“If you start talking about technology or finance straight away, you’re positioning yourself to fail.”
The words of LifeHealthcare Group CFO, Dean Taylor, in a direct address to channel partners across the country.
For Taylor, in running the books of one of Australia’s leading independent medical device distributors, sales conversations are changing, requiring a fresh approach from technology providers seeking to navigate the broader workings of the boardroom.
With technology buying decisions moving away from the traditional IT department, finance now plays a greater role in influencing technology purchases, promptings partners to change tact when selling services and solutions to end-users.
“It’s not a technology conversation, it’s the wrong one to have,” Taylor said. “It’s also not about narrowing it down to a financial discussion.
“It’s one that is strategically led in context to the business direction.”
From Taylor’s perspective, the shift is focused on transformational change, creating a need to look past the present day to articulate business benefits to buyers.
“You’re looking at your underlying business requirements going forward and what your business will look like in the next five to seven years,” he said.
“And if your existing systems today are capable of supporting not just the volume of growth but complexity growth as well.”
Stereotypically, selling to a CEO has been straightforward for the channel in the past, with resellers tapping into the high energy and positivity exerted from leaders of the business.
Tradition also dictates however that selling to the CFO is tough, with financial controllers viewed as habitual blockers in the buying process.
Yet behind every great CEO is a great CFO, with the financial leader capable of making selling technology a breeze or a nightmare.
Selling to finance
But while most CFOs can calculate gross margin and earnings per share in their head, they are seldom fastidious bean counters.
“They’ll take a bigger picture view and look at the business outcomes,” Brennan IT Executive General Manager, Simon Barlow, observed. “They’re not really into bells and whistles, that’s not what excites them. They’re not technical people.
“They just want to know that they’re making the right investment for their shareholders and that it will show a deliberate return in a certain period of time.”
In short, CFOs require stronger- than-ever business plans to justify new IT investment.
“They’re exceptionally receptive to an improved technology conversation and a digital transformation conversation,” Barlow said. “But there needs to be clear business outcomes.”
While all technology decisions invariably touch on the dollar sign at some point during the transaction, Barlow believes the reality of the local industry has changed, with IT and infrastructure now an enabler for a business rather than being just a supporter.
“The difference is that the workloads and applications that we’re supporting now take so many more parts of the business from an end-to- end perspective,” he explained.
“It’s meant that the decision making process for organisations has become more complex, which goes beyond both the CIO and CFO.”
In representing one of the country’s leading IT service providers — with over 1,000 customers nationwide — Barlow acknowledged that technology sales today continue to be challenged by a partner’s ability to capture the wider consensus of the C-Suite.
“Generally, there are stakeholders across every aspect of an organisation with usually around six or seven involved in the buying process, and the CFO is one of those stakeholders,” he added.
It’s a sentiment backed up by Taylor, who said C-level executive involvement varies from business to business.
For example, for partners dealing with an organisation that views IT as a cost to the business, deals would naturally flow through to the CFO.
However, those that consider IT as an enabler are more likely to channel deals from the CIO through to the CEO, creating new sales dynamics as a result.
As CFO and overseer of internal operations, Taylor holds responsibility for IT within LifeHealthcare, and is viewed as a key influencer in the entire buying process.