How do you open up a conversation with a CFO about finance and human resources? The best VARs know that a product pitch is the absolute wrong place to start. C-suite executives don’t care about your product. They care about their business, and what you can do to help them. Your job is to uncover what their challenges are, and then recommend ways to overcome those challenges.

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How to Open a Conversation with a CFO about Finance and HR

How do you open up a conversation with a CFO about finance and human resources?

The best VARs know that a product pitch is the absolute wrong place to start. C-suite executives don’t care about your product. They care about their business, and what you can do to help them. Your job is to uncover what their challenges are, and then recommend ways to overcome those challenges.

In our conversations with CFOs, we’ve uncovered a number of business issues that are common across industries and geographies. In this post we’re going to talk about one of those issues—finding and retaining the best finance talent—and give you some tools to help position you as a trusted adviser on the subject.

Today’s finance leaders recognize that talent is a company’s most valuable asset. It must be managed with as much (or more) care and cost alignment as any other asset. This creates an excellent opportunity for you, as a trusted adviser, to position enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human capital management (HCM) cloud together. But before you start talking product, you need to uncover your prospect’s challenges around finance and HR.

A great way to open this conversation is to ask about talent within your client’s finance organization. During the past several years, the role of the CFO has evolved from someone who keeps the books to a more visionary and advisory role. Modern CFOs provide the essential reports, insight and information needed to drive strategy around the boardroom table. This requires a new skill set—much different from the traditional accounting role.

Start by asking the CFO a number of questions relating to the talent on his or her own team:

  • How is the role of finance officer changing?

  • What sort of skills do finance professionals need today?

  • How do you attract and retain the best talent?

  • Do you have the right technology in place to keep your best and brightest engaged and intellectually challenged?

A recent report produced by the Wall Street Journal Custom Studios in conjunction with Oracle–Winning the War for Finance Talent: Game Plan for the Digital Age–addresses many of these questions. It provides six recommendations on how finance leaders can improve bench strength within their own organizations. They are:

Rule No. 1: Recruit–and pay for–different kinds of talent.

Hurricane Sandy in 2012 put many New York medical centers out of commission. One such facility was NYU’s Langone Medical Center. There was an immediate need for data-savvy professionals who could assess data and direct cash flow in order to get sophisticated medical technology and professional staff back online, fast.

“New skills have reshaped finance departments. People we are hiring are not necessarily in finance with a B.S. in accounting,” said Mike Burke, CFO of NYU Langone Medical Center. Burke said his facility is looking to recruit individuals who can find patterns buried deep in data, people who understand programming and recognize that data queries and regression analysis can open new doors.

Burke went on to say that the holistic talent payoff is invaluable. Several of his current employees just helped fix a porous payment system that was letting $80 million in annual revenue slip through the cracks. His team used data mining—rather than traditional tools and methods that couldn’t keep up with growing quantities of data—to uncover coding errors, pricing mistakes and billing lapses that prevented the company from getting paid.

Rule No. 2: Fill the gaps by grooming talent in-house.

According to IDC, from 2013 to 2020, the digital world will grow by a factor of 10—from 4.4 trillion gigabytes to 44 trillion. It more than doubles every two years.

As information multiplies, finance departments must mine value for HR, marketing, sales and other lines of business in order to set strategy and tasks. Instead of tapping a pricey market for new talent, companies can breed winning problem solvers from within.

For example, finance talent at Oracle looks a lot different now than it did five years ago. Over the years we’ve encouraged insiders to expand their skill portfolios, and we’ve seen great results. Problem solvers in the upper echelon of finance management understand the difference between simply reporting numbers versus actually conveying their meaning.

Rule No. 3: Ask the right questions.

Your customers can spend all the time they want gathering and analyzing data. The challenge today is to distill data into something meaningful. The historical “hallmark” of accounting—a firm grasp of data on every level—is no longer sufficient to transform the business.

What’s the good in digging for answers if you’re not doing it effectively? Skilled problem-solvers add value by asking the right questions and framing them so that the answers advance business goals.

Rule No. 4: Share data, or it has no value.

It used to be that reports came from a centralized team and were shared with a limited number of C-level stakeholders. But in the modern world, with access to big data and analytics more widely available, a form of democracy has intervened. Everyone can now bring their own information to meetings.

“With so much data, we have to talk to each other,” said Sean Christie, CFO of England-based lanolin producer Croda International. “It’s a balance now between fairly standard high-level central reporting and more ad hoc, user-driven reports that explain current trends in the business in more detail.”

In order to ensure data consistency, Croda’s finance department marshaled its data onto one global system, then made sure everything added up before taking the next step. Now that Croda is using a single data model across applications, managers are able to fine-tune strategies to boost efficiencies in sales, production and distribution.

Rule No. 5: Use technology and data insights to be a better business partner.

For decades, data points have informed solutions. And those solutions were based on theories about what may satisfy unhappy customers. Today, problem-solvers armed with analytics have replaced hypotheses with actual experience. Companies no longer rely on customer surveys or service center calls to formulate their solutions.

Rule No. 6: Use digital technologies to attract and retain the best and the brightest.

It’s safe to say that forward-looking CFOs understand that supplying their finance teams with the latest digital technologies is a key differentiator in the “war” for finance talent. On the other side of the coin, finance professionals—specifically, millennials—want to work for organizations where they can make an impact, grow and influence decisions.

Digital technologies are a win-win for employers and their future talent—from embedded analytics that give the finance team the pulse on the business, to social collaboration that helps finance executives communicate more effectively with line-of-business heads.

The Road Ahead

To paraphase the words of David Leinweber, author of Nerds on Wall Street: Math, Machines and Wired Markets, the skill set of future CFOs must include the head of a programmer, the body of a statistician, the arms of an exploratory visual data analyst and the tail of a machine-learning expert.  

The marriage of finance and talent is more important than ever. Impressive technology alone won’t keep organizations relevant in the 21st century. Overcoming strategic challenges demands well-rounded individuals whose ability to collaborate, negotiate, communicate and command technology all converge in modern finance departments.

As the requirements on finance teams continue to change, it opens up more opportunities for you to underscore the value of Oracle ERP and Oracle HCM to your customers. With the research and recommendations in this report, you can begin a meaningful conversation with CFOs about an issue that is a top priority for many of them, thus putting you in a position to offer technology solutions for the challenges they face.


Joel Borellis

Joel Borellis is group vice president, Partner Enablement, at Oracle. Monthly guest blogs such as this one are part of The VAR Guy’s annual sponsorship. Read all of Oracle’s guest blogs. Guest blogs such as this one are published monthly and are part of The VAR Guy's annual platinum sponsorship.


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