SALES

9 Rules for Selling to a CFO

CFOs are paid to see risks and downside. Use these 9 tricks to change their minds and eliminate the roadblocks.
Present a top-level summary, backed by a detailed financial report with solid, quantified benefits and supporting analysis.
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Selling to a CEO is easy, because most CEOs are positive, high energy, and able to see the possibilities. But selling to a CFO... not so much. CFOs are paid to see risks and to worry about what things cost.  They’re the classic roadblocks in your drive to make sales.

Not to worry. Here’s a list of nine rules that turn CFOs from roadblocks into, at worst, speed bumps .

1. Never Give a Pitch

The quickest way to alienate an accountant-type is to talk about your wonderful product, your wonderful company, or (worst of all) your wonderful self.  They’re about the money, so stick to the subject.

2. Research First

Every CFO has a slightly different way of looking at financial value.  Before building a financial case, find out what’s important in this situation and what kind and size of numbers get on the CFO’s radar.

3. Focus on Cost Savings 

While CEOs are generally concerned with strategy and growing revenue, CFOs are generally interested in cost savings, backed with hard numbers and expressed in a way that makes sense to an accountant.

4. Be Concise

Present a top-level summary, backed by a detailed financial report with solid, quantified benefits and supporting analysis. Include a financial model so that the CFO can understand the assumptions surrounding the analysis.

5. Keep It Simple

Your financial model should not require verification based on information that’s difficult to gather. Use metrics that the CFO will find familiar.  Aren't sure which metrics to use? Go back to Rule No. 2.

6. Be Realistic

Any analysis or estimate that you present MUST be backed by demonstrable real-world proof. Weave benchmark examples and case study data into the analysis, backing whatever productivity claims you make.

7. Offer Objectivity

Many CFOs prefer to have an independent analyst be part of any measurement of cost saving or ROI. If the size of the deal warrants the extra expense, hire an independent to do the analysis for you.

8. Provide Measurement & Action Plan

CFOs want to know how the financial impact of the purchase will be measured on an ongoing basis and what actions your firm will take if those benchmarks aren't met.

9. Get a Public Commitment

This is very important: As the next step, get the CFO to write an email, attend a meeting, or do something else visible to the rest of the company that will indicate the CFO is “on board” with the purchase.

The above is expanded from a conversation with Bruce Scheer, a principal at FutureSight Consulting.

IMAGE: iStock
Last updated: Dec 8, 2011

GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist

Geoffrey James is an author, speaker, and award-winning blogger. Originally a system architect, brand manager, and industry analyst inside two Fortune 100 companies, he's interviewed over a thousand successful executives, managers, entrepreneurs, and gurus to discover how business really works. His most recent book is Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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