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Cracking the CFO Code: 4 Proven Ways To Win Over Finance

An illustration of finance and sales professionals jumping on a pile of coins to get across a chasm.
The CFO’s love language is math. To close more deals, show concrete financial impact to convince them the investment makes sense. [Alwie99d/Adobe Stock]

CFOs are known for scrutinizing deals, especially in an era of cost-cutting. Use these four tips to get the green light from your prospect’s finance leader.

Welcome to #Salesblazer Q&A, a column by sales pros, for sales pros. Get answers to your burning questions about the best ways to sell, learn, and grow in this ever-changing field. Have a question? Ask it here.

Dear Salesblazer: I’ve heard from a lot of other sellers that CFOs are scuttling their deals due to budget cuts, and I’m worried the same thing will happen to my deals. How do I get CFO buy-in so my deals close? — Kristen Handler, senior account manager, Red Argyle

Dear Kristen: Convincing CFOs that your deal is a win doesn’t come down to persuasive language or sexy pitches. Their love language is math. When they review proposals at the end of the sales process, they want to know that your product makes financial sense. To make your case, share data that proves your product is worth the investment, delivering more profit for their business. I’ll discuss below how to craft deals that both finance and sales teams will love. — Jim Kreller, chief revenue officer, Arcadia Solutions

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How to CFO-proof your deal 

CFOs always have their eye on potential financial risk. Deepak Ahuja, former CFO of Tesla, said it best: “There are many existential threats that come along on a daily, weekly, or quarterly basis; they are always there.” But that doesn’t mean CFOs reject every sales proposal. By homing in on clear ROI (supported by case studies), showing confidence in your solution, and anticipating down-the-line costs, you can secure buy-in from even the most risk-averse CFOs. Here’s how:

1. Note ROI at the start of the sales process

Based on my experience in the SaaS industry, selling successfully boils down to demonstrating how your product will affect revenue. To get CFOs excited, you need to show them your partnership will make both of you money. Start your sales conversation by focusing on how your solution will potentially contribute to net profit. Make sure to use language the prospect can easily understand, and give them specifics. 

Here’s what I do: As soon as I find a good fit with a buyer, I work with them to map out the buying process. Who are the key decision-makers? What are their timelines and budget constraints? Since my primary contact will need to present the deal to their CFO, I prepare a strong financial case that makes sense for both finance and sales. It includes clear information on cost, how quickly they’ll recoup their investment, and any compliance considerations. By laying this groundwork, I can frame a deal that a CFO will find hard to reject. 

A word of caution, though: A CFO will take every opportunity to show you they have a better understanding of the bigger financial picture. Present your financial modeling as preliminary thinking, and invite them to collaborate with you to bring their priorities into clearer focus. It doesn’t hurt to have your own finance and sales teams try to poke holes in your models to make sure you have a compelling deal.

2. Take calculated risks to show confidence in your solution

A strong sales pitch only goes so far. Dollars speak louder than words, so work with your leadership team to craft deals connecting price or payment to the prospect’s revenue after they implement your solution. This calculated financial risk shows you believe in your product. 

Here’s an example: Earlier in my career, I was selling a SaaS product to a major greeting card company. After emphasizing the revenue potential of my company’s solution early in the sales process, I proposed a pay-for-performance fee structure tied to a specific amount of revenue growth for the prospect. This approach required swallowing some risk (which I’d cleared with my boss). Although the prospect’s CFO ultimately preferred a hard-number investment, he was impressed by the confidence I displayed by suggesting this arrangement. It set us apart from the competition.

3. Bring in case studies and customer stories to show positive financial impact

If you’re considering the CFO in the sales process, you’re already thinking about ROI from the prospect’s perspective. Use this mindset to help you select case studies that will resonate. Share examples of existing customers who’ve seen significant financial gains thanks to your solution, and back them up with specifics. Make sure these case studies mirror the industry, financial needs, and pain points of your prospect.

I’ve used this tactic many times in my career. One instance stands out, though. I was selling an SMS marketing solution a few years ago — a new concept, and prospects were skeptical. To offset this hesitation, I came to every sales meeting with a presentation chock-full of impressive financial results from big-name customers who’d adopted my SMS solution. Once prospects saw the financial upsides, the conversation quickly shifted from “Will this be worth it?” to “When can we get started?” 

A quick note on adoption, by the way: CFOs care about how likely their company is to use a product in day-to-day work, as that ultimately affects ROI. It’s not surprising, considering that as much as 38% of software license spending goes wasted or unused. When you’re gathering convincing case studies, be sure to look for positive adoption rates from your customers. Ideal rates vary depending on product and use case, but you can use this article as a guide. 

4. Be clear about down-the-line costs

The initial cost of the deal isn’t the whole story. Implementation, training, and maintenance costs often add to the customer’s financial investment. Be upfront about these and factor them into the total ROI. You can break down the potential cost based on the customer’s financial calendar: At a minimum, I like to give prospects a look at expenses for one fiscal year and for the life of the product/solution. 

For example, let’s say you’re selling computers to a small retail business. Be clear about how long each system is expected to last, what hardware and software updates will be needed and when, and the cost for common part replacements. You can also factor in training costs, especially if you anticipate significant changes to the software down the line.

Finance and sales can work together to close more deals

When it comes to selling, you need to have swagger. But you need to have the numbers, too — the dollars-and-cents argument that shows how much value a prospect will get if they invest in your solution. Come to every sales conversation ready to address financial questions and concerns, especially those that might arise from shifting budgets and business needs. If you don’t have an answer, offer to follow up in a day or two with the requested details. The ultimate goal is to show positive ROI for your solution, and in doing so, to establish yourself as a trusted partner who understands the financial impact of your deal. That’s the key to winning over the CFO.

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Jim Kreller Chief Revenue Officer, Arcadia Solutions

An award-winning global sales and product delivery leader, Jim Kreller has a proven track record of helping firms achieve strong market positions by finding and converting profitable opportunities and boosting sales expansion efforts. He's proficient in building innovative market-centric strategies and motivating clients to drive revenue growth.

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