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Cash Flow and Inventory: How to Negotiate Supplier Contracts with Flexible Payment Options

Author Ella Napata |

August 21, 2023

Cash Flow and Inventory How to Negotiate Supplier Contracts with Flexible Payment Options

Effective supplier contract negotiations with flexible payment options can be a game-changer in business. You can approach suppliers confidently by assessing your business’s cash flow needs, evaluating inventory financing requirements, and understanding risk tolerance. Strengthening supplier relationships is key, as loyalty often translates into flexible payment terms. This article offers a comprehensive guide, from understanding payment terms to crafting pitches to foster successful and mutually beneficial partnerships.

Cash Flow and Inventory How to Negotiate Supplier Contracts with Flexible Payment Options

Assess Your Business’s Cash Flow Needs

Before negotiating with suppliers, evaluate your business’s cash flow requirements to determine optimal payment terms. Consider how much cash you need for essential expenses like rent, payroll, and inventory versus cash reserves for growth, emergencies, and seasonal fluctuations. According to a National Small Business Association survey, small businesses should aim for at least 3 to 6 months of cash buffer.

Inventory Financing Needs

For a product-based business, consider your inventory financing needs. If you need to keep a lot of stock on hand, longer payment terms may be necessary to fund inventory purchases before you make sales. Consider the gap between delivering a service and receiving customer payment for a service-based business. Choose payment terms that won’t require you to outlay cash for labor and other costs before you’ve been paid.

Determine Risk Tolerance

If your cash flow is unpredictable, shorter payment terms minimize the risk of late or defaulted payments to suppliers, which could damage your relationships or credit. But if your cash flow is stable, you may opt for longer terms to maximize working capital.

Discuss Options with your Accountants

Discuss your options with your accountant as well. They can evaluate your historical and projected cash flow statements to determine what payment terms are sustainable for your business. They can also suggest ways to improve cash flow, like reducing expenses, improving the collection of accounts receivable, and negotiating longer payment terms with customers.

With a clear understanding of your cash flow needs and risk profile, you can confidently approach suppliers, knowing what payment terms will work for your business. Be prepared to share relevant details about your financial health and growth prospects to show why the proposed payment terms are mutually beneficial. The more information you provide, the more willing suppliers may be to negotiate terms that meet your business requirements.

Build Win-Win Supplier Relationships

Having good relationships with your suppliers is key to negotiating flexible payment terms. Suppliers will be more willing to work with customers they know and trust. Make an effort to strengthen your business partnerships in small but meaningful ways. For example, you might call suppliers to thank them for their service, send a handwritten thank you note, or take key contacts out for coffee. These gestures show you value your suppliers and their role in your company’s success.

Offer Flexible Payment Terms to Build Loyalty

Suppliers also benefit from building loyalty and keeping your business. By offering flexible payment terms, they are more likely to get repeat customers and consistent sales from your company. It is a win-win situation for both parties. When suppliers know you well and see you as a partner rather than just another customer, they will work to keep your business and be more flexible in negotiations.

Cooperate and Compromise

Approach negotiations with a spirit of cooperation and compromise rather than trying to get the best deal for only your business. Explain how the payment terms you want will allow you to order more of their products and services. Help suppliers understand your cash flow needs and growth plans so they see that your success also translates to more success for them. When negotiating, focus on listening to their concerns and finding solutions that you are both comfortable and happy with.

Renegotiate Terms as Needed

A good long-term supplier relationship means you can go back to renegotiate terms as needed if your business experiences changes in cash flow. Suppliers will be more willing to revisit terms when they trust you, know you have done, and will continue doing business with them. Keep the lines of communication open in between negotiations as well. Periodically connect with key supplier contacts to update them on your company’s news and thank them for their partnership.

The time you invest in cultivating win-win relationships with your suppliers will pay off both in the short term with more flexible payment options and through loyalty, trust, and renegotiation opportunities over the long run. Strong business partnerships are mutually beneficial, so make supplier relationships a priority and the foundation for successful negotiations.

Know Your Options: Payment Terms Explained

As a business owner, it’s important to understand the different payment terms available to determine the best options for your cash flow needs and risk profile. The most common terms are net 30, net 60, and consignment.

