How does that word make you feel? Seriously, I want to know. Because I’m guessing that most people view the word “no” with a negative connotation.
Poor no. Brandished as a word only used by feisty toddlers, resistant to sharing, or perhaps stringent parents, hell-bent on ensuring their teenager never has any fun.
However, maybe “no” has just gotten a bad rap. Maybe learning how to say “no” is not only extraordinarily powerful, but it can also make a positive impact. And for marketing teams, maybe we have some room for improvement in learning to “just say no.”
As B2B marketers, we often carry the false belief that we need to say “yes” to every single project request. No matter your job level, we feel compelled to act as a service arm to our business organization, agreeing to both strategic projects as well as the one-off whims of executives.
Powerful marketing leaders keep encouraging us to stop the madness, telling us to create less content, take on an agile approach, and document our strategy. Yet, we continue to struggle with taking projects off our plates. We continue to hear our fellow marketers discuss the woes of work—and content—overload.
This is not a problem we should simply ignore. Allowing ourselves as marketing teams to be subject to the inundation of unplanned work and ad hoc requests not only perpetuates content waste but separates us from strategic, impactful campaigns. Without saying no, we’re left to create content that is, at best, misaligned, and at worst, ineffective.
Why Saying No Is So Damn Hard
Let’s take a quick trip back to psych 101. Society has constructed us to say yes, especially to authority figures. We don’t want to disappoint people or seem lazy, so we say yes. We aim to please, to be likable (which is especially true for women, but that’s an entirely different article), so we say yes.
Focusing on marketing teams specifically, we are the content center of our business. Understanding content as much more than top of funnel blog posts, we have a robust responsibility to deliver a diversity of content across a multitude of teams, tools, and channels. From mid-market to enterprise, there are many cross-functional stakeholders involved in creating a single piece of content.
Perhaps most importantly, the organizational issue of accepting all requests is much larger than an individual being good as saying no. The resistance to ad hoc content requests needs to go beyond an individual to truly be effective—regardless of job level. Saying no in marketing is an organizational shift focused on adhering to a data-based, documented, aligned strategy—the secret to the art of saying no.
Solving the Problem with Strategy: How to Say No
Many teams get caught in project overload by failing to commit to a strategy. If you want to avoid people asking you to do random crap, you ought to have a viable “excuse” why you simply don’t have time. If you say, “I’m super busy,” that provides absolutely zero context, so this is where saying no will work against you.
Instead, try this:
- Ask leadership to send you high-level priorities
- Limit yourselves to an established block of time (be it a week or an entire quarter)
- Set an established strategy for your entire team within the time block
- Assess the capacity of your team and the amount need to accomplish these strategic initiatives
- Leave a small amount of time for the ever present unplanned work
- For everything else, say no.
When you have an established strategy, you can provide specific context for why you don’t have time for that random project, no matter how important it may seem.
I don’t mean to oversimplify the process of actually aligning your team around a focused strategy. That process is important and complex and a topic within itself. Instead, the aim of this post is to remind marketers that strategy can be your weapon against ad hoc requests, unplanned work, and content misaligned with buyer needs. Saying no, in support of this strategy, can empower entire marketing teams to focus, creating content that drive real business results.