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What Women Should Know About Negotiating Tech Contracts

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Apr. 21 2023, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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About 10 years into my professional career as a nonprofit fundraising and technology strategist, I was leading a search to find a new marketing automation solution. When I walked into the room to interview a vendor team that offered a tool that could work for us, the all-male panel politely made small talk for a few minutes before asking me when my boss would be showing up to lead the meeting.

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It was one of those moments where you don’t know whether to be mad, sad, or embarrassed – but you do know without a doubt how much more progress we still have to make in the business world when it comes to elevating women in the workplace.

While women should never have to prove our ability to sit at the table, it served me well to know that I’d come prepared to command the respect I knew I deserved. These tips will help you keep your bearings when negotiating becomes difficult, especially in the tech space, where women represent 27 to 29 percent of the workforce.

1. Know your business case and your specifications.

As the person leading a tech negotiation, you need to understand why you are in need of the tool at a business level. What goals or key performance indicators (KPIs) will you be better able to reach with this new tool?

To best define this for yourself and communicate it to the vendors you’re evaluating, it’s helpful to illustrate a few use case scenarios. Describe at least three examples of the ways your current set of tools is executing key tasks and how you’d like that to be different.

For example, I wanted to onboard a new automation tool so that we could better communicate with new members of our email list based on topics that interested them. I believed this hyper-target messaging would decrease the time it took to convert these new audience members into donors, but our current tool didn’t allow us to do that in a streamlined way. So, I stated that use case.

Concisely putting together these examples will help you narrow in on the qualifications a tool must have to be in your consideration set. After you’ve honed your list of tools who fit that bill, you’re ready to interview the finalists, get a demo, and determine the best fit for your needs.

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2. Know your bias.

Humans are inherently biased. What matters is how we recognize, check ourselves, and seek to overcome that bias.

Just as in hiring, it’s your responsibility as a woman in a seat of authority to make sure you’re evaluating vendors and technology tools by the same criteria so that you’re not easily swayed (especially if they’re wining and dining you or offering or sign-on perk).

Before you meet any vendors, come up with a list of standard interview questions and a scorecard that everyone on your selection panel will use to evaluate your candidates. This helps you ensure an even playing field. This sample set of criteria from RFP 360 is a good working list. There are also tools like CodeSignal that can help you employ extra rigor to ensure an objective process.

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3. Know your negotiation points.

What are the must haves and nice to haves in your qualification set? Is the budget you’ve set firm or could you afford to pay a bit more if you really needed to? Are there key contract terms that are of utmost importance to your organization? Know all of these things in advance so that you can present a strong front when interviewing and, subsequently, reviewing contractual terms.

Once you know your must-haves, negotiating your nice-to-haves is much easier because you know you could take or leave them. But the willingness to walk if a tool can’t meet your criteria is a solid place from which to enter the conversation so that everyone involved knows that you know your needs.

Part of knowing your negotiation points includes knowing your process. You should come into any conversation knowing what you can agree to on the spot and on what points you’ll need to seek counsel, either from your legal team or leadership. It’s completely okay to tell a vendor you need to defer an answer until you’ve spoken to your team if something unforeseen comes up. Knowing your do-not-cross lines and sticking to them with confidence positions you well.

4. Know your mentors and your sponsors.

I’ve been lucky enough to have a few great mentors in my career. One of them was a member of an in-house legal team with whom I reviewed every contract I signed during my tenure at an organization.

The time he took in explaining to me which contract items were a business call and which were a legal call was hugely beneficial in teaching both how to read the fine print and how to care to read the fine print. If you don’t have an in-house legal team or someone who offers to teach you in this way, seek out the professional development opportunity to learn the basics.

Knowing who your sponsors are is just as important and helps your growth as a person in any industry. They promote and advocate for you, and they are, quite literally, the people who agree to say your name in a room full of opportunity. In a tech negotiation, knowing that you have a person in your corner is not just a confidence-builder for you – it builds the authority you need to be able to own and manage your project appropriately without having to second-guess yourself.

Following the advice above will take negotiating from feeling like a bartering process to an example of you simply and confidently asserting what will and will not work for you and your business needs. And that’s not so intimidating.

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By: Elyse Wallnutt

Elyse Wallnutt is a senior marketing and tech leader with 16+ years of experience driving results at the intersection of revenue, advocacy, brand, and policy objectives. After nearly two decades working in leadership roles for some of the largest nonprofit brands in the world — including Amnesty International, Heifer International, Feeding America, UNICEF USA, and The Nature Conservancy – she launched Agility Lab Consulting to help business leaders understand and adjust for the impact that audience demand for privacy is having on mission reach and donor acquisition strategy.

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