Out-buying the competition is a key ingredient in any formula for small business success. After years of negotiating B2B deals on both sides of the table, and working with clients in tough B2B niches like environmental monitoring and broadcast video equipment, I’ve picked up plenty about how to drive a hard bargain without driving suppliers away.

So, here we go with seven buying tips to help you hammer suppliers… gently. 

1. If you’re nice, don’t play the bad cop. Genuinely nice people come off like jerks when they try to act like a hard-nosed buyer. Since acting tough doesn’t come naturally, they resort to bullying or rudeness, which seldom leads to an advantageous deal and often sends sellers running for the door. Instead of role-playing, relentlessly and patiently focus on facts, refusing to be swayed by emotion. This cold, calculating negotiating style is far more likely to work for you.

2. Rehearse. Trying to wing it in a negotiation is a sure way to strike a bad deal. Before your meeting, practice – out loud – how you will present your case and what you will say if your terms are not met. I’m often surprised at how stupid I sound the first time I try to articulate my position. But practice makes perfect, and you’ll be better than perfect if the seller fails to apply this tip.

3. Always be ready to walk away. Never let sellers know how badly you want what they are selling. As long as the seller believes you are willing to walk, you’ve got an opening to strike a better deal. An attitude of cool indifference has a way of eliciting concessions without your even having to ask for them. However, sometimes this approach means you actually do walk away – but that’s O.K. Tomorrow you can have a change of heart and start all over again.

4. Don’t be afraid to contradict yourself. In some respects, people worry too much about being inconsistent.  Don’t be embarrassed to say “no” to a deal today – to see if you can get a concession – and then turn around tomorrow and say “yes.”  Once the sale is made, the seller won’t care how you got there. One warning, though: it is never good to do the opposite, to make a deal and then back out. That type of inconsistency will destroy your reputation, and deservedly so.

5. Take the focus off of the price.  This advice is usually given to sellers, but I think it works equally well for buyers. There are lots of things to go after: extended billing terms, bigger billing discounts, annual rebates, unlimited free samples, freight allowances, etc. Often, sellers have less flexibility with unit pricing than with these other, price-related items. Look under every nook and cranny for something to negotiate.

6. Don’t stress relationships if you’re transactional. If you tell a supplier you’re in it for the long haul and then drop him on the next order to save a few pennies, you will never get a good deal from that supplier again, and eventually, you will run out of suppliers altogether. On the other hand, if you’re straight with sellers about how you operate, you’ll always find people willing to bid on your requirements – because you’re trustworthy.

7. Know your goal. World-class buyers know the market and what kind of deals their competitors are getting. As a result, they know exactly what they want before they start negotiating. When buyers don’t understand the market, they push and push, having no idea where to stop. This comes off as unreasonable and, well, stupid. Not a recipe for small business success.

So, what do you think? Do you have some negotiating stories or tips to share? We would love to hear about them in the comments below!