As a CFO managing profitable growth and transitions across technology companies, I’ve experienced many critical pivot points, including growth at scale, increasing profitability, restructurings, Initial Public Offerings (IPOs), divestitures and acquisitions. At FLG Partners, we’re often asked to provide experienced CFOs “on-demand”. These situations require us to immediately “hit the ground running” to rapidly assess the situation we are facing from a finance, business operating model, and market perspective.
When embarking on a new engagement, I always focus on evaluating the current stage of a company across four key areas: people, product, pipeline, and performance. I like to think of these categories as a CFO’s “4 Ps”. I have seen time and time again that successful companies can build significant competitive advantage as they improve, advance, and enable effectiveness across these four areas.
The people part of a company’s success is inherently linked to organizational effectiveness. An operationally focused CFO should remain independent and continuously evaluate if the organization has the optimal design given the internal and external interrelationships required to drive value in the enterprise. I often evaluate a few key topics on day one of any engagement.
(1) Are leadership roles clearly defined with comprehensive role charters, including clearly defined decisions rights?
(2) Are corporate objectives assigned to each individual leader, with transparent expectations for success and measurable outcomes?
(3) Are business unit leaders and functional owners operating hand and glove on cross functional imperatives in clearly understood manner?
(4) Does leadership rank order priorities and help each other achieve corporate goals?
(5) How well does the company report on progress to plan for each objective weekly, monthly, and quarterly during the year?
In addition to structure, role charters and aligned objectives, compensation, and incentives should be part of the initial people review. Fundamental to the success of any team are the incentives incorporated into the compensation structure. Confirm such incentives are linked to the company strategy to drive individual and collective results. A balance of longer-term and short-term incentives should be designed around the behavior the company wants from each leader and from individual contributors. It is quite valuable to incorporate incentive design as part of the strategic planning cycle. These key areas can make a huge difference in achieving desired performance.
You might not expect that a CFO would be integrally involved with product at a company, yet it is central to the CFO’s role to maintain a strong focus on product market fit, the economic business model of the company, as well as product packaging and pricing. Ideally, CFOs should begin their product evaluation with a clear understanding of the specific use cases for a product, the value proposition for the customer, and the return on investment for the company. It is quite important for the realization of the economic model to clearly understand how value is obtained from a customer standpoint as well as who are the company’s target customers, including their personas and buying patterns. Competitive advantages associated with the product should be independently verified and product-market positioning fairly assessed. A CFO should be central to how “customer success” is quantified at a company based on the customer’s realization of product value and benefits.
Future product planning is a key area when allocating capital in a business. CFOs should participate when formalizing the company’s product roadmap and product development investments. There should be a clearly defined process to determine how capital is allocated to product development. A few areas I evaluate include the following:
(1) Does the company implement a business case analysis for each product or product family?
(2) How are progress towards milestones in the product development roadmap monitored and measured?
(3) How are economic outcomes measured for R&D investment?
Analyzing sales bookings trends for company products should be a daily routine. Developing a clear understanding of historical trends and current and projected market demand is essential to the evaluation of any business plan and forecast. It is critical for a CFO to dissect the various stages and components of the sales pipeline. CFOs should: 1) know how an inquiry becomes a lead; 2) how leads are qualified; 3) understand the sales process and timeline as opportunities transition from each stage in the pipeline; and, 4) ultimately convert into a sales booking. The business discussions, demonstrations, events, negotiation, and business processes integral to leads moving through the pipeline and the resources necessary at each stage can make all the difference to the effectiveness and efficiency of the sales function. Maintaining a healthy pipeline, with a strong flow of incoming qualified leads, and the quality of the volume of opportunities at each stage of the pipeline, is a key momentum indicator for the effectiveness of the product, pricing, brand and company forecast.
CFOs should evaluate how predictable the pipeline is at achieving sales growth targets, as well as the salesforce’s ability to obtain their incentives, as compared to market appropriate benchmarks. For example, is the coverage ratio of assigned-sales-quota to sales bookings targets aligned with benchmark levels for the industry served at the appropriate stage of growth in the company’s business? Week-to-week changes in pipeline opportunities often provide valuable insights into customer, region, or market demand patterns for a company’s product. CFOs should also look to other factors, such as competitive key indicators from deal win loss data, which in turn may inform future business performance or necessary adjustments to sales strategy.
Finally, a CFO should come equipped to evaluate other sales performance parameters beyond strictly sell-in and sell-through. These might include:
- New account development trends
- Business development qualitative data
- Partnership opportunities
- Identification of packaging and pricing changes which may influence deal performance
- Implementation services trends
- Product development extensions
All of these sales drivers can drive competitive advantage for the company.
While performance is without question a joint responsibility held by all functional leaders and department heads at a company, no one owns this objective more than the chief financial officer. How performance is monitored, measured and communicated is one of the most critical decisions made by a CEO and the management team. Whatever the company and departmental score card maybe, it should be clear, relevant to the company’s customer/product/market objectives, and meaningful to company employees and shareholders. In my experience, the most successful companies measure, report, and manage to objectives in a transparent and aligned fashion across the entire enterprise.
Performance metrics enable data driven decisions when distributed in a timely manner. The CFO should participate in architecting enterprise system design to deliver performance monitoring and measurement. With the investments occurring around digital transformation, a dashboard business intelligence infrastructure that integrates legacy siloed reporting systems across the entire company has the power to provide real-time or near real-time data to executives. This allows them to rapidly adjust priorities and workplans, and align opportunities to achieve objectives or adjust expectations. Reporting may be customized to provide relevant and actionable information with reporting on incentive plans, which encourages alignment that motivates the right behaviors across the enterprise. Ownership should be defined for each business objective to individual leaders, providing them the necessary performance metrics, reporting and measurement in a closed loop process to monitor, measure, and manage desired business outcomes.
At FLG, we see that at successful companies, the CFO role has become an essential strategic leverage point for CEOs and boards. Today’s CFOs drive data-driven decision making that enables improved company performance. Mastering a CFO’s “4 Ps” lays the groundwork and foundation for that success across all sectors and at all stages of company growth. If your company is in need of experienced CFO services, please contact our team at FLG Partners.