’t get an answer leave a voicemail, and then write an email saying that you have left a voicemail.
Text messages get through. Ignoring a text message to a mobile phone is much less socially acceptable than ignoring an email, so use this communication method to reinforce the others.
Social media Whilst Facebook is definitely off limits for business communication, LinkedIn is fair game. Not only can you pester the sales person on LinkedIn, you can also get round the stonewall by reaching out to their senior management to request cooperation.
3. Banging your head against “take it or leave it” proposals
In essence, what the supplier is telling you when they stonewall you is: “there is an offer on the table, take it or leave it”. Avoid this, and keep the conversation going by continuously asking for something slightly different. The more aggressive and resolute the supplier is being, the more you should couch your requests in language that makes you appear reasonable and seeking a resolution (this is not to say you give in or give up).
4. Not Escalating Early Enough
If you wait until 23 December to start complaining to the supplier’s senior management about lack of cooperation in a software renewal, the escalation is not going to be effective. You may simply get a stonewall “take or leave it” response from them also. Try to start escalating at an appropriate time, citing the sales person’s tardiness as the reason that the deal will not get done
5. Rapport Building
People do business with people. Building rapport and getting to know your negotiating adversary is important in order to understand what their motivations are, but also because the goodwill built up during the negotiations can be called upon at crucial moments in the negotiations. When it comes to being subjected to the tactic of stonewalling, the more rapport you have built up with your contacts at the supplier, the more difficult it will be for them to ignore your communications.
6. Losing Control Of The Negotiations
Remaining in control of a negotiation is difficult as a procurement professional. Skilled sales people will always be trying to diversify their contacts within your organisation, especially with your business stakeholders who sign the cheques. Maintaining control requires the confidence of your business stakeholders. Regular status updates during formal meetings with documented progress reports is the best way to ensure this. If the supplier starts to negotiate directly with your BU stakeholders, then you, personally, will be stonewalled and the negotiations will go on without you.
Another example of losing control relates to the supplier receiving too much information. Licence inventories, demand forecasts by business unit and budgets for the cost of the software should never be provided to the software vendor. Once they know how much software your business units need and what is in the budgets to pay for it, you have no chance of negotiating an improved deal. Keep all exchanges of information within the context of the negotiations and give nothing away unilaterally.
The advice above will not protect you completely from the stonewalling negotiation tactic. However, having a documented email trail showing that the supplier did not cooperate will make it easier to escalate within the supplier’s organisation to have licence keys and renewal deadlines extended, and bring the supplier back to the negotiating table.
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