Effective Conversations with the C-Suite


When you’re discussing financial benefits with the C-suite, not every conversation should be the same.  A CEO is often the “why” person, while a CFO is more often concerned with the numbers.  To put it more simply, when it comes to CFOs, you need to prove the justifiable cost of your project’s benefits.  When it comes to CFOs, you need to prove the financial and non-financial value of those benefits.

Effective Conversations with the C-Suite-1

Upon presenting your one-page proposal and one-page financial analysis, it’s likely that one will receive more attention than the other.  A CFO may be more concerned with seeing the analysis of costs and savings to make sure you both understand what you’ve calculated.  It has been said that CEOs are “what” and “why” people and that they’re constantly asking themselves whether what you are proposing will likely make their organization easier to manage and/or more valuable.  After all, those are two of the most important key performance indicators that boards of directors use to evaluate the effectiveness of the CEOs they hire.

Either way, prepare to be questioned!

Here’s an example.  Let’s say you’re pitching a lighting project to a CFO.  They know they have a safety problem. They know their liability insurance rates are going up. Their workers' comp rates are on the rise as well. They're getting heat for an accident that injured one of their employees.  Your proposal and analysis may make them think, "You know what?  I need to pay attention to this.”  However, they’ll likely examine your calculations and analysis carefully to feel confident that they’re making a sound financial decision.

A conversation with a CEO may be quite different. Their questions are going to be along the lines of “What do you want me to do and why do you want me to do it?” In short, the numbers aren’t as important as the reasons and benefits. A CEO also needs to know if your project falls in line with their company’s concerns or values.  What will the project bring to the table?  How will it improve aspects of their business?  How could it affect their public image?  What risks would it remove?  Whatever the benefits, your job is to frame them as being urgent and compelling. 

As I’ve said many times before, most people make emotional decisions and then justify them financially.  That said when you’re dealing with various players in the C-suite, you may need to adjust your pitch to resonate with different motivations.  Always consider your listener’s unique perspective in the enterprise, do your homework, and make sure that you’re speaking their language.

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Posted by Mark Jewell

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