Net 30 Terms

With net 30 terms, you pay the full invoice within 30 days of delivery or service. This option provides more cash upfront but less flexibility. Net 60 terms, where you pay in full within 60 days, give you more breathing room, but suppliers may charge a small premium.


Consignment is an arrangement where suppliers ship inventory, but you only pay for what sells. Unsold goods can be returned. While consignment was more popular in the past, some suppliers still offer it, especially for seasonal or trendy goods. Consignment frees up cash since you only pay for inventory as it moves, but suppliers may require a signed consignment agreement and charge higher per-unit costs.

Supplier Options and Standard Payment Terms

According to a small business credit survey, about 50% of suppliers offer net 30 terms, 25% offer net 60, and 10% offer consignment or other extended terms. Suppliers’ options depend on their industry, business model, and risk tolerance. It is a good idea to ask about a supplier’s standard payment terms and if they are open to negotiation.

Early Settlement Discount

Some suppliers may request faster payment in exchange for an early settlement discount, e.g., 2% off the invoice if paid within ten days. While an early settlement discount can save money, ensure the shorter turnaround will not strain your cash flow. Negotiating based on your business’s needs and what you can consistently afford is best.

The payment terms you choose depend on balancing your cash flow requirements with building good supplier relationships. Do not demand longer payment terms just to maximize short-term cash savings. That approach can damage supplier partnerships in the long run and lead to higher prices or refusal to do business with you. With reasonable negotiations and a mutually agreeable solution, you can land on payment terms that benefit both parties.

Craft Your Pitch and Start Negotiating

Once you know your business’s needs and payment options, it’s time to negotiate with suppliers. Prepare by determining your target payment terms, fallback positions, and concessions you’re willing to make. For example, aim for net 60 but be willing to accept net 45. Be ready to commit to larger order volumes in exchange for more favorable terms.

Anchoring Techniques

When negotiating, use anchoring techniques like starting with your ideal terms before compromising. Ask for net 60, and the supplier may counter with net 45. That’s still better than the net 30 you were willing to accept. Lead with confidence and facts about your business’s growth and future potential to show why you deserve extended terms.

Script Example 

Have a script prepared ahead of time. For example, “We’ve been a loyal customer for X years and plan to increase our orders by Y% over the next 12 months. In exchange, we’d like to revisit our payment terms. What can you offer regarding net 60-day terms?” Be prepared for the supplier to ask for financial statements, order forecasts, or other documentation to support your case. Have the necessary paperwork ready.

Address Supplier Concerns Head-on

For example, if they worry about your business’s stability or ability to pay on time, you might say, “We understand your concern. We have a solid cash buffer and excellent credit. To give you peace of mind, we’re also willing to commit to a 12-month contract and automatic ACH payments to ensure timely payment.” Offering safeguards and assurances can help overcome objections.

Negotiate a Win-win Outcome

Negotiate a win-win outcome and get everything in writing. For example, you may agree to net 60-day terms for the next 12 months in exchange for a 10% increase in order volume. Or you may agree to net 45-day terms with a 2% discount for paying within 15 days. Put the details in a formal agreement to avoid confusion later.

With the proper preparation and negotiation techniques, you can secure more favorable payment terms from your suppliers. Monitor the agreement terms and maintain a good relationship with suppliers to improve terms even further. Flexible payment options, when negotiated well, can benefit both businesses.

Get it in Writing: Key Details in the Agreement

Once you have negotiated new payment terms with your supplier, getting the details in writing through a formal agreement is critical. A written contract helps prevent misunderstandings and disputes arising from verbal agreements alone. It also allows both parties to periodically review and revise the terms as needed to account for business relationships or environmental changes.

