Beating the Final Boss: Selling to the CFO

December 14, 2022
Beating the Final Boss: Selling to the CFO
Justin Dignelli

We’ve all seen the headlines: tech downturn, looming recession, and layoffs. For sellers, none of this doom and gloom is likely to reduce your quota. You still need to hit your number.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with executives at several high-growth software companies about how the current market dynamics are impacting their planning for 2023.

You won’t be surprised to hear that the common themes were that budgets are tight (and getting tighter) and “non-essential” products are getting cut.

For those of us responsible for selling to leaders like these, this isn’t exactly what we want to hear. 

In recent history, we’ve seen near-zero interest rates, capital-laden venture firms, and a widespread “growth-at-all-costs” mindset in boardrooms. This meant there was no shortage of well-funded companies to sell to.

Now what? Time to play defense.

I’m obviously a big believer in the power of PLG and the way it empowers end users to make value-based purchases. However, in the more challenging financial environment we find ourselves in now, we should all expect more oversight, reigning in the individual purchasing authority of our potential champions.

Directly or indirectly, and for deals of all sizes, your buyer is now the CFO.

How do you sell to the CFO? It’s a data-driven sale.

"When reviewing requests for new software, I almost always put the onus of justifying the purchase on the champion requesting it. If it's not worth their time to make a solid business case, then the pain isn't enough to justify the purchase. 

If something is going to be rejected outright, it's likely due to an overlap with other tools or a misalignment of priorities. It might be the right tool but at the wrong time. Other times it's a question of achieving the right entry point on the price and the perception of value relative to impact.
My recommendation for working through pricing with finance leaders is to communicate with respect. I appreciate when sellers are clear about their limitations (like a minimum license count or volume discounting) but also when we might not be a good fit." 

- Daryl Allen, VP of Finance at StackHawk 

When selling to end users, you can focus on the benefits they experience directly from using your software. The CFO will approach your exchange objectively and is detached from the day-to-day value your product provides.

You and your champion must meet this objectivity by confidently answering and justifying questions like these:

  • Is this mission-critical? Be ready to talk about business impact in terms of positively impacting top-line revenue metrics.
  • How are we using the product today? Use data to explain how your product is already being used, how often, and by which users. A risk-averse CFO is less likely to disrupt the use of an existing product than to block the introduction of a new one.
  • Where are cost-saving opportunities? Does your product reduce the need for redundant tools? Express tangible and direct ways your product reduces cost, avoiding hand-wavy ROI calculations that rely on savings from “improved efficiency.”

The best sellers make it easy for customers to buy, and it’s no different with the CFO. Arm yourself with the right data to make the decision-making process easy for the CFO. Otherwise, you’re leaving a lot to chance, especially with a persona who tends to have a habit of saying “no”.


Thanks to all who helped me write this post: Daryl AllenTyler Jones, and Jacob Smith.

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