Sometimes it feels like half of the job of Revenue Operations is telling others no or not now. Many times that happens when leaders across the revenue organization want to spend more than they have in the budget.
Maybe marketing wants a new analytics tool. Customer success wants more headcount. Sales wants to invest in new training and enablement resources. Whatever the case may be, there’s either room in the budget, or there isn’t.
Often, that also means I have to say no, or at least not now, to stakeholders across the revenue team when out-of-scope requests come through. But saying no to requests isn’t always easy.
As Clari’s VP of revenue operations, I take a measured approach to declining requests. Rather than focusing on rejections alone, I partner with leaders and their teams to explore solutions that align with our budget and also achieve shared goals.
For example, a dollar set aside for the customer success team could be applied to headcount as easily as it could a consulting service, as long as it’s the right motion to keep this part of the business growing. After all, we’re all on the same team with the same mission—driving predictable growth.
Determining which part of the business has the greater need requires deep communication and coordination among teams. Granted, this type of collaborative approach isn’t as fast or efficient as saying no outright. But collaboration isn’t just another line item to check off your to-do list; it’s an important opportunity to connect and creatively drive your revenue process forward.
My preferred approach prioritizes building long-standing relationships with stakeholders who can make or break your company’s revenue targets. That makes investing the time and energy to truly understand each request well worth it.
I have four principles on saying no that all RevOps leaders can use today:
- Don’t start with a hard no
- Talk about tradeoffs, with options for this vs. that
- Use models and data to make the argument for you
- Provide parameters to work within
1. Don’t start with a hard no
I don’t want to be anyone’s obstacle. Instead, I think of saying no as guiding them to make tradeoffs and or consider other decisions.
Hard nos are usually reserved for asks that are out of the norm, such as requests that are unusually large, have no business justification, or represent poor strategy. Typically, these asks are declined by that persons' direct leadership, but they come to me as a second chance to make their case.
To start, I recommend that RevOps leaders focus less on the no, and more on other options. That way, you’re not simply telling someone, "No, you cannot have that software or headcount,” and ending the conversation there. Often, asking questions like why someone wants a particular investment can uncover larger issues in the organization, in a good way. We can start to address the root of the problems, not just paper over them with an expensive stop gap.
For example, maybe a sales leader who asked about headcount is really worried that her staff is burning out. Her reps spend too much time on data entry, which only grow as they acquire more customers. Maybe they don’t need more reps, they need to invest more in a better process.
Instead, you’re having a productive dialogue about the best, most cost-efficient way to achieve the goal behind the original request.
2. Talk about tradeoffs, with options for this vs. that
Budgeting is a prioritization exercise. There are always more asks than money. My job in Revenue Operations is to help leaders align their asks with our budget, while ensuring they have everything necessary to meet their business goals.
Instead of declining the requests, I guide company leaders to solve the math equation. I provide them with a menu of options about how they may meet budgetary constraints while still getting most—or possibly all— of what they need. If they have a list of three asks, maybe they get two. IF one of those asks is headcount, maybe we stagger hiring throughout the year to save costs, while aligning the supply of workers to the demand of work to be done.
All of this requires advising leaders on trade offs, devising creative solutions, and understanding their prioritization. Taking this type of a consultative approach, over time, aligns the needs of your stakeholders, helping them achieve their goals, and the needs of the business, staying in budget and on time while supporting growth.
3. Use models and data to make the argument for you
Data driven answers are always the most defensible. They also reduce emotion within a disagreement. As a result, it is a RevOps leader's job to help create data-based models, both complex and simple ones, that help leaders make their case for more budget --- or even understand why their request may not make sense and they should stick within the budget.
During a planning process, I connect many models so that leaders in the organization can see the relationships between actions. We might examine how hiring plans impact the organization's quota capacity, which in turn impacts the seasonality of bookings, and that impacts the overall ability to achieve the bookings plan.
Similarly, many roles have a maximum capacity for work, which you can model to make an argument for the correct number of headcount for that year. For instance, there is a logical limit for the number of accounts a CSM can work on and remain effective at their job.
I can model:
- The supply of accounts at the start of the year
- The number of accounts we’ll likely acquire throughout the year
- The demand that capacity places on our staff
Then, I can use those numbers to quickly find the right number of CSMs we’ll need for that year.
If that number is well above or below the budget allocated, it creates a compelling argument and discussion to either carve out more budget, or work within the allocated budget, and hire less.
4. Provide parameters to work within
As you evaluate requests, it’s helpful to give requesters specific parameters.
For example, you might share that the business can only spend $4 million on new salary this year. The SDR portion of that is capped at 10%, due to current staffing levels as well as projected annual revenue and the needs of other departments.
When done correctly, it's less about telling a leader no, and more about empowering them to make the best decisions for their business within the constraints they have been given.
When it comes down to it, there’s an art to saying no. The best RevOps leaders hone their craft every day, building even stronger relationships along the way.