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Making Small Talk with Sales: Far Beyond Discussing the Weather

Making Small Talk with Sales: Far Beyond Discussing the Weather

“The skills for becoming a champion caliber negotiator are acquired skills. Nobody is born with great negotiating skills. You are born with the skills of crying and breathing, all other skills you acquire throughout your life.” – Soheila Lunney


On September 20th, My Purchasing Center hosted an event on ‘Championship-Caliber Negotiation’ featuring two of BMP’s favorite procurement thought leaders and authors: Charles Dominick and Soheila Lunney. They recently co-authored The Procurement Game Plan, a book that combines their two perspectives into one seamless text covering a range of topics including entrepreneurial spirit, negotiation, and talent management. In this event, they discussed the negotiation strategies, techniques, and tips applied by successful negotiators to achieve competitive pricing but also a collaborative approach to build a foundation for longer-term competitive success.


You can listen to the event on demand on


Some of the advice Charles and Soheila offered up was based on tactics or behaviors they see in sales negotiators that procurement and purchasing professionals should emulate. The first such piece of advice is to learn about your suppliers and their interests. The approach for getting to this information should be easy for even the least aggressive of negotiators: make purposeful small talk.


The idea is to learn about their personal and corporate motivations for doing what they do. Granted, procurement is rarely if ever in a sales person’s office, so we are unlikely to see their family photos or the personal items on their desk. That does not mean we can’t make the most of casual interactions outside of a negotiation to positively affect the outcome of that negotiation.


The Sales Guy had some thoughts to offer up on this topic as well…

Very clever thinking.  Small talk disarms most people and causes them to be more open – sometimes unwittingly. If we can lessen barriers and defensive behavior there can be a better understanding of each other’s needs.

Many times we learn more about a negotiation on the walk from the lobby to the conference room or after the meeting heading back to the lobby.  Whenever I meet with someone in their office I look for clues that can lead to a casual conversation; photos of family or prized possessions, memorabilia, books or magazines.  These items are the ice-breaker topics that help create that person to person bond. 

Using open-ended questions with sales people will work just as well – they want to tell you things about themselves, their personal interests and their company.  Many sales people are trained to ask open-ended questions to conduct discovery with customers.  They are told ‘you have two ears and one mouth so listen twice as much as you speak’.  As a result sales people will be pleasantly surprised if they are encouraged to do the talking and open up on their favorite topics.”

Trying to learn more about what will drive the other party’s position in a negotiation is neither cheating nor a soft approach. We want to know what our suppliers want so we can give them that in exchange for what we want. This is also a reminder to be prepared for the negotiation of non-price terms in a contract; knowing what you want and what you can offer in return gives you a form of currency exchange that will maximize the satisfaction of both parties and hopefully set the stage for a successful implementation.

Subtraction not Addition
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Saturday, 24 October 2020

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