Being Challenged

In business, rationalising the benefits of a business proposal using a compelling recommendation supported by a robust business case is often enough to get senior management agreement and buy-in. Yet, in some presentation meetings, some senior managers may start to question the supporting rationale or financials, and challenge the facts, assumptions or business case. Answering challenging questions can be uncomfortable, causing marketers to respond defensively, blag or waffle – responses that senior managers loathe. So, when challenged, how should marketers respond?

Right First Time 

Senior managers are time starved. So in any meeting, it’s important to be respectful of their time. Consequently, senior managers say that the smoothest meetings are the ones that:
  • Set the context, both why the project is important for the company, as well as for each of them personally as part of the leadership team.
  • Lay out the facts that bring the issue to life.
  • Lay out options to consider, with the pros and cons of each.
  • Make the recommendation with clear rationale on why this is right and how it will deliver the business objectives.
  • Communicate clear asks and next steps.
But in some cases even that is not enough.

In The Spotlight

When senior managers ask challengin questions or raise challenges, this is often a positive sign of engagement. They naturally want to problem solve, by kicking the tyres, testing the recommendations, and ensuring that there are no downsides. Additionally there may be healthy tensions in the Boardroom that need to be resolved, for example, the Sales Director’s desire for money to support advertising to make the product an easy sell, versus the Finance Director’s desire to minimise spend with the aim of maximizing profit. From a senior manager’s perspective, the worst thing that a presenter can do is to block them from being part of the problem solving, for example by:
  • Getting defensive – by saying for example: “We discussed as a team whether to include that information, but decided that it wasn’t important enough. If you want more detail then go to…”.
  • Blagging – pretending that they know the answer when they don’t.
  • Waffling – taking ages to get to the point.
Instead they would like to participate in a healthy debate, to together achieve a successful outcome. To encourage this healthy debate, marketers should do their homework beforehand, thinking through the tough or challenging questions and preparing for you might be asked. For example, put yourself in the Sales Director’s shoes, the Finance Director’s shoes, and the IT Director’s shoes, asking yourself what issues might concern each of them and how can you mitigate them. Then in the meeting itself, marketers should:
  • Welcome the question as wanting to help problem solve.
  • Pause to understand where the question is coming from. For example: What are they really trying to ask? What’s their motivation behind the question?
  • Answering the question, succinctly, factually and clearly.
  • Admit it when they don’t know the answer, and clarify what it is that they’d like to understand and then commit to when and how you’ll get back to them.
  • Clarify whether they’ve answered the question to their satisfaction.
By doing this, senior managers are more likely to feel engaged and part of the problem solving, and thus more likely to buy into the proposed recommendations.

In Summary

When senior managers ask difficult or challenging questions, marketers should view this as a positive sign of engagement – with senior managers wanting to engage in the problem solving to achieve a successful outcome. Consequently presenters should welcome the question, pause to understand it, answering challenging questions as succinctly, factually and clearly as possible, and admit it when they don’t know – and thereby increase senior management’s likelihood of coming on-board. Want to learn more about marketing, click here See Ruth’s discussions on Twitter.