Six Steps to Curing a Seller’s Fear of Finance

October 26, 2023 | Dr. Stephen Timme

The enterprise B2B selling environment continues to evolve in complexity, and increasingly, customer executives are expecting sellers to know how their company is performing financially and how their solutions enhance performance. At the recent Sales Enablement Society (SES) Conference, our survey of sellers’ financial competencies was taken during the “Seven Steps to Creating a Customer-First Revenue Organization” breakout session. The results of the survey from the SES session, co-presented by Sheevaun Thacher, VP Strategic Sales Enablement - Salesforce, and myself, revealed a significant gap in sellers' financial acumen.

In our SES breakout, we asked the following question:

“How do you rank your sellers’ financial competencies on a scale of 1 to 10?” Competencies

The results highlight most sellers’ poor to average acumen in understanding customer’s finances. By improving sales personnel’s financial competencies, your revenue organization benefits through the following:

  • Increasing relevance to customer executives by speaking the language of business – finance.
  • Helping identify new opportunities.
  • Improving the sales narratives regarding the solution’s benefits for the customers’ financial performance.

To assist you in addressing this issue, the following is our proven six-step framework to improve your revenue organization’s financial acumen.

Step #1: Identify The Customer's Key Areas of Financial Performance

To start, your team needs to identify, from the customer’s perspective, the goals that drive their overall financial performance, and the drivers for each area. For example, a manufacturing company’s financial goals might include:

  • Growing revenue – Increasing product sales and services through higher volume and / or raising prices.
  • Increasing profitability – Lowering cost of goods sold, e.g., materials, labor, overhead, and logistics; and selling, general, and administrative costs, e.g., sales, marketing, IT, HR, and finance and accounting.

Tip: Emphasize to your team the importance of the shareholder letter in the annual report for gaining insights into the customer’s top priorities to improve their financial performance.

Step #2: Connect Business Functions to Areas of Performance

Next is understanding which business functions are responsible for managing the components of financial performance. Let’s use cost of goods sold as an example. Some of the impacted business functions include:

  • Production
  • Distribution and Logistics
  • Procurement

This step helps your sales team identify potential new buyers in different departments within a company. As a result of an expanded presence with the customer, your company realizes notable sales growth.

Step #3: Find The Business Function's Operational KPIs

Your group needs to be able to measure the success of a business function by identifying its operational key performance indicators (KPIs). Knowing the business functions’ KPIs helps them:

  • Better understanding of how potential clients make decisions
  • Map how your solutions will help to improve performance
  • Engage in more business-focused discussion

As an example, some operational KPIs for the production group related to cost of goods sold are:

  • Manufacturing costs as a percentage of revenue
  • Capacity utilization
  • Unplanned downtime

Step #4: Map Solutions to Performance, Business Units and KPIs

Now, it’s time to map your solutions using the information from steps one through three combined with your team’s product knowledge. This is a group effort, so invite groups like sales, marketing, industry SMEs, solution architects, and customer success to help in the mapping exercise.

Assuming your solutions help clients produce goods more efficiently, such as better utilization of labor to enhance the management of cost of goods sold, a value statement for the production functions might be:

“Our solutions improve profitability by increasing labor productivity. They increase productivity by reducing change times on machines and unplanned machine downtime. This lowers manufacturing costs which increases profitability."


Step #5: Assess Financial Performance 

Now it’s time for the numbers. The following is high-level guidance for assessing a customer’s financial performance:

  • Analyze performance from the perspective of the business unit(s) the salesperson is targeting. For example, a production executive would consider how the KPIs they manage (i.e., materials, labor, and overhead) impact the costs of goods sold.
  • Stay focused on those areas of performance where your solutions can have the most significant impact.
  • Be attuned to noting any trends in your findings, such as how the company is impacted by factors within their control (e.g., the efficiency of operations and change in strategy) and external factors (e.g., rising labor costs and business cycles).

Your client's financial reports are the ideal source of information on their performance. Also, be sure to explore their management discussions and analyses in their annual report, which provide valuable insights into performance changes.

Step #6: Make Observations Part of The Dialogue

Developing insights on a customer’s financial performance as a part of your sales team’s conversations helps to build credibility and separate your business from competitors. Remember the earlier survey results - it is very likely your sales team is at a similar level in their financial competencies. Here are some tips to help them improve:

  • Keep observations at a high level (e.g., "I noticed that your cost of goods sold has trended upward").
  • Do not get bogged down in the details. Sales’ job is not to provide a financial history lesson.
  • Explain how your solutions can enhance performance by improving the management of operational KPIs on the business function’s scorecard.


FinListics - Insight-based Selling Experts

Your sales team’s understanding of a prospect's financial performance is no longer optional - it is a requirement for success in enterprise B2B sales. As a sales leader, you need to provide your team with the tools to set them up for success. At FinListics, we specialize in offering the tools and services necessary to give your sales team a competitive edge. To learn more, watch our Finance for Enterprise Sellers webinar.

Get started today on boosting your team’s effectiveness by speaking with one of our enterprise B2B selling experts and receive a free demo.

Posted in KPI, Selling Strategies, Sales Training