What Your New Payment Terms Should Include

The agreement should specify the key details of your new payment terms including:

  • Payment period: State the number of days for payment, e.g. net 30 or net 60 days. This is the most important detail and the basis for your negotiation.
  • Early settlement discounts: If applicable, note the discount percentage and number of days to qualify for the discount, e.g. 2% 30, net 60. This incentivizes you to pay quickly to get the discount.
  • Late fees: To avoid late payments, specify any fees that may apply if you do not pay within the payment period. For example, 1.5% per month on the outstanding balance.
  • Payment method: Note if payments will be made via checks, ACH, wire transfers or a purchasing card. The method can impact the timing of when funds are deducted and available.
  • Grace period: If desired, include a grace period of a few days beyond the payment deadline before late fees apply. For example, net 30 with a 5-day grace period. This provides some flexibility for occasional delays.
  • Review period: State when you will review the existing payment terms and make any revisions, e.g. every 6-12 months. This ensures the terms continue to meet both parties’ needs over time.
  • Additional details: List any other negotiated terms such as volume discounts, returns policies, service level agreements, etc. The more details captured upfront, the less chance for confusion later.

A comprehensive written agreement helps establish a framework for a long and mutually-beneficial partnership with your supplier. Be sure to review the agreement periodically and make revisions as needed to keep the relationship and payment terms balanced. With the right agreement and monitoring in place, negotiating flexible payment options can be a win-win for your business’s cash flow and inventory management.

Monitor, Review, and Improve

Once you have negotiated payment terms with your suppliers and formalized an agreement. It is important to closely monitor how the terms work for your business and suppliers. Track important details like payment deadlines, early settlement discounts, and any late fees incurred. Look for trends in your business’s cash flow and see if your needs have changed. Also, monitor your suppliers’ performance and overall relationship to determine if any issues need to be addressed.

Revisit and Renegotiate Terms

After a few months or years of an agreement, revisiting and renegotiating the terms may be necessary. If your business has experienced significant growth, your cash flow needs may have increased. It may now make sense to ask for longer payment terms to have more working capital on hand. Conversely, if your business has more cash reserves, you should negotiate an early payment discount for paying invoices ahead of schedule.

Regularly Review Existing Agreements and Renegotiate

On the supplier side, their business may have also changed over time. They can offer shorter payment terms if they need faster access to revenue. Or they may be open to providing larger discounts for early payments or bulk orders. Regularly reviewing existing agreements and renegotiating when needed is vital to maintaining a good partnership with your suppliers. The business landscape constantly changes, so payment terms that worked well in the past may need improvement.

Build Long-term Partnerships with Suppliers

With diligent monitoring and willingness to renegotiate when needed, the payment terms you establish with your suppliers can be long-term partnerships that fuel business growth. Keeping an open dialogue about how the terms work and exchanging feedback with your suppliers builds trust within the relationship. While negotiating the initial agreement is essential, ongoing management of payment terms and supplier relationships creates strategic and mutually beneficial partnerships. With the proper collaboration, balancing your business’s cash flow needs and inventory requirements can be achieved through flexible and evolving payment options with your suppliers.


How does a business’s risk tolerance impacts its negotiation strategy with suppliers?

Risk tolerance plays an essential part in determining a business’s negotiation strategy with suppliers. A business with a high-risk tolerance can opt for longer payment terms with suppliers, maximizing its working capital. However, this strategy poses the risk of late or defaulted payments, potentially damaging business relationships or credit scores. Conversely, businesses with a low-risk tolerance prefer shorter payment terms to minimize such risks. Understanding a company’s risk tolerance helps it negotiate payment terms beneficial to both the business and its suppliers.

What role does strong supplier relationship play in renegotiating payment terms?

Building robust relationships with suppliers is a strategic investment in any business. A strong relationship stimulates trust and cooperation, making suppliers more likely to be flexible during payment term negotiations. Furthermore, when suppliers perceive a business as a reliable partner, not just another buyer, they’re more likely to offer better terms and are more open to renegotiation if the business’s cash flow changes. Therefore, fostering good relationships with suppliers is integral to successful negotiation and renegotiation of payment terms.

How does frequent review and renegotiation help in maintaining strong business partnerships?

Regular reviews and renegotiations are a hallmark of healthy business partnerships. As both businesses may evolve over time, payment terms that previously worked well might no longer be suitable. Regular reviews allow for timely assessments of the agreement’s effectiveness, and subsequent renegotiations ensure that the terms continue to serve both parties’ needs. This process fosters a dynamic relationship that adjusts to changing business environments, maintains strong partnerships, and identifies opportunities for further collaboration.

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