Leveraging Financial Data in Sales: Pre-call Planning Done Fast, Done Right

When I was an undergrad at The University of Colorado Boulder, I went back and forth when it was time to declare a major. I was one of the many students who selected undecided at the beginning of my freshman year. That said, my favorite class freshman year was Macro Economics.  

I remember calling my step-father, who was a CPA, for advice.

Do you know what he said? He suggested I become a finance major because finance is the foundation of business. Get a business degree and take economics classes as my electives.  I promptly transferred to the business school.  

It was the best advice I could have received. And it’s advice that I’ve given to others over the years, especially those interested in pursuing a career in sales.

After all, nothing will establish your credibility with executives faster than insight into their business's health—a powerful advantage when you’re attempting to sell higher. However, with extremely limited time for research, how can sales professionals make the most of financial information in their sales calls? It all comes down to a proven, three-step process: research, predict and question.

Financial Research for Sales Calls

When selling to C-suite executives, you’ll ultimately be asking them to justify the investment in financial terms, which is why it’s vital that you understand the fundamentals of finance and accounting. In particular, there are three standard financial statements that you should be comfortable navigating: income statement or profit and loss, balance sheet and statement of cash flows. Here's what you're looking for in each one:

Income Statement

You’re evaluating year-over-year (YOY) performance in terms of total revenue growth rate, net income growth rate and profit margin growth rate.

Statement of Cash Flows

If the company is in a good position, you’ll see net cash provided by operating activities increasing over time. You’ll also want to look at net cash from financing activities to analyze how they borrow money. Generally, they should have at least 10% of their overall money in cash, and this could vary for the industry and stage of the company.

Balance Sheet

When it comes to the balance sheet, you’re looking at the relationship between assets and sales trends. If sales grow, assets should grow. If sales are down, assets should also be down – the same goes for the relationship between sales and liabilities.

Remember: AI can be a tremendous companion on this journey. Feed it a 180-page annual report and tell it to summarize the CEO’s letter, performance highlights from the preceding year and information on executive compensation. In most cases, you’ll have a usable output in seconds – of course, you’ll want to spot-check for accuracy. Once you’re satisfied with your analysis, it’s time to use that knowledge to predict likely business issues.


The essence of B2B sales has always been to identify and address the client's problems that align with their key objectives. Building off the information you discovered during your research, strive to uncover trends impacting their business, which in turn will reveal the business objectives. Ultimately, you’ll need to link your offerings to those objectives to pique an executive’s interest.

It’s vital to realize that not all issues will justify investment; only those impacting significant corporate goals are prioritized by executives. They allocate resources to what they deem critical, often focusing on either boosting revenue through various strategies or cutting costs via measures like layoffs or divestiture. Lean into your past experiences working with similar clients, industry knowledge and your company’s results to predict the likely business issues that are getting in the way of corporate objectives.

When preparing for sales calls with executives, never assume you know all the answers – predict to engage; not to showcase your assumptions. Your goal is to craft a conversation that will draw the prospect out and get them talking. Prediction is merely the tool you’ll use to engage and get the heart of things sooner rather than later.

Asking the Right Question

Heading into any executive sales call, you’ll want to come prepared with open-ended, probing and anxiety questions to uncover those business issues that your products/services can uniquely solve – and to ensure that they’re at the top of the list.

Open-ended questions

Perhaps you’re targeting a company that’s growing rapidly and recently completed a major acquisition – only that Q3 earnings report hints that there might be trouble in paradise. One of your open-ended questions might sound like:

“I saw that ___’s recent acquisition greatly expands your ___ offerings and that your CEO has vowed to increase operating margin back to target levels – what do you think is getting in the way?”

Don’t waste time searching for the perfect questions – the key is demonstrating that you’re informed, interested and curious about what’s happening behind the scenes.

Probing questions

Once you’ve established credibility and gotten the prospect talking, use these closed-ended questions to challenge a prospect’s thinking without risking rapport. These targeted questions offer insight into how prospects prioritize problems, enabling you to subtly reorder them so that the problems you know you can uniquely solve are at the top of the list. And if you’re dealing with an executive who seems overly complacent or is not open to sharing information, it might be time for anxiety questions.

Anxiety questions

These are powerful tools but must be used sparingly. Anxiety questions can cause a prospect to sit back and consider the implications of inaction—ideally, the cost of not implementing your solution. When done right, anxiety questions open the door to the brain’s curiosity mechanism—then it’s your job to steer the conversation from the cost of inaction to the professional and personal value that will come with making a change.

Ultimately, this isn’t about creating a script; the act of preparing these questions will help you refine your predictions and internalize crucial information. I encourage you to take 15 minutes and write as many questions as you can think of in each category, without editing or overthinking. Then flip the script and put yourself in the executive’s shoes for the editing process. What questions resonate the most? Which ones are most likely to open the door to business issues? When you develop your list with this mindset, you’ll set yourself up to establish credibility, build trust and lay the groundwork for engaging in business conversations with any executive-level buyer.

For more selling advice, check out:

- An exclusive preview of my latest book: The Power of Value Selling: The Gold Standard to Drive Revenue and Create Customers for Life.

- Our latest ebook, the “4-Step Guide to Measuring Sales Enablement Impact”

- Episode 306 of our Podcast: “Unleash Your Rep Superpowers” with Steve Waters, VP of Sales at ZoomInfo

As always, Sell with Value,


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