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The Finance Business Partner’s favourite question

The Finance Business Partner’s favourite question

As finance business partners we ask many questions in our search to develop better insights, improve our influence and make an impact, so naturally, what’s the best question we can begin to choose from out of the many available to us? I believe the answer came to me on my recent visit to a local shoe shop.

Similar to most other finance business partners we shall at one time or another have a need for shoes, either professionally or for casual wear and a good proportion of us will buy them from shops in our cities and towns. Likewise, I recently entered my local shoe store on our town’s main street and happened to be served by the owner-manager, so after developing some rapport with her I then asked:

Me: How’s business going at the moment?

Owner: Yeah, it’s going well.

Me: So basically, is everything running the way you want it?

Owner: Well . . . .

I have to pause the conversation script here to keep its exact contents discreet, however, this first question, which is really my favourite finance business partnering one, opens the door for any of us to add value whether in a simple shoe shop as well as in the much larger organisations we may also work in.

To demonstrate let’s continue to use the example of the local shoe shop along with the following model below: The logical levels of sustaining change.

In simple terms, each level has a particular question associated with it, and as you progress up seeking the answer to each level the greater the chance you’ll see a more sustained change and the bigger the impact you are going to make.

So let’s say the owner-manager says I’d prefer to be selling more given we’re heading into the summer. This will allow us to ask questions about the environment:

Where are your sales coming from?

When is your best period?

We then find out that there’s typically a pick-up going into the summer and really it’s kids finishing school that need new summer shoes. Excellent, then onto the next level, behaviour, so we might look to uncover what actions they could they take to increase sales? Since the owner suggests that demand is already expected to be there we agree improving her capture of a larger proportion of these potential sales would be a good move.

Then it’s about capabilities, the skills & strategies, in effect ‘the how’ behind how we are going to make it happen. After discussing some ideas, the main one being in some posters for the shop & a few Facebook shares offering a 10% discount on any cross-sell to adult shoes bought with a pair of kids ones, the owner seems comfortable. So to make these ideas better stick, to sustain their impact some more, we need to be sure she believes and values them so we need to understand why she thinks they will work?

From her experience and prior data, she’s had good responses from past Facebook page promotions and we uncovered a way to inexpensively get a graphic designer to do up some posters so it’s a low outlay for a much larger return. Yes, the cross-sell idea was a bit of an unknown to her but I suggested it’s a way fast food chains also use to entice more adults to pay full priced meals because they sacrifice the overall margins on the kids’ meals. I was confident that because she believed she had in the necessary environment, behaviours, capabilities & now believes she would ultimately sustain her chances of achieving more sales.

We finished by agreeing that I’d pop back in to see how her business was doing into the summer. The overall length of the conversation was less than ten minutes and it all flowed from one question – How’s business going at the moment? And then going through the logical levels model. Now you may or may not choose to decide to use this same question, however just imagine when you choose the right one how much you’ll be helping your business partners when you do.

So what’s your favourite question to ask your business partners? Let’s all contribute to make this another resource for other aspiring finance business partners so please like or add your comments below.

If you feel you’ve learned from this blog and wish to know more about this topic check out the following book at UK link and US link

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