Time is one of the four elements that are always present in any negotiation (the others are the relationship, the substance of the negotiation, and the process that may be deployed by either party). And note that each party may have their own approach which may not necessarily be compatible with the other.
Time is not some ‘white noise’ in the background of negotiation. Competent negotiators not only are aware of the time component in their negotiations; they embrace it and (dare I say it) use it as a weapon, to be wielded in a controlled fashion, and to their advantage. Emphasis on ‘competent’.
For example, If I’m negotiating with you, and I learn that you’re under the most time pressure, expect me to aim to secure additional concessions in exchange for letting you finish your task ‘on-time’.
I find it extraordinary that professional buyers and salespeople all too often take a cavalier approach to managing time before and during negotiations. It’s all too often an oversight.
In working with Sales professionals, a common scenario I see is in finding that the supplier’s attention to the customer rises and falls in synch with the contracting cycle.
For instance, I recall one client suggesting that they considered the last six months of their three-year contract to be the ‘renewal period’, implying that it was only then that they began to consider how (and if) their contract was going to renewed or be put out to competitive tender.
In other words, they were only going to focus on the customer when they had to, and not when they must. It doesn’t represent Account Management excellence.
On the other side of the divide, Procurement pros can find themselves reacting to others’ timetable (this could be from internal colleagues with their own project priorities, overruling Procurement’s priorities) or from a supplier that has negotiating leverage. In effect they become the victim of time pressure that’s outside their control.
Another common mistake is made by Procurement category managers who over-rely on the tendering process to secure the best price. They assume a bit of negotiation thrown-in at the end will demonstrate that they’ve added some additional value to the outcome. They scarcely think about the time pressure on the other party to the negotiation, and instead focus only on the deadline that’s been imposed by their boss.
It’s no wonder that professional buyers and sellers become stressed when the other side moves too fast or too slow for them. They find their preferred timetable (and its milestones) are under the control of someone else.
In my own client engagements, I’ve been left with the distinct impression that, although procurement category managers and salespeople lead busy working lives, they’re not always the greatest planners or strategists.
But think about it. When a contract is important to the business – that is both commercially and operationally important, then failing to plan properly for the negotiation, in good time, is risking the business going to a competitor, or if you’re the buyer ending up gaining poor value for money.
So, what should negotiators do to avoid losing control of the timeline, and having time pressure heaped upon them?
Competent negotiators seek to control the negotiation timeline, and are comfortable with applying time pressure, where appropriate. And that includes managing those internal stakeholder (and other party) expectations.
Firstly, if you’re in Sales, you should recognise that your customer’s Procurement folks have an in-built advantage: they’re usually weeks or months ahead of you in initiating their sourcing projects. You may only find out you’re invited to tender when your customer is around 60% through the sourcing process, leaving you soon to feel it’s too late to give your best.
If you’re in procurement, then think more deeply about the time pressure on yourself and on your suppliers’ negotiators. Don’t rush your deals. Get ahead if you can, and do diligently apply your category management process.
In summary, it’s wiser to take a longer-term perspective. Smart negotiators see it as completely normal to routinely gather intelligence on what’s happening in the relationship, the other party’s circumstance, and the likely time pressure on everyone involved in the negotiation.
This focusing on intelligence gathering and the timeline should mean that negotiators are in a constant state of readiness in anticipation of upcoming negotiations.
Ask yourself…..are you conscious of time pressure and in doing sufficient homework? Maybe it’s time to do a little more.