The economic ups and downs of the past several years have radically changed the way businesses spend their money. With cost-efficiency top of mind, many buying committees have now expanded to include the ultimate decision-maker, the CFO.
In other words, knowing how to sell to the CFO is essential if you want to hit your sales quota. But, you’re probably wondering: do you treat the CFO like any other decision-maker? Or, do you throw out your tried-and-true selling tactics and adopt an entirely new approach to win over a CFO?
Today we’re answering those questions and more. Read on to learn the do’s and don’ts of selling to the modern-day CFO.
1. Research the CFO as extensively as possible.
This first tip might sound obvious, but it’s important to note that selling to a CFO requires more targeted and in-depth research than you may be accustomed to in your traditional sales preparation.
Your typical planning might go something like this: you conduct basic research about the prospect’s company, learn as much as you can about their business strategy and finances, and develop an understanding of their buying committee. If you’ll be interacting with a CFO, you should take your research a step further and aim to learn as much about them as possible.
Ideally, you’ll be able to quickly determine the CFO’s role in the decision-making process— but you should also learn about their background, current priorities, and even their style of communicating. Anything from their recent decision-making history to a social media post about their key interests can inform your action plan and help you win the CFO’s trust.
Recommended reading: Asking High Gain Questions to Close Deals Faster
2. Lead with cost benefits.
Unsurprisingly, cost reduction is currently the top business priority for CFOs, according to recent reports (source). Now, you might hear that and think it means a CFO will be wary to spend money on your product or service— or that you should emphasize the price of your service compared to similar solutions offered by your competitors.
But, this approach misinterprets the priority of most CFOs. Their desire to drive cost efficiency doesn’t mean they want to “spend as little as possible” on new services— in fact, they’re actively looking to make the right investments that will help them drive growth as efficiently as possible.
So, it’s your responsibility to show the CFO how your product will help their organization do more with less and generate more profit overall as a result. Consider the following example:
Let’s say your company sells a revenue intelligence platform that specializes in data-driven sales forecasting. Which of the following anecdotes is most likely to capture a CFO’s attention?
- “I understand your organization has struggled with data visibility and the accuracy of your sales forecasts. Company X was dealing with similar issues, and used our product to increase their sales forecast accuracy by 200%.”
- “I can show you how Company X generated an additional $1.2 million in sales last year as a result of our intelligent sales forecasting methods.”
The first option clearly states that your product will help alleviate a major pain point for the CFO’s company. Great, right? But, if the CFO’s top priority is cost efficiency, why do they need to invest in your service now? Why is it so important to urgently address that pain point if they want the business to generate more money?
Don’t overwhelm a CFO with details about what your product’s features and capabilities can achieve— and definitely don’t lead with pricing details in an attempt to satiate their inner cost-cutter. Explain how your product’s ability to solve a problem will ultimately reduce their business’s overall costs and what ROI they can expect if they choose to work with you.
Recommended reading: Skill vs. Will: When Skill Just Isn’t Enough in Sales
3. Speak to the challenges that CFOs care about the most.
Beyond cost reduction, there are a number of business challenges that a majority of today’s CFOs share. According to recent Deloitte research, the most worrisome challenges identified by CFOs are execution risks to their strategies/transformations, and talent risks, including retention and well-being (source).
When you sell to a CFO, you need to zero in on these challenges and specifically explain how your product addresses them.
Take the first of the two challenges we cited above: “execution risks to strategies and transformations”. This means that companies are concerned that the business initiatives they invest in will not be successful. As a salesperson, you need to understand what those initiatives are, what roadblocks might hinder the company’s success, and how your product will diminish those roadblocks. If the CFO is worried about the success of a major business initiative, a product that alleviates those concerns will undoubtedly capture their attention.
Or, consider the growing issue of talent retention. CFOs know how risky and costly it is to lose important employees and be forced to hire new talent. How will your product impact the performance and wellbeing of the employees who will interact with it? Will it help them do their jobs more efficiently, alleviate their biggest day-to-day frustrations, and enable them to exceed their individual and shared goals?
