How a salesperson should approach a Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

Chief Financial Officers frequently play an important role in decisions customers make.  Whether they are actively or passively engaged, you should assume they are involved.  Have you ever thought a deal was moving forward only to hear “the CFO has an objection”?  It is critical to proactively develop a working relationship with the CFO at your customers.  Jeff Cahoon, Operations CFO, shares some valuable ideas on working with CFOs.

What CFOs think about

Some perspective from Jeff…”When you’re pitching a new product and the CFO is in the meeting, you can be sure she has a number of thoughts running through her mind.  Here are just a few examples.

  • How does this product/solution support our overall strategy?
  • What are the benefits, how do we measure them, and how do we ensure they’re realized?
  • How much is the investment, up front and annually, and should the capital be invested elsewhere?
  • How committed is the vendor to the success of the Company and the investment?”

How a CFO reacts to a pushy rep

Patience is critical when you have multiple players involved in a decision.  Jeff adds…”Many salespeople make the mistake of being “salesy” – they tout the benefits of the product and promise the moon, but leave the CFO with a feeling of isolation.  In those situations, most CFOs take a defensive position and immediately focus on stopping the proposal from going further.  More analysis must be done before any funding will be considered.”

How to approach a CFO

Even if you do not have a financial background, you can find common ground with a CFO and demonstrate your professionalism (separating you from many other sales reps).  Great advice from Jeff on how to approach a CFO…

”A better goal for these meetings is to start a relationship with the CFO and avoid the dreaded “pause button” that can turn into a lengthy delay or even a lost opportunity.  Forming this initial relationship is relatively easy – here’s how you do it.

  • Do your homework – ask lots of questions about the company’s strategy before you meet with the CFO.  Get a full picture of the company’s challenges from different people and from different functions.
  • In the meeting with the CFO, refer to the company’s strategy and periodically ask her questions to confirm your understanding and to show your interest.
  • Provide examples of how the benefits can be measured and if available, refer to specific findings from other clients that use the product.
  • Acknowledge the scarcity of capital and the process the CFO will use to determine which projects are funded and which ones are not.
  • Most importantly, show your desire to be a partner with the company and to assist with the analyses her team will perform.  You have great value and can help identify the necessary components (quantitative and qualitative) for the analyses.”

Planning improves your chances of winning!

Taking the time to identify who is involved in the decision process, what role they play and the criteria they will use to make a decision ALWAYS pays off.  Jeff provides a great summary…”In the end, the CFO will look to her team for a recommendation – not to you.  But the steps you take along the way can quicken the pace of the process and greatly influence her decision.  Most importantly, putting yourself in the CFOs shoes will help you to provide the best service and solution for your new client.”

Have a great week!

Feel free to contact me directly for ideas and/or help on this or other topics!

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