Over the years I have worked with CROs, CCOs, and CMOs, partnering with the CFO to best figure out what our go-to-market budget will be so we can improve next year. And each year we work with the various leaders of Sales, Field Marketing, Support, Customer Success, Demand Gen, SDR, etc., to strategize on where to allocate dollars and time over the next year. It’s a complex dance. Unless you work at a mythical company with unlimited budget, you have to make trade-offs. Understanding your C-suite’s thought processes will be the key to whether your team comes out on the right side of those hard choices.
Below are the top five things your executive team has at the top of their minds when they review your budget—and how to use them to get the funds you need next year.
1. The Big Goals
In the next fiscal year, every company wants to grow more, retain more, spend less. But which one is really going to move the needle for your company next year? Planning cycles in the startup world tend to be all about, “How do we grow revenue?” But I have been at companies where that was the goal every year; one year it was grow sales at all costs, while the following year we needed to retain the base much better. In larger companies we focused on, “How do we do 10% more with 10% less?
So, when you’re pitching what you want to do for your team or org next year, think about how that relates to the big company goals and how the benefits of your plan relate to those goals. Here are two hyper-practical examples:
- Customer Success: If your company has high retention and low growth but you want to pursue Customer Success, don’t lead with higher retention. You won’t get anywhere. Lead with improving your ability to handle more accounts or leverage best practices. Show your execs how you can drive to a lower cost model.
- Marketing: If you’re in Marketing at a growth company and want a new prospecting tool for your SDR team, don’t tell me about how much time they will save once we have it (frankly, we hired them because they are lower cost resources whose time we can spend on some of this stuff), tell them how many more SQLs they will generate.
Don’t make your executives fill in for themselves how your plans will help them achieve the company’s goals. Draw the map for them.
2. The Give for the Get
Put yourself in your leadership’s shoes. You and your team produced something last year and now you want to add more people, more budget, more whatever. What are you going to give them in return? Because they already know what will likely happen if they add nothing: the same results as last year.
You want to build a new org, buy a new tool, double your headcount—okay. But what does the company get that we didn’t already get? Move past the ROI calculator, put your money where your mouth is. You want to buy this new tool because it will uptick growth by 10%? That sounds fantastic, let’s get this going. Oh, and by the way, are your reps taking 10% more quota? If not, will your team take on some quota? You’re not sure you want to? Okay, we will assess your proposal and get back to you.
From my perspective, this is the most powerful way to make your mark in the planning cycle and get what you want. There are always other potential options on which to spend time and capital. So, how will the company prosper by choosing your idea? If you can do it well, it will not only help you get what you need, but also show your executive team that you are a strategic leader who understands and operates with the bigger picture of the company in mind.
Is there someone who is passionate about the plan or tool? This makes a huge difference, because leadership wants to feel comfortable that someone will be there hustling to make this strategy work. Everything new takes time and focus, no matter how valuable it is. So, when everyone is busy with hundreds of other things that could be added to their plate, leadership wants confidence that someone will not only agree to take ownership, but is excited to drive the bus on this new thing.
This goes for not just big spends, but small spends as well. The highest level of person who is passionate about the project has a direct correlation to the budget that comes with it.
It’s worth noting, if the person who has the passion is not responsible (either directly or through someone who reports to them) for actually running or operating the project on a day-to-day basis, their passion for it is irrelevant.
4. Cross-functional dependencies
Can you do this on your own and be successful? If the answer is yes, it makes the whole discussion fairly easy: the team asking for it can take ownership and make trade-offs and drive towards success. Unfortunately, most things are not that simple. If you are dependent on other teams for the success of the project, then we need to bring those team leaders in to understand their commitment to the change. If we are misaligned, there is likely not a big budget hold on your effort.
Here’s what I’m talking about:
Customer Success: If you are in Customer Success Management or Account Management of some sort, does your head of Sales/Marketing/Support/Product believe in what you are doing? Does she believe in the work needed to create the mindset of “customer first?” If the answer is “kind of” or “I think so,” then get with your leaders and understand their view. If they are not fully bought in, you can’t make the pitch for a tool or service based on the cross-functional benefits. Maybe you put off the big ask until next year when you have had time to prove it to them. But for now you have to focus on the value of the tool as it relates what you can get done with your team alone. If you oversell it, you risk losing credibility.
5. The Board Deck
Are you proposing something we can put in the board deck? Let’s put it another way: will this make your boss look good?
If you are pushing and taking ownership of an initiative that has enough upside that it is worth trumpeting at the board level, then the whole company is bought in. You’ll get resources and budget and support from executive team. It comes with more pressure, but it also highlights the future leaders.
The bottom line
To sum up, think about what you’re trying to do with your budget ask. How it will drive the vision of the company? What do you have to trade to get it done and back up your vision? How much do you really care about it? Who are you dependent on? And can this make your bosses look good?
If you can answer all or even most of these questions well you will likely get the runway you need to prove you know how to lead your team—and the company—forward.