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The internet is loaded with content about sales objections. If you want to learn what to do when a potential buyer tells you “I don’t have the budget for that” or “we’re happy with our current solution” or “I was just looking,” well, Google is your friend.
This article isn’t about that.
Today, we’re going to talk about the internal objections that marketing leaders encounter when pitching big ideas within their organizations.
Getting pushback on new ideas is just part of life as a marketer. But if you’ve identified a marketing strategy or tactic that you truly believe will be impactful for your business, you shouldn’t go down without a fight. After all, selling your own company on your ideas is a requirement to being successful as a VP of Marketing or CMO.
So let’s run down four common objections that marketing leaders run into constantly, and some practical suggestions for beating them.
Related: 10 Brilliant Responses to the Customer Who Is ‘Just Looking’
“We already tried that”
What it really means: “The last person in your role tried this and failed, and we think you will fail in the exact same way.”
Why it’s frustrating: Even if a marketing tactic failed for your company in the past, it doesn’t mean it would be a guaranteed failure in all scenarios—especially if someone with a completely different perspective is managing it. In fact, a previous failure should make you more likely to succeed the second time because you can learn from your company’s past mistakes.
What to do when you hear it: Ask everyone involved in the last iteration of the idea for a complete rundown of what went wrong. Prepare a brief for your CEO that acknowledges these missteps, while detailing the specific ways in which your approach would be different.
Keep in mind that some ideas are just poorly timed. If you have evidence suggesting that the idea would be more successful the second time around because market conditions have shifted in your company’s favor, lead with that message. The past doesn’t always dictate the future.
“It doesn’t feel like us”
What it really means: “This would require our brand to step outside our well-established comfort zone, and that makes me uncomfortable.”
Why it’s frustrating: Bold companies attract attention, and risk-averse companies get left behind. It’s always upsetting when you come up with an idea that could potentially get a lot of new eyeballs on your brand or open up entirely new markets, but your boss would rather stick to the same, safe efforts that have kept your growth rate stuck in the mud.
What to do when you hear it: Explain to your CEO that clinging to the past is preventing you from reaching your next thousand (or million) customers. Those future buyers don’t care what your brand used to represent—how are you going to reach them right now?
It’ll help your argument if you mention a few examples of brands that stepped way out of their comfort zones and struck gold. Burger King pivoting into plant-based proteins, Charmin embracing bathroom humor, and Microsoft entering the video game console wars are just a few famous examples.
Related: 8 Controversial Marketing Campaigns That Paid Off
“We can’t afford to do that”
What it really means: “There’s no way that what you’re proposing will have a positive ROI.”
Why it’s frustrating: No marketing leader in their right mind would suggest something that they think would lose the company money. Everything we do as marketers is meant to pay off eventually, even if it can’t be directly measured at first.
When company leadership frequently gives you flak about what new ideas would cost, it means that they’re overly focused on how much revenue those ideas would produce in the short term, rather than their potential long-term impact. And it’s very hard to operate effectively as a marketer in an environment like that.
What to do when you hear it: Speak to your CEO in the language of attribution, but in a way that sets realistic expectations in terms of timeframe and metrics. For example, you could say “The goal of this initiative is to increase PR hits by 30% and organic website visits by 20% over the next six months, leading to increased sales from non-paid sources. As long as we continue to invest in this channel, we’ll be ROI positive within three quarters, and will be seeing a higher return in 18 months than any other marketing investment we’re currently making.”
Of course, your boss might respond by dropping this one on you…
“Why don’t you run an experiment first?”
What it really means: “I think this is a bad idea, but maybe if I let you spend a few bucks on it you’ll fail quickly and go back to things that have worked for us in the past.”
Why it’s frustrating: Some things are simply unknowable in small degrees. The impact of running a Super Bowl ad can’t be predicted by running a late-night ad on your local television station. Sure, you could come up with an “MVP” version of pretty much any marketing idea, but sometimes you really do have to go all-in to get the outcome you’re hoping for.
What to do when you hear it: First, point out all the small-scale experiments that your company has tried and failed. Then, point out all the big, expensive swings your more successful competitors took that knocked it out of the park.
If you have a friendly relationship with your boss, you could also go the snarky route: “If I wanted to buy a chair for the office, would you tell me to buy a chair with one leg and see if it’s successful before investing in the four-leg model?” (Thanks to the brilliant Paul Knegten for that gem.)
I’ll leave you all with a question: What should you do when your boss simply tells you, “I don’t get it”? Connect with me on LinkedIn and DM me your best answer.
Related: How to Experiment With Marketing Without Ruining Your Business