The Wall Street Journal recently reported a study that found that chief financial officers (CFOs) are stepping outside the traditional bounds of financial operations and becoming more deeply involved in day-to-day business decisions as a result of the global economic recession.  Traditional buyers (e.g. business sponsors, champions, IT) no longer have the ability to make unilateral purchasing decisions for their organizations – they must confer with, and more likely defer to, the CFO.

While a bad economy and the need to tightly control spending always augments the power of the financial decisionmaker, the reality is that the financial buyer is always involved in B2B buying decisions – in good times and in bad. So the latest spike in the prominent buying activity of CFOs, rather than a new development, is a timely reminder of how important the financial justification phase is to winning business.

We see this trend as an opportunity for product/solution marketing or sales enablement leaders to innovate new sales content designed to help reps successfully orchestrate the financial justification stage. Marketers face a twofold challenge: They must ensure that sales reps have the knowledge and collateral necessary to facilitate the financial justification discussion with the customer, while also staying focused on the specific information needs of the CFO during the buying process.

Sales content development typically focuses on the early stage of the buying process to fuel demand creation campaigns or thought leadership, so many organizations are lacking in sales content assets for the late stage when the decision is validated internally and all necessary approvals are gained. This is called the “Justifying the Decision” stage. We recommend that marketers balance their sales content portfolio across every stage of the buying process. Here are some best practice examples of sales content and tools for the justification stage:

  • Financial value presentations. These presentations are different from a sales presentation. The story told should focus on return on investment (ROI) and cost savings, employing as many facts and figures as possible. The presentation should be delivered by the rep to the CFO, and communicated using financial operations vernacular. In cases where the CFO refuses to meet with the rep, we suggest that a customizable template be created, to be populated with all the information necessary for the justification case to be made to the CFO by the internal champion or sponsor. This template should either be branded with the customer logo or built into the customer’s presentation template so it’s perceived as an internal business case instead of a vendor-delivered sales pitch. This effort will require significant resources, given the level of customization required; be sure to track and measure the actions involved and tie them back to percentage of won deals and revenue.
  • ROI calculators. Most ROI calculators fail because they are too complex, requiring the prospect to spend too much time gathering the necessary information for the tool to work. An even greater pitfall to avoid is building an ROI calculator based on all the areas of savings the solution can deliver – or what the internal team thinks might be compelling – and miss the mark on what the CFO really cares about. Building an ROI calculator that meets the needs of CFOs requires upfront planning, getting input and direction from customers (through customer interviews and validation testing) and leveraging the CFO or other financial experts in your organization to help determine the right calculations. If you decide to build an ROI calculator, don’t build it and then just “throw it over the transom” to your reps and channel partners. This tool will require a communication and engagement program, including formal sales training, if you want reps to be equipped to truly use it to their advantage.
  • Late-stage case studies. Late-stage case study assets should be crafted to help validate the purchasing decision, focusing on implementation success, ease of implementation, financial benefits or cost savings realized by other customers – stories that demonstrate ROI. Keep the case studies brief and written in concise executive summary format (e.g. introduction, key bullet points, content subheads and recommendations/conclusion); make sure the copy is focused on the key issue(s) and specifically written for a financial business leader (not the end-user). The CFO won’t care about features or ease of use as much as he/she will care about impact to the bottom line.
  • When developing sales content, it’s critical for the writer to understand all the buyer roles involved in the “Justifying the Decision” stage. The messaging map should outline the information requirements for each of the buyer roles, as well as powerful qualifiers and proof points aligned to each role’s decisionmaking criteria. This will require more effort and adds complexity to the messaging architecture; however, the end result will be far more compelling and likely to resonate with each individual involved in the purchasing decision.