Everyone is in sales, even if not everyone has the job title of salesperson.
Savvy CFOs have figured this out, both for themselves and for their teams: Technical proficiency is not enough. Every member of the finance team must be able to help others understand what they do and how it can have a positive effect on the business. Some might call it business partnering or some other name, but, believe it or not, that’s selling.
Any conversation is a chance to demonstrate your team or individual worth. Any interaction is a selling moment, whether it’s delivering the financial data that users need or establishing a track record of paying invoices promptly.
Scott Lampe, CPA, CGMA, the CFO of Hendrick Motorsports, has said that finance doesn’t win races for the team, which is a competitor in US stock-car racing. His team helps Hendrick not lose, however, by paying vendors promptly. When a race team’s crew chief calls a vendor in need of a product for the cars, the vendor is more apt to send the product because there’s no outstanding balance on the account.
That’s sales culture, the same type of culture that keeps customers coming back because of reputation.
Two objections generally pop up amongst finance workers related to adopting a more sales-centric mindset: Not my job, and not my style.
Not my job: Controllers, for example, have a job title that would seem to be the antithesis of sales. They are supposed to monitor and assess risk. Sometimes they have to say “no” to a project. But it’s a sales moment when a project must be killed, or before that happens. Especially when plenty of ego and investment have gone into the project, it is critical to have built some rapport before being the bearer of bad news. And if you’re suggesting an alternative, you must understand the value that alternative would have for the customer.
Not my style: One somewhat stereotypical trait of salespeople is that they are extroverted. To sell, they must love to be around other people all the time. Those who are more introverted might take jobs that are decidedly the opposite, in part because such jobs don’t require such frequent interaction.
We all have components of introversion and extroversion. In conversations, there’s a component of extroversion that you have to bring out. It’s a mindset that every conversation is influencing somebody to do something, whether it’s kill a project, fund a project, or provide supporting documentation. No matter your role, if you’re influencing people, you’re in sales.
A sales culture anecdote
When guests at some Ritz-Carlton hotels return to the hotel lobby from a morning walk or run, they are greeted by a cart with a sign that says, “Welcome back, joggers.” On the cart are towels, bottles of water, and snacks. Some would say that gesture is an example of the hotel chain’s customer service. But that is sales culture. That example, meeting the guests’ expressed and unexpressed needs, is part of the company’s service values.
Responsive staff exhibit an important trait of great salespeople: presence. They’re not disengaged or looking around. They’re not doing anything that sends the message, “I’m here, but I’m not here.”
Is that customer service or sales culture? It’s both, because it is exceptional service that keeps customers coming back, which means the next sale is already made.
—Todd Cohen (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the author of two books on sales culture. He is scheduled to speak on the topic of networking at the AICPA CFO Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, on May 3.