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How do you overcome objections from the CEO?

Any advice on how to get past life's series of "no" you can't do that? 1.) Members of our leadership team aren't playing to their strengths, can we realign roles and responsibilities to help them succeed? "No" 2.) Our product-to-market strategy is falling short of our goals, can we bring in an expert? "No" 3.) Can we find out what our customers expect from our company and focus resources on exceeding their expectations? "No" 4.) Can we document our customer's expectations? "No" 5.) Can we focus on customers that permit us to add greater value and allow our company to be more profitable? "No" 6.) Our core product has just reached product-market fit. Can we attract outside capital to scale the business? "No" How do you overcome your CEO's objections?


Michael Jameson
Title: VP Finance
Company: Undisclosed
(VP Finance, Undisclosed) |

Wow, that's one incredibly negative CEO. Well, in general when i'm trying to get something done that actually reaches up to the CEO's level, I look for data to support my thinking. You may have done this already, but if not, see what you can do to flesh out a hypothesis with real data.

Tough to do in some of your instances, but the "focus on profitable customers" angle seems eminently measurable. Have you tried doing a profitability study on your customer base? Show revenues and matching expenses by customer by product over time and you may take a "concept" and turn it in to some compelling stories, complete with easy to follow graphs/etc. Let the data do the talking.

This could also play in #6 above, where you could do a forecasting exercise to show 3 yr. revenue in an organic scenario vs. revenue in a scenario with 2X (for example) marketing spending over that same period or the like. If the discussion moves from "no" to, "how do we get to this place where we're doing $30M in 2016 instead of $18M?", you're on your way to at least having a fruitful conversation.

Of course it's possible your CEO thinks your company has no chance of making it or completely lacks imagination or can't possibly raise funds under any circumstances. In that case, perhaps you should be looking for a new company :).

Sara Voight
Title: Controller
Company: Critical Signal Technologies, Inc
(Controller, Critical Signal Technologies, Inc) |

I would take Michael's suggestions and add some spin to them. While everyone should be on board with the company's survival, success, improvement, etc, your CEO might only be looking at their part in this. Does he/she report to a BOD? If so, try to word your suggestions (with documented support) as ways to make him/her look better. You understand your environment the best, but coming up with ideas that reflect well on them might result in some/more support of the changes you are suggesting.

Topic Expert
Regis Quirin
Title: Director of Finance
Company: Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP
LinkedIn Profile
(Director of Finance, Gibney Anthony & Flaherty LLP) |

Assuming rational decision making -- I agree with data to support your recommendations, but advise you take a step back to understand why the CEO is saying "No." No to the concepts or No to the way you wish to implement the changes? What were the company's plans for 2013 and do your ideas support the strategic direction? I have developed recommendations with data to support every point and presented them to Boards. Never will 100% be accepted - some accepted, some revised, some completely scrapped. In subsequent meetings I re-recommended ideas that were scrapped in previous meetings, and they were accepted. No can mean absolutely not or not today but maybe tomorrow.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

My thinking tags off of Regis' comments. Does he provide you with a reason for the no and is it because there are other strategic initiatives in place to already address these items maybe later in the year or following year, however I would think as the CFO you would be a part of the strategic planning process. If he does not give you a reason, have you shown him the reason's (as other's have pointed out) and then asked why he would not want to consider some of these items. Do you provide suggestions for implantation so he knows who would be over seeing the project and facilitating the data?

If the CEO is unwilling to listen to the CFO when making suggestions to improve customer retention, marketing, & potential realignment to remain profitable there's a bigger issue.

David Smith
Title: Manager
Company: Private
(Manager, Private) |

It would be interesting to compare to what he says "yes" to. Maybe it would indicate more about his point of view.

Lyle Newkirk
Title: CFO
Company: Corrigo Incorporated
(CFO, Corrigo Incorporated) |

As a finance professional you can help by providing unemotional facts and data to support initiatives. I am sensing that there are some emotional or social issues here and the best way to deal with those factors is to remain unemotional and try to provide clear coherent and objective data.

Carlos Sanchez de Tagle
LinkedIn Profile

Maybe as appointed before by my colleagues, could be:

- A matter of not backing up a statement properly,

- Strategic reasons you're not aware of (sounds extrange but some CEO's could be trying to change a strategy and sell the change to the board and your timing for making those statements was not right

- A social, interpersonal or management style issue

If that is your CEO's or your own STYLE try the following:

1. Include solid numbers backing up all your statements. Whenever you think an action should be taken express it so and the economic impact it would have not taking it.

2. Immediately after you have communicated a problem also include at least one action plan. It will demonstrate you're an executive not just a number cruncher. Remember as CFO you're there to provide solutions not to create problems that will deviate CEO's attention.

3. When possible, before you submit a recommendation make a brainstorming session with the affected executive. Unless there is a confidentiality issue for a certain topic in particular, it will give you the most Updated vision and direction from your CEO in that topic. When this happens and you have reached to a collegiated recommendation, present it as that. If you're not stepping in anyone's toes it may be easier to get approval and demonstrate you can also be a team player.

4. In certain ocassions you have to step in and as Regis said some iniciatives will pass immedatly, others will be for later or need further analysis an other ones will be refused. You have to be prepared for either thing.

