Contrary to popular belief, the steps you need to make real changes in a company's cash flow is not in their financial reports.
Each of those reports may give hints on where to start looking for opportunities. They may show you the symptoms the company is dealing with, but they won't show the underlying cause of the problems.
The real opportunities come from understanding the stories behind the numbers.
Here are some keys to finding the underlying cause of the problem:
Get the Stories from Your Clients
To get to the root cause, you will need to hear the stories behind the numbers. Here are a few hints on how to get people to relax and talk with you:
Ask Open-Ended Questions
Dig down multiple levels
Here are some good phrases to get people to open up to you. They may not know the answer; if they don't, you can ask a follow-up question.
Here are some examples of open-ended questions:
Then ask follow-up questions. Here are some examples:
Why? Why? Why? Why? Why?
Someone once told me that you must ask "Why?" at least five times to get to the root of an issue, especially when emotions are involved.
The $1,000,000 Inventory Example
Let me give you an example. I had a conversation with a client, "Lisa," a few years ago. She had $1,000,000 in inventory for a company with $2,100,000 in annual sales.
Me: "Can you tell me about your inventory?"
Lisa: "We have too much."
Me: "Yes, but why do you think you have too much?"
Lisa: "Because we didn't sell all of last year's inventory, and we restocked this year."
Me: "Why did you buy so much this year? Why didn't you purchase less?"
Lisa: "Because we needed to buy that much to get to platinum status."
Me: "Oh! So why is it so important to be at platinum status?"
Lisa: "Because that is when we get the biggest discount, which is an extra 2% off?"
Me: "Why is it so important to get an extra 2% off when paying interest on the inventory?"
Lisa: "Well, we also get to advertise that we are a platinum dealer."
Me: "Why is it important to advertise that you are a platinum dealer, especially when you aren't doing any advertising?"
Lisa: "Because the dealer three miles down the road is a platinum dealer, and I want to have the same status."
What was the root cause of the overstocked inventory? Ego.
Lisa couldn't stand the thought of only being a gold dealer when her closest competitor was a platinum dealer. Did Lisa's clients care? Probably not.
I had to help her understand that her perceived competition was killing her business. She should purchase the appropriate inventory or face the same cash crunch next year.
What are your “go to” questions for your clients?
I'd love to hear the questions you have and how you really get to know your clients.
Do you have a favorite question to ask the people you work with?
Would you like to learn about a specific cash management topic? Contact me at [email protected] or on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/ HYPERLINK "https://www.linkedin.com/in/dsafeer/"dsafeer HYPERLINK "https://www.linkedin.com/in/dsafeer/"/ to introduce yourself, share ideas, or ask me questions about maximizing your business cash flow.
David Safeer is a globally recognized expert in cash flow optimization and the founder of David Safeer International, which educates and advises accountants and CFOs on cash flow and profit maximization strategies for their clients. His work has impacted hundreds of businesses with revenues from $1 million - $20 million in 40 countries.