Interview with Sid Garai
Interviewer: Andrew Zezas, SIOR
Following is the transcript of a CFO Studio interview between Andrew Zezas, CEO of New Jersey based Real Estate Strategies Corporation and finance executive, Sid Garai, CAO + CFO of ExpertPlan, Inc.
Visit www.CFOstudio.com to read about this interview and to watch the entire video interview.
CFO as Chief Salesperson
Zezas: Hi, this is Andrew Zezas, your host at CFO Studio. I have the pleasure today of being joined by Sid Garai. Mr. Garai is the CAO and CFO of ExpertPlan Inc. ExpertPlan is a technology enabled retirement services specialist. Sid’s got an interesting background. Sid has over 30 years in financial services with a focus both on operations, financial services as well as management responsibilities. Interestingly enough, in his career, he’s created broker dealer arms for two major financial services companies. Sid, it’s great to have you here on CFO Studio.
Garai: It’s great to be here. Thank you.
Zezas: Sid, we’ve got a very interesting conversation today. The topic is CFO as Chief Salesperson. We’re going to make a bunch of people pay attention to this conversation. What do you mean by CFO as Chief Salesperson?
Garai: Well, it’s interesting. There has been a lot of focus on how to sell to C-Level Executives and primarily to CFOs.
Zezas: Books, tapes, and everything.
Garai: Exactly, but there hasn’t been much focus at all at how C-Level and CFOs can actually sell to other companies and sell their products and services.
Zezas: So, the mindset has been that there has been a lot of talk of selling to them, but not by them. That is a very interesting focus. So, why hasn’t there been that focus?
Garai: It’s an enigma to me. It really is. I think every CFO has the ability to be the Chief Salesperson or at least minimally participate in the sales process.
Zezas: Well, I think most people who really know what a CFO’s role is, most CFOs would agree that in fact, they do a lot of selling. Their CFOs are in fact the Chief Salesperson in the organization.
Garai: Right. That’s true, especially when the company has a strong financial position. They can lead with that story of having excellent financial performance.
Zezas: So, tell me about your role. How do you view your role both as CFO and as salesperson?
Garai: Well, over the years I’ve always found that every person in an organization, in order to make it a success, has to put on a sales hat and play a sales role. Finance is actually the hub of the wheel and the spokes of the wheel are all the other areas within that business, sales being one of them. But, sales is obviously a driver of revenue and top line growth. So, it’s incumbent upon any CFO to actually play a major role in our sales process.
Zezas: And, that’s how you see your role … as playing a major rule.
Garai: Absolutely and I enjoy it by the way.
Zezas: So, tell me about the philosophies that you have as a CFO who focuses on sales. Anything near and dear that keeps you focused?
Garai: There are several actually, but in light of the time that we have allotted here, let me just mention a couple of them. One of them is an old adage and people are familiar with it. It’s ABC, which is “Always Be Closing”. It’s obviously something that is a primary objective for anyone in the sales role, but it also plays into a lot of everyday life. How we deal with our friends and relatives in terms of trying to get our points across and making sure that we are successful in the objectives that we have. So, “Always Be Closing” is always something that is uppermost my mind.
Zezas: And, that’s really a communication skill. You’re focusing on the objective and communicating in that direction.
Garai: Absolutely, it definitely keeps you focused.
Zezas: You said there’s another one.
Garai: Yes, there’s one other one that I like to mention and that’s called “Do the Corners”.
Zezas: Do the corners.
Garai: Do the corners. I actually learned this one from my mom from years ago. When it was my turn to vacuum the carpeting, it would always begin with saying, “Remember, do the corners”. And, what that meant was that I shouldn’t be thinking about taking any shortcuts. If you have to move the furniture around, move the furniture around, but get into every area and be meticulous. It still stays with me today and I always knew that she was going to check so I couldn’t take any shortcuts. So, my approach to everything I do is try to be meticulous as possible and I try to impart that with the folks who work for and with me. The sales process is actually very critical because you want to be thorough and you want to make sure you covered all the basis in order to be able to present to your customer and put yourself in the best light.
Zezas: So, it’s an interesting dichotomy that any salespeople will look for the shortest distance between two points. But, as a finance executive, by your very nature you’re meticulous. So, applying that approach to sales, your mom had a great idea. I think you have to say thanks to your mom. I envision her standing over you with her hands on her hips and with her apron.