And finally if all my colleages and these recommendations fail, may be time to listen to Michael's final recommendation and start looking for a new Job.

Robert Barker
Title: Professor of Accounting
Company: Calif. State Univ., Northridge
(Professor of Accounting, Calif. State Univ., Northridge) |

Wonderful set of responses. This is a good example of what makes this digest so interesting and useful.

M. Feldman
Title: Controller
Company: Private
(Controller, Private) |

Yes, much to consider in this thread.

In general, I have not gotten great results insisting others make decisions the way I think I do.

I agree with David's point about trying to understand the guy a little more.

Here is an old saying that I believe to be as true about nearly everyone and as nearly all the time as an old saying can be: "People decide for emotional reasons and justify for logical ones."

This can be a little frustrating if you think all of your own decisions are and everyone else's should be entirely logical.

A good Kirk vs Spock discussion though.

Tim Kane
Title: Principal
Company: Tim Kane, CPA
(Principal, Tim Kane, CPA) |

First of all, you are applauded for still trying to do your best in the face of such negativity.

An approach that I used in a similar situation in the past was a two pronged approach. I did a retrospective analysis and used this to go to the President to say if you made this change 3 years ago here's how much more money you would have made. I also did a breakeven analysis showing how soon the cost of making a change would pay for itself.

So for example, on your suggestion to focus on the higher value customers you could analyze it as follows. Take the lowest margin customers and shift a percentage of those sales to the higher margin customers. Do this cumulatively over the last 3 years using actual data. From that you can calculate the money lost using your variable margin. Your shift in mix won't impact your rent, so don't include fixed costs. But do include any fixed costs specific to the shift, equipment purchases for example. Use the fixed costs calculated above with your current sales to calculate how much of a percentage shift to the higher margin customers it would take to breakeven.

Of course, if you succeed in making these changes and improving the company you know what the answer will be if you ask if you get credit for any of it.

Mark Matheny
Title: VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis
Company: Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)
(VP - FInancial Planning and Analysis, Novolex (formerly Hilex Poly)) |

Maybe you are focusing on things that he has already worked on or considered in the past and doesn't see the value. Has he already given you other priorities to address and he perceives you haven't accomplished those? I am not a CEO, but there are times when people come to me with ideas to work on something and they haven't accomplished the things I felt should be a higher priority. I get the feeling that they are implying that the don't want to do what I need them to do so they want to tell me what I need instead.

(Corporate Controller) |

Might be as simple as your are the CFO, stick to crunching numbers. The CEO wants HR, Marketing, Sales, etc. to do their job. You report the financial impact of their decsions.

Topic Expert
Christie Jahn
Title: CFO
Company: Prime Investments & Development
(CFO, Prime Investments & Development) |

I disagree Anon. A CFO has a much greater responsibility than "crunching numbers." The CFO is supposed to also be a strategic business partner to the CEO. Check out some CFO job descriptions.

Topic Expert
Cindy Kraft
Title: CFO Coach
Company: Executive Essentials
(CFO Coach, Executive Essentials) |

I agree, Christie. Number-crunching CFOs are going the way of the dinosaur.

Perhaps the CEO feels threatened by you Mark? Have you tried putting his "No's" in writing? Sending him an email after he's said no "just to confirm" his position? Sometimes a written record can motivate future different responses since you just never know where that written record might turn up one day.

Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Consulting CFO and Business Operations A..
Company: Growth Accelerator
(Consulting CFO and Business Operations Advisor, Growth Accelerator) |

I'm getting the feeling from what you've written that this is a centrally managed (perhaps micro-managed) operation? If that is the case...well, it is up to the board to determine if the person won't scale. If it isn't the case, then the dept leaders *should* have the authority to do the things of which you speak.

Getting flat "No" responses does not sound like, "interesting, tell me more, show me." You can test the waters on how that works, but if it doesn't garner a better response, you need to lead change in a different manner.

david waltz
Title: Assistant Treasurer
Company: Integrys Energy Group
(Assistant Treasurer, Integrys Energy Group) |

Perhaps the "it's better to beg forgiveness than permission" approach?

Go ahead and evaluate the marketing, talk to the customers, etc. and maybe he/she never knows, or it's too late to stop the momentum, or there are already persuasive promising results that can be shown.

More darkly, I once saw this happen to a boss of mine - their boss would never let them do anything, and the whole team was frustrated. My boss ended up resigning.

Lo and behold, when the new person arrived (who had worked with my bosses' boss at another firm), all those 'no' answers suddenly turned into 'yes' ones. It was a very productive time for us.

Charles Chewning
Title: President
Company: The Accounting Software Library
(President, The Accounting Software Library) |

I am certainly not an expert in this area, but it seems to me that the CEO is the type of person who needs to be the "originator of ideas". If you ask them a Yes/No oriented question, they will tend to automatically say "No". However, if you ask them for their assistance and guidance, they will have an opportunity to display their power and knowledge. All useful ideas need to originate with the CEO, not their subordinates, including the CFO. Maybe you would just ask them for their assistance and guidance.

Gary A. Pokorn
Title: Sales Enablement Manager
Company: Oracle I NetSuite
(Sales Enablement Manager, Oracle I NetSuite) |

Permit me to echo Robert Baker's comment - an excellent discussion that we can all benefit from. Thx, GAP


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