Reaching the CFO

Getting a call or meeting with the CFO or any executive for that matter is not easy. We (as everyone is) are busy people. Our typical day starts early when we get into the office to do our work, by 8 or 9 am we are in our 1st meeting which is normally with a part of the business that has a problem or is underperforming.

Reaching the CFO

We then go from meeting to meeting before getting back to our office at 5 or 6 pm to do our work again. You can see how precious our time is. If I were to meet every sales rep who wanted to meet, all I would do all day is meet sales reps. When I agree to meet a sales rep it is because there is a compelling reason to do so.

A tactic I deploy regularly when meeting a new sales rep is to get my EA executive assistant to interrupt the meeting 7 or 8 minutes in and tell me the CEO needs to see me urgently. I can tell within 5 minutes whether or not you can add value and can leave to talk to the CEO and suggest we reschedule which unless I need you for something specific will never happen or I can tell the EA to advise the CEO I’ll drop in once our meeting is finished. I will talk to you not because you are wonderful but because I believe you have something to offer we can’t get in-house. I’m happy to talk about how wonderful my business will be after I engage with you, not how wonderful your business is.

So what do I look for?

Credibility, can you help me? 

Trust, can I trust you to do what’s right for my organization as opposed to what’s right for yours?

The risk is not whether you have a solution that works but whether it will work for me. Let’s look at credibility first

Their are 2 types of Credibility

Corporate Credibility 

Does your company have corporate credibility? Well it depends, if I’ve had a bad experience do you think your company still has corporate credibility with me? If you assume a level of corporate credibility that is higher than my perception then it often comes across as arrogance. Have you ever heard sales reps being accused of arrogance, often it’s due to this mismatch of assumed corporate credibility. The key is to know how your corporate credibility is currently perceived. 

Asking questions like 

“Are there any barriers to us doing business if we have the right solution for you?”

“Who else are you talking to?”, “Who do you prefer at this stage and why?”

Personal Credibility  

Then there’s personal credibility, every organisation has a lot of salespeople, and all sales reps are not equal, I like to know what you bring to the table.

Do you have experience helping customers? I don’t care whether your experience is gained in your current role or from previous roles as long as you have a track record of helping customers. When someone introduces themselves as a salesperson I know why they are there for them, to sell me something/anything. But when someone introduces themselves as sales and the reason I’m talking to you today is because I’ve worked with a lot of customers in your sector or my speciality is helping clients with this particular issue, I can see why you’re there for me. 

Then there is Trust, it’s not easy to build trust with a CFO quickly.


I’m often asked how to become a trusted advisor. My answer is always the same if you want to be trusted. Be trustworthy, don’t pretend to be trustworthy or ask me, Declan “What 3 questions can I ask that give the illusion of me being trustworthy?” I’ve been buying for 30 years and in all that time I’ve had 1 trusted advisor, that doesn’t mean I’ve only bought from one person, it means often I buy from sales reps despite them, not because of them.

Trust can be built in a number of ways.

I look for consistency between what you say and what you do, it’s the little things. For example, if you tell me “it’s all about the customer” or you’re customer-centric yet your questioning is more about you than me then I find it difficult to trust you. If you ask me a question where the answer benefits you, then it’s not a customer-centric question, but if you ask me a question that benefits me then it is a customer-centric question. E.g. What’s your timeline and how much budget do you have to spend? These are not very customer-centric questions. However, if you were to ask “How quickly the business needs this issue addressed?” well that is customer-centric and will give you your timeline if you were to ask “Before we come back with a solution tailored for your company is there anything we need to be aware of, be it other projects on-going, resources available, year-end, or budget restrictions etc.” these are customer-centric questions.

I look for what I call HITS, honesty, integrity, Trust and Sincerity.

Let’s take sincerity, you know when people are being sincere with you, it’s no different with the CFO, we are people. Sincerity is like a smell, when it’s there it smells nice, and we like to be around it, but when it’s not, it stinks and nobody wants to be near it.

The other way to build trust quickly is when you have an unhappy customer, this allows you to show who you are, and what you are made of. From my experience, most sales reps run as far away from unhappy customers as they can, but this is a real opportunity. You don’t even need to fix the issue (it may not be in your gift to do so) but you do need to listen and try to help.

Personal insight

I mentioned I had 1 trusted advisor in my 30 years of buying, let me tell you about the first time I met Stuart. I was the CFO of one of the magic circle law firms, my remit was to transform them from the practice of law to the business of law. Stuart was working for one of our key vendors, he was made our account manager, the 4th one we’d had in 12 months. I was seen as being difficult to deal with, mainly because I was clear on what I needed and demanded it from the vendor, they had a different agenda, and they wanted to sell more consultancy into my organisation.

When I met Stuart I asked how long he had worked for the vendor, 3 months he said

I told him he couldn’t hate his organisation as much as I do, but give it time it’ll come.

He stayed calm and then said, “I take it there are some issues?” There are, I said, you keep sending me people pretending to be account managers but all they try to do is sell me crap I don’t need.

He said, “I can’t comment on what went on before but I’d ask you to give me an opportunity to prove myself”. Ok, I said there are 5 open items on the support log that I’ve been rowing with your organisation for a year, they keep closing them when they are not resolved to my satisfaction. He said he could not guarantee he could resolve them but would look into them and report back to me at 12 o’clock the following Friday if I agreed. I told him I was and waited to see what he would do. 

He came back to me the following Friday. He advised me he had looked at all five items 2 of which have not progressed at all and three of which he has now escalated but did not yet have a resolution. He said with my permission he would continue to pursue all and will report back to me the following week at the same time.

The following week he called me at 11 o’clock, not 12 o’clock, he said he had bad news, he’d been sidetracked all week and had not progressed any of the issues but planned to get to them the following week. Do you think his trust and credibility are increasing or decreasing? It’s increasing, he’s telling me the truth, what I need to hear not what he thinks I want to hear and he delivered the bad news early, let me tell you, bad news does not mature well.

I have bought from Stuart when I was in 3 different organisations and him in 4.

Need help with that CFO meeting? Reach out! We have a proven framework that will help.

By Declan Tyrrell | Sales Coach & Facilitator

More posts

The New Players in Buying

The New Players in Buying

The skills required to manage a business in the past where there was clarity, certainty and very few surprises are different to the skills needed to drive a business in an ever changing business environment.
The changing buying landscape

The changing buying landscape

Of the Fortune 500 companies that existed in the year 2000, only 47% of those exist today. That’s over half of some of the largest companies in the world do not exist as they did in just over 20 years.

Are you interested in