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For Sales Success – Everything Passes Through Finance!

by David Brock on June 24th, 2010

In Tom Peters’ The Little BIG Things, on Item #46, he makes the point that  “Everything Passes Through Finance.”  It’s such a important, yet too often ignored critical success factor for sales people.  In virtually every situation, Finance is always somehow involved in the sale.  Sometimes, it’s just paying the invoice; other times it’s issuing the PO; and very often, it’s approving the budget and providing the funding.

We all know this, but I am continually astounded by the sales people that neither know the key people in their customers’ Finance organizations, nor do they “speak the language.”  It seems if finance plays such a critical role in most purchases, it would be critical for sales people to be “wired” into the organizations.  Sales people should:

  • Know the key people that may be involved in reviewing, approving, funding, writing checks for the things we sell.  Develop relationships with these people, learn their hot buttons, how they perceive value, how you can help them.  Likewise they should know the seller so that if they have any questions they know where to turn.
  • Know the language of the finance people.  For example, they talk in terms of income statements, balance sheets, cashflow, assets, liabilities, profit, loss, ROI, Payback, IRR and a whole variety of other terms.  Great sales people understand how to read financial reports and analyze them, they understand how to determine the ROI or Payback of a proposal–they know which approach their customer prefers.  As a side note, nothing drives me crazier than talking to a sales person who says, “Our proposal has a ROI of X years.”  I’m sorry, ROI is expressed in percent and Payback is expressed in time.  While it may seem picky, using the term incorrectly destroys your credibility with finance types.
  • Know how they evaluate spending or investments in your types of products/services.  For example do they have certain ROI or Payback targets, do they expense or capitalize certain capital equipment purchases, do they consider off balance sheet financing, and the list can go on.  The more familiar the sales person is with the way they evaluate, justify, approve, and handle your types of transactions, the better you will be equipped to present the information important in getting their buy in and approval for acquiring what you are selling.
  • Know whether they favor certain kinds of terms?  Those can impact your pricing and/or how you might help them do a deal.  If you are willing to offer more flexible payment terms, you might make it easier for them to buy from you.
  • Know the mechanics of how they issue orders  (sometimes this is a procurement function which in some organizations falls outside finance).  Many of my customers don’t know the mechanics of actually “ordering” what I am selling.   They will eventually stumble through the organization to figure it out, but if the sales person knows this process, they can help the customer accelerate getting the PO through.  (This process also applies to the legal function for getting contracts approved quickly.)

In every organization, at some point in time, everything passes through Finance.  As sales professionals, if you don’t “know” finance, your effectiveness, value, and impact is much lower than the competitor who does.

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8 Comments
  1. Dave – Couldn’t agree more! – Todd

  2. David Olson permalink

    Dave,

    I have been in accountant/finance roles and would like to confirm for your readers that this a constantly over looked aspect of the sales process. Generally, finance types know that buying is one of the key componets of successful business. They want to spend or more accurately, invest the company’s money wisely. They have “rules” that they must follow which may feel like resistance but that really isn’t true. All you have to do is help them get the deal processed for their buyer aka your client and you will have a friend and ally … in finance and that is indeed a very good thing.

    David

    • David, thanks for your comment and insight into finance! The comments really resonate with me. My experience with finance is they don’t want to block things, they want to make sure the money is being invested in a way that is best for the company. Once the sales person understands this, and works with finance, just as with other functions, they are great allies and help shorten and simplify things. Thanks for joining the discussion!

  3. Hi Dave, a great post, helping the buyer buy and working with finance and procurement is the only way to succeed now. As you say procurement and finance can be a real ally especially as the deal size increases. Modern buying decisions are really business decision made by cross functional teams of experienced managers who know numbers and risk management.

    A number of sales people we work with are spending time with their in-house CFO to brush up on the terms you mentioned, food for thought for us all.

    Regards
    John

    • John, thanks for adding your insight! Too often sales people focus too narrowly, not engaging all the people involved in the buying process. Finance and procurement are key organizations often involved and who can be very helpful. Thanks for joining the conversation! Regards, Dave

  4. Hi Dave and all
    Just to add some more concept financial guys are using right now and you didn’t mention: TCO = Total Cost of Ownership. It is used when buying some IT tool, software solution or so, although the same concept could be applied to some other goods/services.
    TCO includes cost of the tool itself, licenses, implementing, but also maintenance, training, workhours dedicated to that training, travels, and everything you can consider wich is driven as a consecquence of the decision to sign that contract.

    • Jesus, great point–TCO is a key thing people are looking at for all purchases. Thanks for reminding us. Regards, Dave

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