Imagine the look on your CFO’s face when you tell him or her, “I want you to make sales calls on our most important customers.” Expect to see a look as though you grew two more heads and hear responses of, “Huh?” “You’re kidding” and “No way!”
How often have you wasted sales professionals’ valuable time helping to collect delinquent accounts receivable when they should have been out selling? Further waste of sales time surely results when your sales personnel have no relationships with people in the customers’ finance departments. But why should they? Our sales teams are supposed to be in touch with those who can specify and purchase our offerings.
Considering this, who better to interact with the head of your key customers’ finance teams than their peer in your company — your CFO? When payment problems or money-related opportunities arise, do you want your customer’s finance department to know you as “account No. 167432-26” or “Joe, our trusted supplier’s CFO.”
Delays in payment usually occur because you or the customer are in trouble. If it is you, it is most likely that your company did not meet the customer’s expectations for quality or service. If the customer is in trouble, it is almost always financial in nature. Regardless, if your CFO has forged a productive relationship with his or her customer peer, you have a very good chance that he or she will get a call from the customer to relate the nature of your problem, to let you know why payment will be late, or that you have earned the benefit of being higher up on the vendor priority payment list than those that have not invested the time in developing such relationships.
Such CFO-to-CFO relationships can also provide new business development opportunities. As an example, during the economic meltdown in 2008/2009, our CFO was meeting with the lead finance person at a multinational, megametal producer to whom our sales team was trying to get an order for one of our products that required a capital expenditure by the customer. The customer’s safety, operations and purchasing departments were convinced that our product was what they needed. The snag was that although the customer was extremely creditworthy, its banks had cut off its supply of facility improvement capital. Within a day of my receiving the call about this from our CFO, our company had formed a leasing subsidiary. This allowed our customer to equip its entire facility with our system at a relatively low monthly payment. For us, the new venture provided us with a margin on the sale of our system, which would not have occurred had our CFO not been in contact with the customer.
Examples like these have happened throughout my career when we created CFO-to-CFO relationships. Remember, regardless of the department that is driving a transaction, people like to deal with people. If your CFO isn’t actively and regularly engaged with his or her customer counterparts, isn’t it time to start?