The 4 Essentials to Sell to the CFO in a Challenging Economy
In times of tight budgets, companies are cautious about spending, and more people are involved in making purchasing decisions. Salespeople need to understand the CFO's priorities, decision-making process, and effective ways to work with them to close deals. Here are four important factors to get the CFO onboard.
#1: Understand the CFO’s Mindset
CFOs typically prioritize three or four things as their primary business drivers, especially in this economic environment. These include reducing cost, improving productivity, growing revenue without significant new investments, and mitigating risk. When reviewing proposals and expenditures, the CFO typically wants to know how investing in your proposal will tangibly impact one or more of these categories.
It's important to think of questions the CFO might ask. Here are some examples.
- Is this a solution for a problem the organization needs to solve?
- Is this the right solution?
- Is it cost-effective?
- What is the ROI, and how likely will it be achieved?
- Does it introduce additional risk to the organization?
The last thing a CFO wants is to spend money on a solution that sits on the shelf or isn’t utilized. Beyond the initial investment, they need to be confident that you, your team, and your organization as a whole have a handle on all the implementation considerations. They also want to be sure that the solution can be maintained and optimized without additional investment.
#2: Do Your Research
It’s critically important to do comprehensive research while creating your proposal. Your efforts need to go a level beyond what's considered call planning. Typically, you consider what’s happening in the industry and details about the company’s business strategy and financials. But you should also learn as much as possible about the background, communication style, and priorities of the company's CFO.
It’s also important to map all the key decision-makers and determine who is favorable to your solution and can influence the CFO. By knowing all the stakeholders, roles, and preferences for your firm and solution, you can create a more detailed action plan to help get the deal done.
#3: Find a Strong Champion
The right internal champion can make or break a deal. This stakeholder wants to get the deal done and is most likely impacted by your solution. Determine your champion’s authority within the company, including how well they are respected and their relationship with the CFO. Identify whether they proposed large expenditures in the past and successfully got approval.
When you can't get access directly to the CFO or won't be in the final presentation, you can rely on your champion to present the solution. Therefore, you must enable them to succeed. Build the business case with—not for—your champion so they can take ownership of the details and are comfortable with the assumptions.
Based on the proposed business benefits, the CFO often wants the champion to commit to savings or increased growth. Make sure any projections are conservative and believable. If the CFO sees inaccuracies or overly optimistic projections, the business case will likely receive additional scrutiny.
#4: Make it Easy to Buy from You
Finally, ensure you make it as easy as possible to do business with you as a supplier. The last thing the CFO wants is to get bogged down in difficult contract negotiations or non-standard payment terms. Through your champion and other stakeholders within the company, you should attempt to learn exactly how purchasing decisions are made, who will be in the room, and what information they need to make an informed decision. Determine what will make your program successful for all stakeholders and be willing to compromise on certain terms or conditions in exchange for other priorities you have to expedite the approval process.
A company's CFO can drastically impact your sales quota this year, so don't treat them as an afterthought when considering key stakeholders in a sales process.
CFOs prioritize reducing costs, improving productivity, growing revenue with less investment, and mitigating risk. Be prepared to show how your proposal will impact one or more of these categories. Conducting comprehensive research and partnering with a strong champion is critical to ensure that you’re on the same page as the CFO.
You may never meet them face to face, but understanding the CFO’s mindset, priorities, and how to sell to them effectively can set you up for success in difficult economic times.
About Ray Makela
Ray Makela is the General Manager of the Sales Readiness Group, A Part of SBI. He oversees all client engagements as well as serves as a senior facilitator on sales management, coaching, negotiation, and sales training workshops. Ray has over 20 years of management, consulting, and sales experience and writes frequently on best practices for coaching and developing sales teams.
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