David Sables explains the big mistakes suppliers make when negotiating with supermarkets - and how to avoid them

Negotiation has been around since the dawn of trading and yet it’s the main topic of the news today and everyone has different views on the best way to do it. I’ve followed the trends, monitored the results across a spectrum of situations and adopted styles, and written one of the leading frameworks for training negotiation.

Listening to the ill-educated and unqualified rant about how Brexit negotiation should be done is frustrating, yet everyone on the box expressing a view is surely intelligent. There are two facets to negotiation: the analytical science and the behavioural art. Analysis suits the adult brain and most people can calculate the right trades, degrees of exchange, or even the best timing. The behavioural side, however, involves a complex set of signals, planting beliefs and testing positions that most analytical types mess up spectacularly.

One explanation traces to some misconceptions such as the following: ‘If you create a mood of honesty people will start giving you something, so start off by being generous and open.’ This is a gift to professional buyers who will wince a bit and say it’s not enough. ‘Let’s just get it done and agreed’ costs suppliers thousands as they load everything into their first offer.

I have tracked whose advice retailers were taking when they’ve built close partnerships and also when they’ve destroyed years of hard-earned trust and respect. The latter reinforce another misconception - that negotiation means unpleasant negative pressurising behaviours. This helps explain suppliers loading everything into the deal so that they can enjoy the feeling of selling a great offer and avoid the need to negotiate at all. The buyer of course holds on and negotiates anyway.

If you take a gaggle of salespeople, give them a balanced buyer/seller roleplay brief, those told they are buyers are 65% more likely to drive hard once beyond their win position. Meanwhile, negotiation is considered a dirty word, with many suppliers preferring ‘agreement’. Once you understand the game and start enjoying negotiation it doesn’t need to feel uncomfortable, nor is it aggressive. So sell with a negotiation plan in mind and don’t hope for instant outcomes.

David Sables is CEO of Sentinel Management Consultants