Audience: CRO, VP of Sales and Sales Management who sell to public companies
The US has not formally claimed we are in a recession but everyone is acting like it, so what can we do as revenue professionals when Chief Financial Officers (CFOs) are the biggest gatekeeper to sales, renewals and expansions?
Improving financial acumen especially during a recession is a skill set leaders need to coach their managers and reps. The data shows that reskilling B2B reps is a top priority for most sales leaders. Focusing skill development and coaching on how to speak with a CFO will have an outsized impact relative to the effort and is highly relevant in today’s economy.
We must equip our teams to be able to understand where a company is financially in order to map the value proposition of our product to key financial findings and objectives. Ultimately we need to demonstrate how our solution or services can have an impact on their revenue and/or costs. This is critical in order to gain CFO’s support for investment. Everything must be considered mission critical to gain investment right now. Establishing ROI and financial impact is a must.
If a seller cannot talk to a customer’s P&L and tell them what is going to be done to enhance it, then they won’t be successful as modern sales reps.”
President, Technology Company from McKinsey paper 1
When the economy is contracting (in a recession), many companies struggle to make money, growth rates slow and all companies get more conservative with their investments. During economic downturns CFOs play a bigger role in financial expenditures such as contracts and budgets at the department level as they are under pressure to preserve cash, reduce costs and provide the best results given the economic circumstances. They must answer to the board and investors quarterly so there is an increased sense of urgency in these matters.
In a recession most companies focus much more aggressively on profit or EBITDA (Earnings Before Interest Depreciation and Amortization) in a financial statement. They are actively looking for ways to increase revenue while reducing Operating Expenses and Customer Acquisition Costs. If you can attach your solutions’ value prop to those larger initiatives you will have a better chance of getting a CFOs attention and support for investment. Be sure your proposal is a specific business case on how your product delivers these results. Ideally you should leverage their data as inputs in your business case.
To better understand the financials of publicly traded companies, start by reading their financial statements. These can often be found linked from their website off of an investors page or you can go directly here to read 10Ks (these are annual financial statements, use this guide to help read) and 10Qs (these are quarterly financial statements, use this guide ).2 3 4
10Ks provide more information as they cover a full year, but 10Qs give you insight into the most recent quarter and may provide insight into immediate plans depending on where you are in their fiscal year.
Each 10K/10Q report is a financial statement. It is a report that shows how much money a company has, how much they owe to other people, and how much they’re making or losing. There are three main parts of a financial statement, which are:
- Income statement
- Balance sheet
- Cash flow statement
The income statement shows how much money the company has made and how much they’ve spent over a period of time, usually a year. This is important because it shows whether the company is making a profit (which is good) or a loss (which is not so good).
Income Statement Structure:
Revenue: where money came from
- What changes have happened in revenue (up, down, significant changes they may be addressing - review comments)?
- Is one product dominant over others (this will align to what they care about)?
- ARR - Annual Recurring Revenue, how much money is contracted to come in each year at this point in time. Sometimes companies discuss this in MRR or Monthly Recurring Revenue terms so to convert just multiply by 12.
- CLV - Customer Lifetime Value, how valuable is each customer over the relationship with them. This impacts how much a company can afford to spend to acquire and how impactful it is if you lose them.
Note: the higher the value the more a company could be willing to spend to win or retain them. The lower the cost the more critical efficiency is in marketing, sales and customer success.
- Revenue per Customer/Product, some companies may break out additional metrics where revenue is coming from in terms of unit economics like per customer (generally used by mature companies showing customer value growth) or by specific product lines to highlight gaining traction with new products.
Note: these are key insights to attach your solutions value to if these align with your products capabilities.
Minus Expenses: cost needed to run their business
- What changes have happened in expenses (up, down, significant changes they may be addressing - review comments)? Note: dollars of investment always indicate top strategies.
- What are the biggest buckets of expense and what are the trends (this will align to what they care about)? Note: are they doing layoffs, reducing expenditure, read the commentary to understand what are in-flight strategies you might be able to align to.
- COGS or Cost of Good Sold, these are the costs used to manufacture what you have sold.
SaaS Example: cloud hosting, data center, salaries and benefits for customer support staff, product development etc.
- Operating Expenses, these are the costs required to run the business that are not directly tied to revenue.
SaaS Example: general administrative costs, rent, marketing, sales, research and development, travel etc.
- COGS or Cost of Good Sold, these are the costs used to manufacture what you have sold.
Add Gains/Minus Losses: the outcome of the operations for this time period
- What changes have happened in performance? For example: Has revenue gone up, down, or have there been significant changes they may be addressing. Review comments to gain this insight.
Note: these are key results that need addressing and where they likely will need to invest more. For example, if losses are increasing they will need to reduce this trend. Map your solution to these initiatives. If your solution can help accelerate growth, show how you can help achieve this or to slow down the trend.
- How big is the problem? Determine how this aligns to what they care about.
Note: Are they doing layoffs? Reducing expenditure? Read the commentary to understand what in flight strategies you might be able to align to and how critical they are. This will help establish the sense of urgency they may be approaching the topic with.
The balance sheet shows how much money the company has at a specific point in time. This includes things like how much money they have in the bank, how much they owe to other people, and how much their assets (like buildings or equipment) are worth. This is important because it shows whether the company has enough money to pay its debts and keep running.
- Has there been a big influx of cash or outflow? Look at these factors as those will be the top elements a CFO will care about. What is working or not and is that trend accelerating or decelerating?
- Review any commentary that is made about the balance sheet, such as current results and forward looking statements. Look for insights that discuss what their plans are about specific elements of their financials. You can search for terms like increase, decrease, reduction, investment etc. This will help tell you where some of their priorities are as a business.
The cash flow statement shows how much money is coming in and going out of the company. This is important because it shows whether the company has enough money to pay its bills and invest in new projects.
Applying your knowledge
After you have done your research and found an element of the financial statement you believe best aligns with your product or service, we have to connect the dots for the CFO on how you will support or accelerate this initiative.
“In their financial statements you read that ABC Company is going to reduce operating cost by 3% or $50M.”
I understand that ABC Company has the financial objective to “reduce operating cost by 3% this quarter”. I have been speaking with Susan Jones in marketing about leveraging our marketing automation solution to reduce your dependency on 3rd party agencies to execute your marketing campaigns and leverage our automation to reduce cost. She believes the savings from using our tool will be $21M a year or $5.25M this quarter alone.*
The investment in our solution is $1M a year, which results in net savings to ABC Company of $20M or $5M this quarter. This means we can achieve 10% of your target objective with this initiative alone.*
<Insert chart, slide screen shot or visual of financial impact>
I have attached the business case we co-developed with Susan and her team for your review. It includes all our assumptions, financial impact and timelines for your review. If I can be of any assistance beyond your internal review with Susan, please let me know. We have delivered similar results with ZYX, 123 INC and Acme who all operate in your market and are similar in size and maturity to ABC Company.
In conclusion, financial statements are really important documents that help us better understand how a company is doing financially and what a CFO, who is the current sales gatekeeper, cares about. By understanding financial statements, we can speak with confidence to a CFO during a financial recession. This will enable your reps to make your solution more appealing thanks to financial alignment with the business. This will ultimately increase the probability of winning new or expansion business.
The better you and your team can speak this language and use a company’s current financial initiatives the more successful you will be in the coming three to four quarters.
P.S. Stay tuned for future posts on more ways to apply your learnings from financial research to other areas of the sales process like Business Case Creation, Executive Business Reviews and more.