Negotiation Skills for Women in Sales

5 Ways Women Can Be Better Negotiators In Sales


I’ve always been a ‘builder’ and have been hired on more than one occasion to be the ‘guinea pig’ to create an enterprise sales function.  I absolutely LOVE taking a ball of clay and creating a masterpiece where the business is booming, and my customers are delighted.  This is what my dreams are made of and what gets my blood pumping.


True story, I was the first enterprise salesperson hired at an early-stage startup to create the entire function from scratch.  Nothing was in place beyond vision and hope, and all eyes were on me to take that and do my “thing” to validate the market.  Of course, I negotiated equity upfront as part of my compensation package.  


Fast forward, and it was time to grow.  I worked my tail feather off to build a solid foundation, and revenue exceeded our expectations.  The business was growing across the board and I brought in an old colleague that was offered a lesser job with thousands of more shares than I had.


Umm, what?!  Insert the needle on the record!


If I’m being honest, I felt betrayed, slighted, and frustrated.  Most people told me to suck it up and use my negotiating skills to ask for more equity later, but that didn’t sit right with me.


I tabled my emotions, busted out my journal to reflect on my negotiation skills, and did my research.  As I talked to my mentors and experts on the topic, they challenged me to think about my position, what I was asking for, and why I was asking for it, and provided guidance to build a case to create a win-win situation.


Sadly, many women don’t ask for what they want.


One of the best lessons I learned growing up was that our feelings aren’t wrong or right; it’s what we do with them that matters the most and how we use our voice along the way.  This has absolutely made me a better negotiator. 


The truth of the matter is I had already brought in more new logos and revenue than they expected to make a big impact on the bottom line. 


My enterprise sales pipeline was rock solid, filled with A+ opportunities for the near and long term.  And I was helping them build the entire enterprise sales function while bringing incredible people into the company.  


I was ready to use my negotiation skills to use the data to back up my rationale for requesting the additional equity.  A week later, those extra options were granted.  Talk about a win-win.


Moral of the story: negotiation is an essential part of life. 


Despite the number of all-star women I’ve met at the negotiation table, on average, women don’t ask for what they want.  


In fact, 20% of women never negotiate at all!


Consider this, ladies: a woman who opts not to negotiate her starting salary upon graduation forgoes an average of $7,000 the first year.  


But over the course of a 45-year career, failing to negotiate means a loss of $650K to $1M.  


That’s a LOT of cash to leave behind, directly correlating to the pay gap we hear so much about.  


But here’s where it gets REALLY interesting: women are better than men at negotiating on behalf of someone else, but worse at negotiating for themselves.


I attribute this to two main reasons:


Women tend to limit their expectations

The data is clear: there aren’t significant gender differences regarding knowledge and performance. 

The stories we tell ourselves absolutely make or break our mindset and are directly correlated to our negotiating skills as a result.  And as I like to say:  Mindset = Action = Outcome.  So, when you’re negotiating from a place of low confidence that you’ll get what you want, it leads to the self-fulfilling prophecy of a pay gap.

Lower expectations = lower outcomes.


Women tend to undervalue themselves

This is where our gender differences materialize in a big way.  For example, men are happy to apply to a job when they think they could meet just 60% of the job requirements.

This is a huge factor in the gender pay gap.  For many reasons (and an entirely different topic), women have a harder time knowing their value and pushing fora compensation package that reflects that.

Meanwhile, many of our male counterparts are great at embellishing their skills and negotiating higher pay that they don’t deserve.


You’ve already got everything you need for better negotiating skills.  It’s just a matter of getting in the right mindset and putting all the pieces together to create a negotiation process that will be a win-win for everyone involved. 


Never fear; I’ve got practical advice you can use today to create a successful negotiation strategy. 


5 negotiation strategies to create winning outcomes


“The offer was to my mind slightly, if not insulting, not perhaps reflective of my actual value to the project. There was my ‘goodbye moment,’ and then they doubled the offer. I was 55, and I had just learned, at a very late date, how to deal on my own behalf.”

— Meryl Streep on her offer for The Devil Wears Prada, Variety, June 2016


Reframe the conversation

As you think about the right negotiation strategies, remember negotiation is NOT a battle that you need to win.  


