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Following The Money

by David Brock on March 8th, 2013

Any sales professional worth her salt knows to “follow the money.”  Traditionally, we interpret that as, “Who has the budget?”  While that’s important, it’s no longer sufficient for sales success, or more importantly, for our customers’ success.  We have to follow the money much further.  For any business, large or small, we have to understand, quantify, and communicate the impact of what we want the customer to do on the attainment of their organization’s strategic and financial goals.  We have to come as close as we possibly can to expressing the impact we will have on Balance Sheets, Income Statements, and Cashflow–all things critical to and controlled by the CFO.

Everything we do has an impact on the Balance Sheet, Income Statement, and Cashflow of the customer.  We impact assets and liabilities.  Clearly if they are buying a piece of equipment or parts–the impact is easy to see.  We impact expense, not only in what they spend on buying our and implementing our stuff, but hopefully in reducing expenses in areas.  Ideally, we are doing something which improves revenue and helps them to grow.  We also have an impact on the timing of those savings or revenue increases, so cash flow is very important.  So we have to be able to connect the dots of what we do to the basic financial measures important to the organization.

The people we are “selling to,” may not even understand this.  We may be selling to a function that is trying to manage things within a budget, so they will be obsessed with making sure whatever they buy, fits into their budget.  Others may have more of an investment mentality, so they are going to be looking at the ROI of what they implement.  The problem, however, is they are primarily focused on their goals and objectives, but those may not be aligned with the priorities of the overall organization.  Getting their support, winning with them is critical.  But these are, increasingly, insufficient for our success.

Resources are scarce.  Every decision in the organization is weighed against the overall objectives and goals.  Every business owner, CEO, Board prioritizes what they buy and invest in.  A great business case is not enough for executives to “find the money.”  All purchases, every investment has to contribute to the strategic initiatives of the organization.  If your proposal doesn’t, as badly as your customer wants what you are selling, executive management will not “buy.”

So are you following the money far enough?  Are you calling on people in the finance function–whether it’s a divisional financial planning person, divisional controller, or the CFO?  Are you presenting your solution in terms that are meaningful to them?  Can you tie your solution to an impact (however small) on the Balance Sheet, Income Statement, and Cashflow of the organization?  Can you demonstrate how money spent on you will increase growth, increase profits and profitability, improve cash flow, and ultimately, improve valuation?

The closer you can come to doing this, the better you will be speaking the customer’s language–which after all is the language of money and finance.

Follow the money!  But make sure you are following the money far enough!

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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