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Honing the Skill of Negotiating Priorities

Posted September 1, 2021
Allye OBrien
Allye O’Brien has a very interesting perspective to share. Allye started in sales, moved to revenue operations, and now is moving back to sales management. We were very interested to hear her views on what sales managers most often misunderstand about operations and vice versa.

Operations Professionals Need to Know How to Sell

Those of us in operations have a reputation for being introverted and data-centric. This may be true for many of us, but we need to learn how to sell if we want to advance in our careers. Very often, we’re asked to change the behavior of people. People we have zero authority over. This is hard to do at the best of times and especially difficult when our aims are perceived as detrimental to their ability to do their jobs (for BDRs or full-cycle sellers, in their minds, more data entry means less time selling). Unfortunately, many sales managers don’t understand the value of operations, and we have to advocate for our role to win them over as allies. “I wish sales managers knew that operations wants the sales team to be successful. Nothing is changed for work’s sake. Everything operations does has the end goal of getting your team to a more successful launching point.” The key to internal selling is knowing what motivates the other person and how what you’re trying to achieve relates to their motivations. Negotiation motivators Short of making their jobs tangibly easier by reducing the time it takes to open or close an opportunity or shortening the sales cycle, we have to explain why a change may benefit them in a different way. Taking the time to explain the “why” behind what you’re asking a team to do can go a long way. Initially, when I asked for more data from sales, they thought I was making their job more difficult by requiring data for the sake of some arbitrary stat someone would look at a couple of times and forget about. Explaining that the metric would help the company staff customer success in advance of a client being brought on board, improving the customer’s onboarding experience, made a big difference in their perspective. “Being a sales leader is such an incredibly different vehicle for convincing sales to cooperate than being an operational leader. That was something that surprised me. When you’re a sales manager leading a team of 10, 15, or 20 people, you tell them we have to make a change. And here’s how and why we have to make it. “This is your team. They’re already bought in. They already believe in you. They’ve already followed your leadership this far. “When you’re in a different department, you’re an outsider. And in many ways, your request can be viewed as having a negative impact on sales. You have to convince them that what you’re asking is good from a data perspective, but it’s also good from a people process perspective for them and the client’s experience.” The same skill is also needed when someone in sales or marketing asks you for something, and the impulse is to say, “No.” Allye shared her frustrations as a sales manager before she was responsible for the systems and analytics that support them. “I thought adding a picklist value should take 30 seconds. I didn’t realize it actually could be hooked up to six other integrations. It could be used in automation. It could be something that is built specifically this way so that we can accomplish something else in the end. And what seems like a very simple ask to you might actually be a very complicated task.”

Cooperation From Sales Involves Give and Take

We’ve already covered this a bit in the prior section, but it’s worth saying again. Getting cooperation is always easier if the person sees benefits in the exchange over the long run. give and take If we’re always asking for data and not giving sales or marketing anything back, that will not go over well. When you make a change and add a requirement, look for ways you can improve their experience. “Give and take. Shrink the impact of the change for them. I think that’s really important.”

Managing Up: Reporting

Analytics in marketing and sales is rarely an exact science. We’re either basing our predictions on someone else’s gut feel or struggling to get data in shape or fill in gaps in the buyer journey. Allye pointed out that part of the battle is positioning the data in a way that reduces the opportunity for debate. “I think it’s all in how you set it up. How do you get them to think digging into a number or making a process change to improve a number was their idea? For me, it’s a matter of framing and perspective. For example, a number has gone down. I’ll explain why and what we’re doing to fix the problem and then move on. If it’s a problem you do want input on, you can open up the discussion and say, ‘I’d love your feedback on this.’ Ultimately, it comes down to confidence and trust. They need to trust that I am going to move the needle on this metric and get us to where we need to go. “One of the best things that the C-suite can do to improve productivity is to give trust to the leaders that they’ve brought in, and that comes with trusting their leadership team’s gut as well. CEOs tend to be analytical and numbers-driven. They want data before making a decision. Many sales leaders are more gut-driven, and it’s operation’s job to marry the two of them together. We need to be able to say, ‘I see the number. I know it could be better. Here’s what we’re doing about it.’ And we need to be trusted.” negotiating priorities We also need to understand the upstream and downstream influences on a number and anticipate questions so we can answer them confidently. What can we do when the data isn’t perfect, and we can’t attain perfection without better tools or resources? Allye recommends setting expectations early and negotiating an acceptable margin of error. “Set the expectation for what the acceptable variant is. What is your expected plus or minus? Two percent? Five percent? It will depend on the volume of business and the size of your org, but it’s important to understand and influence what’s expected. Explain how you know that reports are not always going to line up 100%. “A lack of resources is a big thorn in the side of operations. When I started in operations, I was scared to admit we could do something, however, here’s what we need to do that successfully. You have to remind people of priorities and negotiate what’s put on the back-burner for a new priority. Or point out the additional resources and support that I’m going to need to get this project accomplished the way that you want it to be done. “As a rookie, it’s really scary not to commit to something when the person you’re talking to knows what’s possible and how the project should be run when you lack resources, support, training, knowledge, access—whatever it is. You have to get into a ‘Yes, and’ mind frame. As in, yes we can do that, and here’s what I’m going to need to get it done.”
To hear more on what drew Allye to operations, how to manage up, and why formatting (actually) matters, listen to the full Revenue Marketing Report episode at the top of the article or anywhere you podcast.

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