Remember: a CFO has concerns and fears about their performance, just like any employee does. If you show them how your product will help them save the day by conquering some of the business’s most urgent challenges, you’ll go a long way in winning over even the most skeptical of CFOs.
Recommended reading: 8 Better Ways to Re-Engage with Cold Prospects
4. Paint a clear picture of the implementation process.
Believe it or not, the value your product delivers is not the clear-cut top priority for all CFOs. In fact, recent research shows that the top two sentiments that lead a CFO to greenlight a new service are “ease of use by the wider business” and “simple implementation” (source).
CFOs don’t want to sign off on an investment that will only deliver value after a long, complicated implementation process, a steep learning curve, or an overhaul of their existing infrastructure. If time is money, a laborious implementation process translates to a lot of dollars wasted in the eyes of an experienced CFO.
So, make sure you’re able to break down the implementation process step by step by the time you’re discussing it with a CFO. Saying they’ll be “up and running in two weeks” or promising that the process is “very smooth” isn’t going to cut it. You should be prepared to discuss a 30, 60, and 90 day plan and explain exactly what steps your implementation team will take to ensure a seamless process. The second a CFO starts to worry your service will be a headache to get up and running, you’re at risk of losing their sign-off on the deal.
Recommended reading: BANT vs. MEDDIC: Comparing Sales Qualification Frameworks
5. Secure a strong champion.
Keep in mind: even if you do end up speaking directly with a CFO, they likely won’t be present for a majority of conversations throughout the sales process. But, that doesn’t mean they won’t be keeping a close eye on the deal— gathering opinions, asking questions about the negotiation process, raising sudden concerns, and so on.
You need to make sure that the CFO receives encouraging answers to the questions they raise internally. How do you do that? You secure and proactively support an internal champion within the buying committee.
The “support” part of that equation is extremely important. Don’t just blindly trust that your champion will give the CFO the right information to get the deal done. Think of any buying objections or questions that the CFO might raise— and equip your champion with specific data points, explanations, and testimonials that they can provide to the CFO in your absence.
Recommended reading: The Impact of Compensation Psychology on Sales Strategy [Infographic]
6. Capitalize on positive word-of-mouth.
Here’s the reality of selling to the CFO: there’s only so much you can do as a salesperson to win them over. Most experienced CFOs trust unbiased third parties far more than they trust a vendor or salesperson. In fact, 61% of CFOs rely primarily on customer reviews and word-of-mouth when vetting a new product (source).
So, do you just sit back and hope a CFO sees the great reviews of your product— and happens to miss that two-star negative review that’s been plaguing your company’s G2 page? Not unless you want to put the deal at risk.
Instead, make an effort to leverage good reviews by getting the right ones to cross the CFO’s desk. Let’s say a highly successful business in the prospect’s industry wrote a great review, highlighting the way your business solved a problem that the prospect is also dealing with. Send this review to your internal champion and suggest they pass it along— or, if the CFO is more hands-on in the deal, you might find the opportunity to send it to them directly.
Meanwhile, make sure you stay informed about the overall word-of-mouth surrounding your company and products. Speak with your customer marketing or success teams and make sure you’re aware of both positive reviews that can help the deal, and negative reviews that might raise concerns you’ll need to address.
Recommended reading: Using Automation to Address Sales Burnout
Final Thoughts on Selling to the CFO
If you’re not used to interacting with powerful executives to close a deal, winning over a CFO might seem like an intimidating challenge. But, selling to CFOs doesn’t mean writing an entirely new rulebook for effective sales tactics.
The tips we covered today are all about zeroing in on what details matter most to an influential decision-maker in today’s business world— and how you can use your talents as a salesperson to drive those details to the forefront.
Spiff is a new class of commission software that combines the familiarity and ease-of-use of a spreadsheet with the power of automation at scale- enabling finance and sales operations teams to self-manage complex incentive compensation plans with ease. Spiff is designed to facilitate trust across organizations, motivate sales teams, increase visibility into performance and earnings, and ultimately, drive top line growth. The platform’s intuitive UI, in-depth reporting capabilities, and seamless integrations make it the first choice among high-growth and enterprise organizations.