For years, PR was the intangible service questioned by so many CFOs. When I think back on the earlier years of my career, we were always happy to have the visionary CEO in the boardroom for a pitch meeting. But, somehow, the climate changed when the CFO walked into the room. Having the CFO join the meeting is a huge opportunity to get closer to the person that controls the purse strings. But, you have to know how to use the opportunity to your advantage.
So, when it comes to building a relationships with CFOs, my advice is to think like them, or as close to their thinking as possible. I was the president and acting CFO at my agency for about seven years; a job that I loved to hate. The love part came with the experience of learning new skills and knowledge on how to run a sound business. The hate part was that when I walked into the room, I was always the Kabosher, the Kill Joy and the person who never let anyone have any fun. But, you get used to the titles. 🙂
So, what does it take to understand the CFO and better yet, have the CFO understand what you do, so you co-exist in harmony? If you can think like the CFO, then no matter what type of meeting you’re in or position you hold, you’ll get attention and respect and quite possibly make a business “friend.”
Here are a few of the tips I’ve learned over the years.
- Know the business beyond what you do. What are the company’s higher-level goals and how does your work track back to the big picture? You may be in the communications department [or insert your department here], but from this day forward when you talk to CFOs, you have to understand what they’re trying to achieve and what goes on in their world.
- Treat the company’s money as if it were your own. Is every dollar spent a dollar earned? How can you be more productive, strategic or fiscally responsible to save the organization money? Yes, PR and marketing programs cost money, and you have to invest in programs to reap the benefits. But, at the same time, you want to show that you can accomplish the communication goals (tied to business goals) planned on time and under budget!
- Research the competitors in the industry. It’s not enough to just know their names. You should be a mole and go deeper into competitor success and their struggles too. Go the distance by booking competitor demos, talking to competitor sales reps, signing up for their newsletters, attending their webinars, visiting their trade booths. Of course, you have to be inconspicuous about this. Then, share the competitive information with others in your company, including the CFO, if / when the opportunity presents itself.
- Think about the challenges and why you’re called to the table. If you’re in PR, then chances are it’s because the company needs brand awareness, reputation / crisis management, or community, media, financial / analyst or government relations to name a few areas of expertise. Have examples (the tangibles) ready. Demonstrate how your programs have delivered valuable outcomes in the past. Stay on the business side of the results. Don’t focus on the clicks, likes and views. If you share the volume of coverage / news stories, then make sure you can clearly show how these stories drove traffic to the company’s website. After all, from click to conversation, driving traffic in the form of leads is very close to the CFO’s heart (and all of the other executives too). Other outcomes appreciated by the CFO include how your work helps to optimize a marketing program and / or produce happy, satisfied customers.
- Bring your A-game with innovative thinking. This could be new technology, creative ideas about internal systems and processes, highlighting trends in the market or even pointing out regulations that would affect the business. When you take the time to look ahead and be forward thinking, the CFO will find your proactive nature refreshing and see you as a much-welcomed resource.
These are a few ways that you can make the CFO “sing” your praises after a meeting or any encounter. And, if you’re consistent with delivering valuable information, then you may have just found yourself a new BFF. What are your relationship-building tips and is the CFO your BFF?