If you've spent any time in sales, odds are that you have probably had to deal with a buyer who has let their bargaining power get to their head. In other words, they have a tendency to act like a bully. Recently I spent time with a CEO who was being bullied by a buyer whose work represented a big part of her revenues. It is a very difficult situation. For her and other companies in a similar situation, my first recommendation is to figure out what is the bully's motivator. These are the five typical motivations:
- Compliance - The buyer is going through the motions, including shadow-boxing on pricing in order to make the right appearances without any real desire to change things.
- Consideration--The buyer needs a win, but is willing to give you something for your flexibility. This is a negotiation where both sides are willing to provide concessions in the discussion.
- Accommodation--The buyer feels the need for a discount or a win in the discussion with no willingness to provide a concession.
- Domination--The buyer wants to penalize or injure a supplier for either the purpose of making a point, establishing a position, or "righting a wrong" based upon some sense of having been taken advantage of in the past.
- Termination--Buyers sometimes use unreasonable demands as a way to drive a vendor out of their company.
Once you have determined what the motivation is, you have several ways to deal with the bully. There are risks in confronting any bully but if you back down straightaway, that will always be that person's expectation of you.
Option 1: Seek negotiation parity--You want there to be a more equitable and balanced approach to the discussion. Try this:
- Common ground--Start by seeking issues that are not in dispute and ensure that both of you agree on them.
- Narrow the topics--Focus the conversation on what the real dispute is. Usually this is limited to less than three core items.
- Establish penalties for both of you--Make certain that you can articulate the buyer's risks as well as your own. This shows partnership benefits and penalties for losing partnership
- Don't huff, puff, or bluff--Don't get involved in bluster or threats.
Option 2: Create time and distance--By slowing the dialogue down, you can bide your time and wait for the bully to select a different issue or target. This takes some of the negative energy out of the disputes and allows for other reasonable voices to speak on your behalf. Then return to the conversation.
Option 3: Enlist an intermediary--Sometimes, you have to find the reasonable voice and bring them to your point of view. This is delicate because bullies don't like interference. What your supporter is going to need is an understanding of the concessions and performance you have already provided, the market conditions, and a clear ask on your behalf.
Option 4: Make a series of small concessions--Often a bully needs to win something, anything, or they do not feel that they have done their job. Make the person feel important by emphasizing the rarity with which these types of concessions are given by your company.
Option 5: Go over the bully's head--The most tempting and the most dangerous strategy. Most of us recognize why. However, when you have tried all other routes and you feel you are going to lose anyway, then it is time to make the move.
Bullies are a part of the business climate. Often times under the guise of procurement and negotiation, the process becomes just a more civilized version of bullying. It's inevitable that you will have to deal with bullies, so take the time to become more effective with your tactics.