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When (And How) You Should Say “No” as a B2B Marketer

August 23, 2021 3 min read

You were hired as a marketer. You saw yourself creating successful lead-generating campaigns …but now you’re fielding reactionary requests from other departments, dealing with administrative tasks, and making travel arrangements for trade shows. It seems as though, too often, all of those great marketing initiatives you wanted to accomplish take a backseat to the unexpected tasks and projects that get in your way.

B2B companies hire marketers to help them grow their business (if they have a marketing department for any other reason…they don’t get it!) As the marketing expert, you know which initiatives the company should be focusing its efforts and resources on. It’s your responsibility to make sure marketing is driving results. You need to leverage your expertise and claim some authority over the marketing process, and sometimes that means saying no.

Here are some situations where B2B marketers should be saying no—and how to take control of your department in a way that benefits the whole company.

Say No When...

The request is out of alignment.

Sometimes people will come to you with ideas, projects or initiatives that should get done eventually, but they’re out of alignment with marketing’s current focus. You’ve put a lot of strategy into your marketing calendar and plan, so fitting in out-of-the-blue requests is disruptive to the goals.

Instead of saying yes, try this:

“You are right, that is definitely something we need in order to help move our marketing forward. This month we’re focusing on driving leads to the website through our content campaign, but I’d love to get together with you next month to create a plan for this. Can I schedule you in?”

Why it’s better:

You’re not saying that you can’t help with this new project. But you’re making it clear that there is a plan in place that needs to be followed. Every department thinks that their stuff should be the highest priority. This response acknowledges the importance of the project and sets a firm idea of when you can pay attention to it, but states that you’re focused on other initiatives at this moment.

The project has an unclear focus.

You can’t afford to devote your time and efforts to a half-baked project. It will take longer, require more back-and-forth, and generally lead to unproductiveness.

Instead of saying yes, try this:

“This sounds like a great idea. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this. Can you put together an outline of the deliverables you’ll need from me to accomplish this? Then we can schedule a meeting so that I can learn more and see whether it fits with our marketing goals.”

Why it’s better:

This response starts off on a positive note. It doesn’t even really feel like a “no.” But in reality, you’re protecting yourself from having to muddle through a project with a cloudy focus. By asking the person to provide you with an outline of deliverables and schedule a meeting to discuss, you’re telling them that you need more information before you’ll start to do any work.

The request does not fit in the budget.

Sometimes you just don’t have the money to honor a request, plain and simple. You’ve allocated your budget to the marketing initiatives that will matter most to the bottom line, and this particular request can’t be met.

Instead of saying yes, try this:

“I understand this is something you’d like to have, but I don’t have the money in the marketing budget to purchase any more [promotional products, brochures, wacky waving inflatable arm-flailing tube men, etc.] this year. But I will note that your department would like to see more of this, and I can look into budgeting more for this next year.”

Why it’s better:

You’re establishing the fact that you don’t have unlimited resources to make peoples’ desires come true like a genie. You set a budget at the beginning of the fiscal year, and sticking to that budget is your job.

They need it right now.

Things happen—people drop the ball, or last-minute needs come up that must be filled. Last-minute requests that are time-sensitive are a bummer. They don’t allow you to do your best work, and they’re disruptive. This can be one of the toughest situations in which to say no, but it can also be an opportunity for you to educate people on how your department operates most effectively.

Instead of saying yes, try this:

“This is pretty short notice for a project of this scope. I wish I could help, but something like what you’re asking requires at least a couple weeks of lead time. Unfortunately I won’t be able to meet your deadline this time around. Is next Thursday okay for a completion date?"

Why it’s better:

Sometimes people don’t understand how long projects take to complete. Here, you’re setting clear expectations while establishing a more realistic timeline for meeting their request.

Avoid having to say no in the future. Establish a Marketing Parking Lot.

One technique you could try is making everyone aware of the “Marketing Parking Lot.” When someone brings a reactionary request to your attention, say you’re adding it to the parking lot and will come back to it during your next planning session.

By using this technique, you’re reinforcing that you can’t fulfill every request as soon as they are brought up, but would be happy to work them into the overall marketing plan—as long as they will help you accomplish your marketing goals.

A good B2B marketer effectively balances their own plans and initiatives with those of other departments. Having a good relationship with coworkers is critical to the success of any marketer. But sometimes situations arise where you just have to say no. These strategies will help you do it in a way that’s effective and firm, but still polite and respectful.

Want more advice on rocking at your marketing job? Download the Ultimate Survival Guide for B2B Marketers today.

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This post was originally published March 25, 2016