Read the previous installments in this series below:
Part 1: Introduction and Background
Part 2: CFO Demographics
Part 3: CFO Churn and Risk Aversion
Part 4: The Modern CFO in the Mirror
Part 5: Half Accountant, Half Strategists: The CFO as Storyteller
Part 6: Getting a Meeting with a CFO and Capturing Their Interest
Part 7: Coveting the CEO Slot -- and Tapping Into This Interest
Part 8: Avoiding What CFOs Abhor
In selling anything (an idea, a program, a product, an outsourced solution, a new tax strategy...ANYTHING!!!) to a CFO, perhaps the most important thing to remember is that CFOs have an innate attraction to the minority of the business population to whom they can totally trust to take accountability for results. Building this trust in results and delivery, especially in cases where a long-standing relationship did not exist before (which is precisely why the Big 5 firms are so well positioned to sell anything to CFOs), takes a unique blend of skills, knowledge and empathy.
For one, our research suggests that those who truly understand what CFOs do will be more successful in selling a program or idea than those who do not. In this regard, an accounting background (even if it's just a few courses) can help, as do MBAs. Secondly, deep vertical/industry knowledge is also a critical skill. How one leverages these assets is as important as having them in the first place.
With CFOs, more consultative sales approaches are almost essential (ideally, without the CFO knowing someone is taking this approach). In our general experience, for a meeting that won't review specific internal opportunities and numbers, a typical "seller" (internal or external) should spend a minimum of a day collecting background information and developing a point of view before a 45-minute meeting.
When it's finally time to make a grounded financial business case for a program (usually in later meetings, not the first), it is absolutely essential to ensure that the business case is blatantly obvious. It must be well defined and grounded in real metrics based on internally driven pro-formulas (e.g., discount uptake, reduced headcount) rather than squishy factors (e.g., fewer supplier phone calls into AP). Prepare for a full body cavity search on how you got the inputs. And double, even triple check your models.
Just remember: if the CFO is having a less than stellar day, the best ideas, when sloppily presented (or even partially sloppily presented), you have virtually no shot at getting the green light.
Now with the groundwork set, as our series continues on Spend Matters PRO, we'll transition to looking at the best means of building CFO-focused business cases for a range of procurement (and AP)-centric initiatives, including the metrics and measures that are most likely to grab a finance executive's attention. As I noted in the introduction to this series, we'll also tackle recommend tips for balancing desired procurement outcomes from given initiatives with those of other business stakeholders, especially those with direct reporting relationships to CFOs.