Work-from-home policies, travel restrictions and a redefining of the buyer-seller relationship in an era of technological advancements all point to a reduction of face-to-face supplier interactions.
That is, unless the face-to-face interaction is taking place on a video application like the ubiquitous Zoom.
As our post-pandemic workplace evolves, Zoom-like products will continue to be the tool used for enhanced supplier communication. Used effectively and efficiently, it creates a live presence where one might not have existed. Digital and telephone relationships are now more humanized, allowing for expanded relationships and heightened levels of communication. Zoom is not a replacement for communication, it is an additional tool.
But some may ask, how do you negotiate on Zoom?
It's simple: Use the skillful negotiation tactics that you already know. In fact, negotiating on Zoom may very well make the buyer a more effective negotiator by creating a personalized approach to the negotiation process. It may be harder for the supplier to look you in the eye when delivering bad news.
Consider your last pre-pandemic negotiation. It may have started with a new price list attached in a supplier email or a spreadsheet in response to your quote. Perhaps there was a telephone call, then one or two in-person visits to break the bad news and start the negotiation.
In these cases, the physical presence portion of a supplier relationship could not be understated.
During the pandemic, the normal communication process was derailed, with the face-to-face work severely curtailed or eliminated. This normalized the anonymity of delivering bad news, be it a product discontinuation, delivery slippages or price increases. They're all easier delivered behind a telephone handset or keyboard.
But with communication tools like Zoom, it does not have to stay that way. You can leverage your negotiation skills using video technology without changing your fundamental tactics.
Here are three things to consider as you incorporate Zoom into your negotiation strategy:
1. Build a wide-scale video presence with critical suppliers
Relationships with key suppliers have evolved during the pandemic and even though travel constraints are being lifted, the use of video will continue to supplement traditional face-to-face meetings and may replace them.
Do not look at Zoom or other video services as stopgap measures waiting for the new normal, make them part of the new normal.
Those video calls do not have to replace all types of communication, but they are an opportunity to engage in deeper discussions with the supplier and create a stronger presence. By this point, we've all had video calls with those we've never met, and it personalized the communication. It is tough to smile through an email or text, even with a cute emoji.
Expand video beyond the buyer and the seller. Encourage video calls with logistics, operations, planning and field service. As the buyer, consider creating a 30-minute call introducing all parties in the relationship, even creating breakout rooms for further discussion. A 10-minute video call between a planner and an expeditor to reconcile open orders may be more effective than trading e-mails.
2. Take control of the negotiation process
Many traditional negotiation techniques were mothballed during the pandemic. Consider something as fundamental as meeting organization. Buyers should be the ones organizing the meetings with suppliers, creating agendas, taking notes and driving the discussion. Often the battle to control the negotiation process is the first step in the actual negotiation.
And while home-field advantage may be a toss-up in a video call, there are ways to take control even in subtle ways. Initiate the Zoom call and bring the supplier into your online meeting room. Control who comes into the meeting and when, as well as the share screen utility. When you own the Zoom room, the supplier is in essence coming to you.
3. Get back to business
We all seem to be coming out of some level of hibernation and uncertainty. Some of us are returning to the office for the first time or on a more regular basis. Others will continue to work from home offices. Our work-styles are again changing, and quite quickly.
During the past 15 months, I have been invited into many living rooms, kitchens, dining rooms, basements, garages, and bedrooms, all for a semi-private video call. I've met pets and children, and I have seen more sweatpants and t-shirts to last a lifetime. And during uncertain times I was fine with it all. It humanized a terrible time.
But that time, along with its casualness and uncertainty, is coming to an end in the U.S. Recovering from the pandemic-driven downturn is dependent on overcoming constraints in the supply chain, and that's where effective supplier management is critical. Whispers of impending inflation will test the buyer's mettle as suppliers also look to make up for lost revenue with pricing pressures. Negotiation is more important than ever.
Even on Zoom.
This story was first published in our weekly newsletter, Supply Chain Dive: Procurement. Sign up here.