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Is Your Content Ready for the CFO?

According to a new Accenture study, more chief financial officers (CFOs) are expanding their role beyond finance in the wake of the recession. These new responsibilities mean CFOs are much more involved in the buying decision process, which is critically important for content marketers to understand and address in order to keep winning business.

Over the past 18 months, CFOs added significant responsibilities in the areas of information technology (43%), human resources (39%), production (38%), customer service (37%) and even marketing / sales (33%).

During the buying lifecycle, CFOs are involved most often, and with the most influence, early in the decision. Throughout this phase, financial executives:

  • Review the status quo
  • Research potential opportunities for change
  • Establish the strategies and solution options that frame the entire buying process.

The CFO also jumps in again in the later stages of the buying process to assure the selected solution / proposal:

  • Meets financial due diligence requirements
  • Is low risk
  • Represents the best possible value.

This increased role of the CFO during the buying process clearly means that the way solutions are bought has changed. As a result, marketers must refine their strategy to win business. To help marketers accomplish this, here are seven insights about how CFOs process and evaluate information to help them make their buying decisions:

Internet Intense

IDC studies show CFOs are increasingly getting their opportunity, strategy and solution ideas online from peer groups, research analysts, online publications and even vendor sites. The research is often done independently before sales is ever engaged.

Solution: To attract financial executives, it is critical to have the right content available online to empower self-guided research and to assure that content is available to cover each aspect of the buying lifecycle / decision making process – from reviewing the status quo to final decision.

Only a Matter of Trust

Financial executives rely on trusted third-party sources to validate strategies and decisions. According to researcher SiriusDecisions, the most trusted sources of information for executive decision-makers are industry analysts (cited by 31% of respondents) and peers (29%). This is especially true of CFOs who are trained to be skeptical and risk adverse.

Solution: Influencing the influencers, publishing content on third-party trusted sites and seeking third-party endorsements are vital to getting these financial executives to say yes.

Interested in Insight

Early in the decision-making process, CFOs help guide the team to understand the corporate / team goals and drive the strategies to achieve these goals. During the early phases of the buying cycle, financial executives seek content to help them diagnose and illuminate what issues they have, decide what strategies can be applied to address the opportunities, and what solutions are proven to deliver the desired outcomes.

Solution: Throughout the discovery phase, this is the content that has the most impact:

  • Research white papers
  • Diagnostic assessments
  • Success stories

Bullish on Benchmarks

Because most CFOs are responsible for driving competitive advantage in their own company, they need to understand how they compare to other companies.

Solution: Provide diagnostic content that helps CFOs confirm strategies, identify issues, set priorities and address the most pressing opportunities. For instance, CFOs like to quantify how their financials compare to their peers using things such as key performance indicators (KPIs) and capability / maturity comparisons.

Expectations for Economics

Financial executives are keen on doing more with less – tasked to grow the business under tough economic conditions while cutting costs. According to recent IDC surveys, B2B purchase decisions are now driven by how well the buyer thinks the solution can help enable business growth (30%), improve profitability (25%) and reduce costs (22%). “Show me the money” is the CFO mantra.

Solution: IDC surveys show more than 90% of corporations require quantifiable proof of bottom-line benefits on most projects. CFOs are always seeking content to help them understand the benefits and bottom-line impact of proposed solutions, especially in the middle part of the sales cycle.  And over 81% expect the vendor to develop and deliver the business case for proposed solutions.

Conscious of Cost

Decision makers know there are usually several options to help them solve a given problem.  In today’s budget-constrained environment, they are often looking for the lowest cost and lowest risk solution. Sales and marketing teams can work hard to make the case for change, but sometimes fail to prove that the vendor’s specific solution represents a better value than those of their competitors.

Solution: Later in the buying lifecycle, content to help financial executives quantify the lower total cost of ownership, better value, lower risk and other competitive advantages of your solution versus that of others is essential for final approval.

Prime on Personalization

CFOs now have double or triple the responsibility, and less time than ever to get it right. Anything you can do to save them time and cut through the information overload will be rewarded. Carpet bombing CFOs with generic white papers, collateral and presentations won’t cut through the noise.

Solution: According to research by MarketingSherpa and KnowledgeStorm, content is more valuable when customized for industry (82% more effective), role/job function (67%), company size (49%) and geography (29%).  Understanding the CFO’s profile and stage in the buying lifecycle to provide one-to-one personalized communications, collateral and insights can help these busy executives save time, and more quickly understand how your solution can help drive bottom-line improvements.

The Bottom Line

Financial executives are different than other stakeholders because their added responsibilities require them to rely on content marketing to deliver more insights, more diagnostics, more economic information and more personalized content. With CFOs firmly in control, buying decisions will be more focused than ever on economics, requiring new levels of financial due diligence on each purchase decision.

Marketers who understand these changes and provide the right content at the right time to help the unique CFO decision-making process will be the winners in 2011 and in the years to come.

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