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How I got and was invited to stay in the CFO's office

by Jack Nuanes on 03/10/11

Part One

The day started like any other.  Then, my contact called and invited me to a face-to-face meeting.  I agreed and hustled off to his offices.  I thought, "This is it.  They are finally going to close the deal!"

My contact was in the lobby waiting for me.  He escorted me to a small lobby conference room and closed the door.  "Jack, you know I believe in your product.  My whole team thinks you and your company rock. We are ready to approve your proposal and get this thing started.  Unfortunately, I have new orders from the top. To proceed, you have to convince my CFO."  He said I had (15) minutes to discuss our products and services with the CFO. If the CFO signed off, we would proceed.

Just then, the CFO came into the room. She introduced herself, sat down and said, "Thanks for coming on such short notice.  Bob indicates you have a product that is perfect for our needs.  I have reviewed your proposal and on the surface, things look good.  I just have one question.  What exactly can you do for me and specifically what the senior team is worried about?" 

The Salesperson's Dilemma

Every salesperson faces competition.  Whether it is from a rival, new technology or who knows what,  we are always scraping and clawing to stay on top and make our numbers.  But what happens when the rules change overnight and we are faced with client directives that don't follow the usual features & benefits, probing/pain questions or strategic consulting pattern we are used to?  What happens when we are summoned by the CFO/CEO/Director of an organization and she says, "You have 15 minutes. What exactly can you do for me and, more specifically, the concerns of the senior team?"

I urge you to be honest here.  How many salespeople do you know that are qualified to answer this question?  More to the point, how many of us even know what the CFO's question means?

As noted in recent polls of U.S. salespeople and highlighted in  ASTD's recent research report, Accelerating Revenue Through Learning, Developing Sales Teams the Win (hereafter referred to as the Study) , most salespeople are under-qualified to answer this question and poorly trained on the subject.  In fact, only 44% of us ever receive any formal sales training sponsored by our organizations.

The Study finds that we are at the dawn of a dramatic role-shift that requires sales professionals to include financial analysis in every sales presentation. Salespeople are now behind the eight ball and sinking the cue is not an option.

The Study goes on to say that the salesperson's role has dramatically shifted four times in the past 30 years and we are now entering the fifth stage. Salespeople must become "business consultants".  The Study states that, "The salesperson needs to understand the economics of his or her own products and services as well as the economics of competitive products and services. The salesperson must be able to explain his or her product's advantages in terms of net savings and cost reduction. This is a major shift in the salesperson's skill set.  Most salespeople have little, if any, financial training."

What does this mean?  At a high level, to survive and thrive, salespeople must change.

Change is good!  But is it really?

"Change" is a powerful word.  This single word ushered in a new Presidential administration and continues to evoke a basic business principal: change or lose your spot at the top.  Over three quarters of the Study respondents want their sales training focus to change.  They want to learn how to manage the perception of customer value, focus on strategic thinking and become a better consultant.  Salespeople want more training in problem-solving and diagnosis.  In fact, sales professionals ranked problem-solving directly behind sales skills as the most important skill a salesperson can acquire.

Yes, change is good and sales people have their hand up. But, is anyone listening? 

Fortunately yes. In order to address this gap in problem solving skills,  a new form of sales training, is quickly rising. Known as Financial Performance Sales Training, it focuses on the use of a prospect's financial data to close deals.  Gone are the days when a chart imbedded in a "features & benefits" brochure depicting massive ROI will suffice.  Customers are demanding and expecting that their professional salesperson will be able to understand their immediate financial problem(s) without the need for volumes of probing questions. 

Why?  Corporations are under pressure.  They don't have time to be entertained by vendors following a pre-determined sales process or technique that doesn't immediately focus on their company's financial needs.  The Study makes this clear: the expectations of industry are out pacing the training of the sales professional.  Volumes of information available on the Internet make your prospect as educated as even the most seasoned sales professional.  Your prospect wants you to get right to the financial point or they will find a vendor that can.

In our next blog we will discuss this new evolution in selling.  We will focus on how to acquire financial sales skills and use your prospect's financial data to dramatically shorten sales cycles, position yourself as a trusted advisor and close larger and more meaningful deals at higher levels of the organization. 

And what did I say to the CFO? 

"Angela thanks for having me and I think I have an answer to your question. I examined the company's annual report and most recent 10K.  I paid particular attention to your three financial statement bottom lines, crucial drivers and key metrics.  I drilled down to the four, main ratio categories, Liquidity, Efficiency, Leverage and Profitability and proceeded to look at (26) KPI's.  I believe our product immediately helps improve five of those.  They are Days Sales Outstanding, Days on Hand, Cost of Sales as a % of Sales, Gross Margin and Return on Assets.  I think it's likely we could impact several more but I will need to ask a few more questions." 

The CFO smiled and said, "You are the first sales rep that I have met in this proposal process that presented their solution in my terms.  You bet we can keep talking.  How about we continue this meeting in my office?  I'd like to hear more about the financial impact of your product and talk over some of the contract details?" 

Don't miss the next blog when we discuss how simple it was to learn the approach I used.

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