Read More to Learn and How to Defend Against it in Negotiations
No, Miley, we don’t need your help with our wall! It’s not that type of a wall. It’s the invisible stonewalling of a business partner or supplier we’re talking about here. So do us a favor and put some clothes on!
So sit down, grab some popcorn, because it’s story time!
Stonewalling and Negotiations
Ever thought to yourself “wow, this is moving absolutely no where!” when working with a supplier? You’ve had ten conference calls, six in-person meetings, you’ve sent 35 emails and you’ve done everything aside show up to a supplier’s worksite to get information or move a project along. Absolutely nothing works?
Or even worse, what if you never get a response to any of your emails, voicemails, or the carrier pigeon message you’ve sent? It all can be not only mildly infuriating, but also obnoxiously annoying.
You can call it being stonewalled, ghosted, delayed, or just plain ignored. It happens all the time, and there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it when negotiating, or is there?
The Consulting Stonewall
The first category I ever managed was Management Consulting. It was a bit of a beautiful nightmare. Between the ego’s of Parters at the consulting firms, to company-wide business partners, trying to manage it all could keep you up at night.
Add to this, the fact that I inherited a preferred supplier list and an internal process that required CFO and CPO approvals. But only if you decided to go outside the top ten suppliers. So as a consulting firm, you did not only want to be on the list; you needed to be on the list.
At least if you wanted to win a portion of the $60-70M annual spend, without constant Executive oversight and approvals.
If you didn’t, not only did you have to go through this process but, you also had to get through the internal PO approval process on top of it all. This, in itself, gave the category manager the authority to stop all requests over 250k. Or at least stall them out for a considerable amount of time.
You would think this would motivate most suppliers to work with us when it came time for rate negotiations. Unfortunately, a Partner at one of the top 10 firms didn’t agree. He believed we needed them badly enough, so he demanded a rate increase.
Unfortunately, they forgot we had nine other consulting firms on that list to go to.
This was one of my first major negotiations, and I wanted it to go well. And because their contract wasn’t udpated, it also allowed me to quickly take them off of the top ten list (I had the power!!). Which created enough internal agnst from the extra processes, that the internal business partners complained. A LOT. So wouldn’t you know it, he came around maybe 6-7 months later and decided to keep the rates flat to be added back onto the list. It may have take some time, but eventually they came around to see they could ignore me and what he thought were my processes, but the internal business partners couldn’t.
Business Terms and Negotiations
During my time at another Pharma. company, we had to not only negotiate, but also write some of our own business terms. So this created a whole different set of problems.
But the business partner’s plot to ignore sourcing’s request was all the same. We had an RFP requirement for suppliers to use specific vendors of ours, and they agreed. It wasn’t until after they won the business, and we asked for data (to set them up with our vendors) that they outright refused to do for months.
The supplier refused to give us the data that we owned!
And how did they get away with this? Well, they decided to keep asking different clarifying questions around the same topic, over and over, despite the answers already sent to them in detail and discussed at multiple meetings.
With my blood at a gentle boil, I decided to escalate it internally with the business partners. They later informed the suppliers if they couldn’t provide us with the data, we were going to award the business to someone else. It was amazing how we got the data the next bloody day! (Insert eye roll here)
This hasn’t been the last time I’ve encountered these supplier tactics, but I have learned how to manage them.
How to Break Through Stonewalling during Negotiations
I’m not sure how you think about this but in my opinion, this supplier tactic is used so often just because of how easy it is to do. You do nothing. Or you just irritate the other party enough, they figure it’s not worth the effort.
So by far, I consider it the most basic of them all. Every time it happens, my eyes roll so far back into my head, I have to send a search team to bring them back.
Even though stonewalling can be frustrating, there are simple and effective ways to handle the situation. So here are a few simple suggestions.
Stop repetitive questions and/or long-winded answers by asking/answering questions early, and with such extreme detail, it makes them hard to re-word. When this doesn’t work, send them the original emails and screenshot answers. Somewhat of a jerk move, but at least it documents you’ve already addressed their concerns.
Stop their ‘fake concerns’: If you’ve ever heard, ‘Oh, I can’t give you that, because it could be wrong. We need to check with our internal…’ than respond with “I’ll take that risk.” (Give it to me now damn it!! is good too if you can get away with it)
The carrot or the stick – Have other opportunities? Make sure they know this based on their response. You can’t be a business partner and gain more business if you can’t play nice in the sandbox to begin with.
Always ensure business partner support. Having internal support can put additional pressure on them to do the right thing (See my blog on building relationships if you want some easy tips). So cc them or add them to your meetings when necessary.
Escalate to your internal management (and theirs). Sometimes this can get them back on track, especially if you include Executive level support!
You could always return the favor. Waiting it out or giving them the silent treatement is a great response during negotiations if you can pull it off (just make sure you have a BATNA and ensure your business parterns are aligned and in agreement).