Negotiation for Purchasing Professionals – our book review (part 1)


Negotiation for Purchasing Professionals, published by Kogan Page at a list price of £29.99, is a new book from Jonathan O’Brien, who wrote one of the most successful procurement books of the last decade – Category Management in Purchasing, a deserved big seller.

O’Brien is one of the founders and directors of Positive Purchasing, who have provided procurement training for many years now. He’s got 25 years experience, so this is a book grounded in real procurement experience and working with thousands of practitioners.

This is a serious book. I don’t mean it is hard work to read – it is well and clearly written. But at 350 pages there is a considerable amount of material here , and it is closer to a textbook in look and feel than to a more lightweight read-on-the-plane type populist business book. That’s not a criticism, and indeed I suspect it will deservedly find its way onto academic and professional qualification reading lists.

One key factor in its favour is that the focus is entirely on the procurement world. My favourite negotiation books – Getting to Yes by Fisher and Ury and The Negotiation Book by Steve Gates – cover all angles of negotiation, which is a strength in some ways but inevitably means that some examples and analysis do not feel so relevant to our world. But O’Brien’s book is directly aimed at the issues facing those on the buy side, and is all the better for that.

So, let’s cut to the chase – and my overall verdict is very positive. It is hard to imagine any procurement professional not benefitting from owning and reading this, given the huge amount of useful material in here. A beginner could work through it steadily, whilst an experienced professional will find it both useful as a refresher or by dipping in will find interesting new ideas and suggestions to consider.

It does perhaps lack the big conceptual idea  (“principled negotiation” in the case of Fisher and Ury or the “Negotiation Clock Face” for Gates) – the nearest equivalent here is the Red Sheet® process, which makes a lot of sense but really is “just” a negotiation planning toolkit and process rather than an original negotiation concept.

There are also a couple of areas that could have been covered in more depth. eSourcing and auctions are covered briefly, but it might have been useful to see a broader discussion around negotiation in the context of more formal tendering generally.  There is in my experience a quite different dynamic in such cases, public sector being perhaps the extreme example, compared to cases where the negotiation is less proscribed by a formal process.

However, that gap is more than compensated for by the depth of analysis around topics such as planning, power and tactics in negotiations. There’s a huge amount of wisdom and experience gone into this work, it is a very impressive achievement, and it is going to be another big success for O’Brien I’m sure.

So, why do I score it at four stars and not five? Well, there is one fairly major element of the book I don’t like very much at all. That knocks down the score, although I would stress that it doesn’t “spoil” it in a significant way. It is easy enough to disregard certain sections and still get great value from the rest. But in part 2 of the review, I’ll get into the negatives. Then in part 3 we’ll come back to some of the many positives and finish on a more upbeat note!

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