Benefits and Compensation

Step by Step—Selling Your Ideas to the CFO

Read what your CFO reads, Ahlrichs says, and send article clippings to the CFO to make your case over time. For example, says Ahlrichs, check out:

  • CFO Magazine
  • CFO.com
  • The Economist

Ahlrichs, a consultant with Gregory & Appel in Indianapolis, offered his take on CFOs at SHRM’s Annual Convention and Exposition held recently in Chicago.

General Rules for Presenting to the CFO

Ahlrichs offers the following advice:

  • A direct approach is OK—little small talk.
  • Use “expert power” to become credible.
  • Sell to their “pain points.”
  • Use “Plain Business English” style.
  • Use case studies.
  • Show the numbers–they understand metrics.
  • Offer accountability–
    • Performance management systems that have useful metrics
    • Structured interviewing techniques based on competencies
    • Assessments to hire better and build teams based on an “instruction book” for people.
  • Speak from a business perspective, that is, focus on results, not “bells and whistles.”
  • Use CFO’s language–
    • ROA—Return on Assets
    • Stakeholders—Clients, employees, etc.
    • Human Capital (HR)
    • Fiduciary Responsibility—They’re on the hook
    • Talk EBITDA.

It’s best to talk EBITDA—Earnings Before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortization—when talking to CFOs, says Ahlrichs. This is a specific number that CFOs understand. It’s better than talking about “bottom line” or “profits,” which are subject to broader interpretations.

Point out a few potential limitations to enhance your credibility. For example, say you are proposing a wellness program. You might mention that there may be a problem with motivating sedentary spouses and with the vendor interface.


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Steps to Sell to a CFO

1. Convince them things are worse than they know.

“It’s a terrible time to be wasting money on bad business practices– my experience indicates we may be doing just that.”

Don’t solve the problem too quickly, says Ahlrichs. Turn up the pain. Discuss or ask about implications: What happens if we don’t fix the problem?
Then ask, “What haven’t I thought of?” CFOs will offer hair-raising implications you haven’t even considered.

The idea is to get the CFO to say, “I need you to fix this.”

One example of turning up the pain:

  • Say you are concerned about nurses’ turnover costs.
  • You have 1,000 employees, and 40% are nurses.
  • With 21% turnover, you lose 84 nurses per year.
  • Average cost of replacing one nurse is $58,500.
  • Annual cost of replacing 84 nurses is $4.9 million per year.
  • Or 409,500 per month.
  • Or $91,000 per week.
  • Or $18,200 per business day!

2. Make your pitch.

“We should act responsibly by intervening right now—assuming there’s a fix available that will add accountability and value. We think this is that fix.”

3. Offer an easy first step as a closing.

Then, you offer an easy-to-understand, easy-to-implement first step.

“Let us pick the highest impact area to get started. We can do a pilot project that I guarantee to produce value in 90 days.”

The 90 days is key, Ahlrichs says. CFOs think in quarters.

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