Numbers Talk

Speak the language of numbers and you will gain approval for your initiatives.

I was a communications major in college. I learned a lot about speaking eloquently and less about finance. As I moved through my corporate career, it became very clear to me that if I wanted to be seen as a top level leader, I would need to be fluent in finance.

One of the most convincing examples of the power of numbers came early on in my banking career. I was hired by a financial institution to manage and grow their credit card processing business. The problem was, that there existed only a small sales team for the bank’s entire multi-state presence. These few people, out of necessity, were doing more servicing of existing clients than selling.

It was evident that we were missing out on a tremendous amount of business. However, in order to fully take advantage of this opportunity, we would need to hire multiple sales professionals throughout the bank’s footprint.

Asking to hire a bunch of people can seem pretty presumptuous when you are new with a company. To prepare for the request, I worked with the division’s financial controller. He helped me get a better handle on the opportunity and build a strong case for making this huge investment of personnel. He also coached me in knowing the numbers inside out.

Ultimately I made a pitch for hiring salespeople to the decision makers of our bank, by presenting the Net Present Value of the investment. What I witnessed in their response left an indelible impression on me. Not only did they say “yes” to the proposal; they recommended that I hire more people than planned.

Don’t get me wrong; the discussion was no walk in the park for me. Their questions were tough and insistent. Because I understood the numbers, I was able to answer everything with confidence and candor. I believed the investment was a sound risk and they did too.

Whether you are in Information Technology, Human Resources, Customer Service, or Sales, you need to have a healthy respect for the part you play in impacting the company’s bottom line. When you ask for money to be spent on your behalf, you better have a solid business case.

Here is how to build a compelling business case for your initiatives:

  • Gain a thorough understanding of the pros and cons of your proposed initiative from all perspectives: your company’s, your division’s, your client’s, your employees’, and yourself.
  • Work with Finance to determine a scenario that proves the financial soundness of the initiative. Know the numbers inside out.
  • Prepare a presentation that tells the story of the opportunity and demonstrates without a shadow of a doubt, that the investment is worthwhile.
  • Ready yourself for questions of all shapes and sizes. You will speak more fluently about the opportunity when you have prepared and practiced.

From that point on in my corporate career, I committed myself to being numbers savvy. I found that the structure of the numbers gave me the freedom to take risks.

What works for you? How well do you speak the language of numbers?

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