Marketing makeover for women: How to negotiate when selling into the C-suite

Women are stronger negotiators than they think

Lelia Gowland, Principal, Gowland, LLC 

You probably didn’t become a travel manager because you loved negotiations, but whether you’re advocating for an increase in your travel spend or urging the company to adopt a policy change, negotiations are likely to already be a part of your day-to-day life.

For female travel managers, who comprise 71% of GBTA buyer members, this can be particularly fraught. If you consider that women usually have fewer interactions with senior leadership, when we do engage with key decision-makers, those conversations are even more important.

When it comes to negotiating as women, some campaigns encourage us to negotiate aggressively while contradictory articles warn us that we’re terrible at negotiations, and that if we do negotiate, we’ll face negative consequences.

Enough with the mixed messages! If you want to successfully negotiate in a way that feels authentic to you, here are three strategies to get you started.


  1. Recognize that you’re probably already better at negotiating than you think.

When women are asked to pick from a list of metaphors to reflect their feelings about negotiations, they pick phrases like “going to the dentist”. Negotiations are not exactly something most of us are enthusiastic about.

They don’t have to be so stressful, though. The definition of negotiation is just “discussion aimed at reaching an agreement”. You can imagine that the study results would have been wildly different if women had been asked about that instead.

One client told me this definition fundamentally changed her thinking about negotiations. She said, “I love discussion aimed at reaching agreement, and furthermore, I’m great at it.”

Despite what we hear in the media, the very qualities that make a good negotiator are often associated with women: they’re good listeners, they’re collaborative, and they’re empathetic. Try to recognize the ways that you’re effectively negotiating already. Chances are good you’ll find yourself negotiating naturally and effectively in the next few days.


  1. Use empathy and know your audience.

Let’s say you want to increase the hotel rate cap to ensure the safety and comfort of your travelers.

Being totally immersed in the work and regularly hearing from travelers, it can seem obvious why this recommendation should be implemented. But, if you’re not able to communicate in the way that the CFO likes to receive information, they’re less likely to take your perspective.

Here are some examples of how you could structure the conversation differently, depending on your CFO’s motivations:

  • If your CFO is concerned about profitability, making the link between the revenue generated by road warriors, their satisfaction, and the high cost of turnover could be a good angle. Traveler satisfaction surveys could demonstrate frustration booking hotels in expensive markets.
  • If your CFO is concerned about managing costs through travel program compliance, it would be more useful to provide data about the frequency that hotels are being booked in a way that violates policy.
  • Finally, if your CFO is concerned about women feeling safe when traveling, offer feedback from women about their experiences. You could share stories of female road warriors staying in isolated industrial areas where hotels are lower cost but felt less safe.

However, your CFO best receives information, make your request using that language.


  1. Practice.

When it comes to negotiating at work, you don’t want the first time you make your recommendations and say the words out loud to be in a meeting with the decision-maker. Which in my experience, can come with a high risk of word vomit. While it can feel comically awkward at first, practicing with a trusted friend is among the best ways to determine what language feels comfortable and makes the strongest case.

Returning to the example with your CFO, you can use this role play conversation to practice how you’d make the recommendation and respond to pushback. If they say no to increasing the budget, how would you demonstrate the value of the proposed change? What questions might you want to ask about their decision-making process?

Ideally, you’ll be practicing with a live human who can give feedback, but if your goldfish is your best option, go for it. The point is, strategizing out loud about how to approach the conversation will help you be more confident articulating the recommendation when it matters.

When negotiating with company leadership remember it’s just a discussion aimed at reaching an agreement. If you walk in having practiced and prepared to use empathy, you’ve taken some great first steps to make your recommendation.

Want more negotiation strategies? Stay tuned for additional resources to support you in advocating for yourself and for your program.

Lelia Gowland makes work work for women. A sought-after speaker and writer, Lelia helps women negotiate and navigate their careers. Learn more at