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Sophia Q


10 Tips for negotiating with a vendor at work

In this episode of my adventures at work, I find myself negotiating a high-magnitude contract with a supplier. Here are some tips that I've gathered along the way.

Incidentally, I love working at a start-up because it gives me the opportunity to have purchasing authority and decision-making authority at my (somewhat) junior level. I love the autonomy I have, and that I'm able to direct my own projects.

    1. Use your resources

    Internal and external alike. I consulted members of my team to help think through questions, members of the sales team to help bring down the contract price, and specific individuals on the client team to vouch for me and this project.

    2. Be communicative with the vendor

    Negotiating and signing a contract is a *long* process (and this is true even where I work, in an industry that's supposed to have less bureaucracy than many others). I opted for over-communicating with the vendor instead of under-communicating, and I think this is helpful because it let my counterparts know that we were serious about the deal and not stringing them along.

    3. Develop a strong personal relationship with the salespeople

    I liaised with one salesperson in particular, and she became my advocate and champion.

    4. Internally, ask forgiveness, not permission

    Disclaimer: this might not be true in all workplaces. In mine, the fun part of things is that people at all levels of the organization have a lot of agency. In the case of this contract, I've tried to negotiate just about everything myself (leaning on my team's advice, of course), and I deliberately haven't been stopping to get the okay on from my boss on every step. This has made the process with the vendor smoother and quicker.

    5. Know that the vendor *really* want your business, and that this gives you leverage

    Nearly all sellers, vendors, and suppliers operate in a crowded marketplace. Since this is true, many are used to giving discounts as a way to land deals. In fact, it's almost industry-standard for B2B SaaS. Basically, the takeaway here is to never accept a first offer.

    6. Consider what alternatives to the $ figure you can pull on

    At a certain point, a supplier really might not be able to negotiate with you on price anymore. Still, maybe there are other elements of the contract you can negotiate on instead. It's just like with employment contracts: If you can't negotiate your salary, think about your vacation time, benefits, or other forms of compensation.

    7. Talk to Legal as soon as possible

    Oh gosh, I'm speaking from painful personal experience here. The Legal team's job is very important, and no one else can do it, so it's essential to speak with them. Just try to front-load this as much as possible, or you could end up tacking on an extra month before getting the contract signed like I did. This is to be avoided, since a lot can change within a month and the vendor might get cold feet or rescind some of the promising terms.

    8. If you're really getting nowhere with one salesperson, try talking to someone else

    This can work. In many companies, salespeople have a lot of discretion on deal specifics. Some might be more willing to negotiate than others.

    9. Try to meet over video call or in-person

    This can humanize your interaction and make the salesperson more sympathetic to your case. Email and phone are great, but connecting with another person is part of landing a deal.

    10. Show that you're backed by a team

    Negotiations might move faster when fewer parties are involved, but there are times when it's strategic to bring more parties into the discussion. I called on our sales lead for a discussion or two, and he was able to help get us more favorable terms than I could by myself. I think the optics of working as a team are powerful.

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