Garai: I can picture her right now doing it this many years later.
Zezas: Alright. You obviously enjoy selling. You got it in your blood. You ever consider a sales career?
Garai: I have. However, I really do have to applaud and give credit to the folks who do it everyday. They put themselves on the line. They have to accept and deal with quite a bit of rejection because for every yes that you get, there are several nos that you have to deal with. And, you also have to deal with the volatility of your compensation, which can vary from paycheck to paycheck. I have dabbled, though, in other areas of sales.
Zezas: So, you have a sales background?
Garai: Well, I sold life insurance. I was licensed to sell life insurance. I did that for a period of time. I also sold real estate for a short period of time. I was always ambitious and I guess I have a little bit of that sales blood in me.
Zezas: So, you became a finance executive, but you have a sales foundation so you really get this.
Zezas: So, with that, what advice would you give to CFOs who need to know more about selling?
Garai: I would advise CFOs to try to be more visible as possible, get out of the office, and not be perceived as just the number cruncher, but someone who wants to assist in growing the business and assisting in sales and growing the top line. And, that could take many different shapes and forms. It also depends upon the type of business as well as how large the sales organization may be. It may only be one person selling, it may be a selling force of 100. So, I would suggest that they offer to attend sales prospect calls, listen in on cold calls, assist in customizing pricing, and ask the sales folks how they could be of any assistance. There may be ways that they haven’t even thought of. There may be trade shows. For example, with the firm that I am with right now there are trade shows and industry conferences that we go to where there are exhibit booths that we can also attend and participate in those exhibitor booths, which I have done.
Zezas: So, actively become part of the sales function.
Zezas: Understanding sales and understanding a little bit about the CFO role, I’ve got to believe that someone with your pedigree and your background, the number 2, 3 person in your organization, when you attend a sales call, first of all, at your level you’re probably meeting with the CFO or finance executive at your customer’s office, I’ve got to believe that that creates a tremendous level of comfort for the prospective buyer to know that they’re not just dealing with a salesperson whose got a vested interest in the sale, but they’re dealing with someone whose got a vested interest in the company providing great service.
Garai: Exactly. Absolutely, you’re point is very well taken. CFOs speak a certain language. When you can sit in front of a CFO and speak the same language and let that person know what the benefits would be from a financial standpoint in terms of why they should actually buy that service or product from you, it means a lot and it’s different than coming from the salesperson who you mention may have a pay day that he’s looking towards vs. what are true benefits of making this purchase.
Zezas: I mean, you’re not only giving them financial guidance, you’re giving them strategic guidance and someone of your background, probably guidance on a multitude of levels.
Zezas: So, what steps should a finance executive take, if they want to become more of a salesperson?
Garai: Well, I think they need to, again, either find other ways to learn about selling strategies…how to be successful in terms of selling. They need to be visible. They need to be on those calls. They need to make sure that the sales folks know that they want to be of assistance. They don’t want to be perceived as sales prevention specialists.
Zezas: You’re not proposing that sales finance executives actually become sales people. I think you talked about the fact that they just need to acquire skills.
Garai: Absolutely, CFOs need to be business partners. They need to be business partners with the CEOs. They need to be business partners with the sales organization. It’s very well taken by those folks.
Zezas: I would imagine by both sides, by the CEO and the sales organization. Sid, I’ve got time for one last question. As a CFO, what do you find that you enjoy most about being a CFO and a salesperson.
Garai: Being the salesperson in the role of a CFO is really a terrific combination of being able to use all the skills that you’ve been trained for, knowing that you can make a major impact on the success of a company. And, there is that exhilaration of once that sale is made, it’s just a terrific win feeling.
Zezas: And, you enjoy it not only for the moment, but as it relates to the role of the success of the company.
Garai: Absolutely, that’s what it’s all about.
Zezas: Sid, this has been great. I appreciate you being here. I hope you’ll come back and see us again on CFO Studio.
Garai: I’d love to. It’s been a pleasure.
Zezas: Thank you very much for your time. This is Andrew Zezas for CFO Studio with Sid Garai saying, thank you very much for watching.
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