Most people (women especially) tend to view the negotiation process as a stressful conflict that results in a winner and a loser.  


The reality is that negotiations are wonderful opportunities to collaborate, solve problems, and create a better situation for everyone involved.  


The best negotiations have everybody walking out of the room with a smile on their face.  Creating a win-win outcome is the goal you should strive for every time.


Listening to understand versus responding is a key factor to successful negotiation.  Seek to understand the person that you’re negotiating with, figure out exactly what they want, and find a way to deliver that while also getting what you want.  


Emotional intelligence (EQ) is your superpower here, ladies.


People love nothing more than being seen, heard, and understood.  


Know what you’re worth

I can’t stress this enough, especially regarding the negotiation process for a new job.


Women tend to downplay their confidence to avoid coming off as too demanding.  


Let me be clear, you are worth much more than you think.  


If you’re not convinced, take some time to quantify your worth with specific metrics and outcomes that relate to your position.


For example, how much sales revenue you brought in over the last year, how you helped your team, how you helped your customers, etc.  The more specific you are with a clear and concise message, the stronger you become.


Walking into a negotiation conversation with a genuine understanding of your worth and your ability to back it up allows you to make your case from a place of honesty and integrity, leaving your emotions at the door.  Some of the best female leaders I know do this incredibly well, and they have equal pay as a result.


Come prepared

“If you fail to plan. You plan to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin


Data is your best friend in every negotiation. 


Let’s say you want to negotiate a higher salary with your Co-Founder.  If you’re worried about backlash, it’s important to come armed and dangerous with research and data to back up the realistic compensation range.  


Resources like Better Together, Comparably, Glassdoor, Modern Sales Pros, Thursday Night Sales, and RepVue are tremendous resources to equip you with helpful insight into being a better negotiator.


Using data like this validates your request without relying on emotion to drive the point home.  


It’s important to consider everything that could potentially be on the table if you want to take your negotiation skills to the next level.  There are many more levers you can pull than you think.  


For example, if you’re negotiating a job offer and the salary is fixed, you can ask for a better job title, more benefits, equity (especially relevant for startups), time off, milestone bonuses, paid education, or training outside of the company.


The more you know, the easier it’ll be to reach an agreement that works for everyone.  


Lead the discussion

There’s a lot of research reflecting the person who makes the first offer in a negotiation gets the best outcome.  


It’s an effect known as ‘anchoring.’  Being first with your offer kicks off the conversation in a direction that’s beneficial for you.  


Here’s a great example of it in practice:

“How does leading the discussion look in practice? Say, for example, you are being considered to lead a major initiative at your company. You know that this initiative will require a strong leader who can establish internal and external support from many constituents. Knowing how important it will be for the leader to get buy-in throughout the organization, you make the case that in order to have enough credibility, it is essential for you to have a vice president title. You also include in your negotiation a discussion of the timeline for the project, key success metrics, and a salary consistent with the vice president role.”


It’s not always possible, but you should always lead when you can. 


One way to do this well is to send a thoughtful agenda ahead of the conversation to confirm key topics and get their take on the details ahead of time.


Invest in negotiation training

Practice is the tried-and-true method of getting better at anything.


The right training and mentors (especially via female leaders), can make a big difference.


In a study in the Psychological Bulletin, Jens Mazei of the University of Münster and his colleagues found that increased negotiation experience resulted in a smaller gender pay gap between women and men.  


Training builds your confidence and comfort at the negotiation table, so when that big moment comes, you’ll be ready to make the most of it.  Another benefit of training is that it keeps your negotiation skills sharp.

Some of my favorite training resources:


Don’t forget to check what may be offered at your company or valuable insight from previous employees.  All you have to do is ask.

Wrapping Up


Ladies, we are better negotiators than we give ourselves credit for.


Bottom line, negotiation is one of the most important skills for building your career and standing on equal footing along with our male counterparts.  


When we show up for ourselves to take care of ourselves, it’s one of the best gifts we can give to ourselves.  Invest in these skills now and it will pay you back tenfold to become a better negotiator.