CFOs’ Most Important Role: Top Communicator

Tom Donnelly, CFO of Datasite
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Finance chiefs need to hone their communication skills to be successful today, says Tom Donnelly, CFO of Datasite.

What’s the key to successful communication between CFOs and others in the C-Suite—not to mention all relevant stakeholders? Know your audience, lead with the why and invite collaboration.

So says Tom Donnelly, CFO at Datasite, a Minneapolis-based SaaS provider that last year facilitated more than a third of the top 100 global M&A deals. Donnelly talked with StrategicCFO360 about the new CFO-as-communicator role, how employee experience is connected with customer experience and what’s on his plate for 2023.

Why is communication so important in the CFO role and how have you utilized these skills in your role throughout the last year?

Communication is especially important for CFOs because the role oversees several key areas of a company, including financial and operational activities, and often, as in my case, human resources, information technology and other areas. CFOs are also a focal point between several different parties, including board members, stakeholders, customers, employees and other members of the C-Suite.

So, clear, concise communication to these wide varieties of groups is critical. To this end, I keep three key points in the top of my mind when communicating: know your audience, lead with the why and invite collaboration.

Speaking to board members versus customers versus employees can require different approaches. Some messages may be important to employees, but less so to a board. As a CFO, I need to understand what information is important to these audiences. I need to appreciate the matters that are most on their mind and deliver information that will help them get their work done, in the case of an employee, or help them better understand how the business makes revenue and profit and what levers I can pull to guide change or improvements. Experience can help, but another way to do this is to become familiar with the various groups, from colleagues to stakeholders. Know how your audience likes to receive direction and feedback. 

Aligning messages with the audience they are being delivered to will ensure that the entire group understands the rationale behind it. Then, there is better coordination and collaboration. Everyone understands and can move in the same direction.  

Socializing ideas and inviting feedback is key to honest communication and most appreciate having their ideas or input considered. Adaptability is key to being an effective CFO and sometimes a pivot in message or delivery will prove more effective.  

What are the top three goals you have within your organization in 2023? Why?

With more rate hikes on the horizon and increases in energy and operational costs ahead, CFOs today need to be strategic and nimble, and ready to respond to changing economic and market conditions, but also attuned to where opportunities may lie. Given this, I am focused on several key areas this year, including investing in innovation, managing costs and enhancing the customer experience. 

A focus on automation is also among one of our top priorities at Datasite, including using emerging technologies that can connect and analyze data for our customers as well as automating tasks to improve our own efficiency. For example, we plan to continue to invest in innovation to help dealmakers more effectively and efficiently market assets, prepare assets, conduct due diligence or acquire assets.

We also plan to leverage data across the enterprise, so we can position ourselves for success, while also driving down costs. We recently completed a significant investment in our back-office workflows across several areas including billing. The project is part of an effort to digitize all operations, which is expected to improve our customer and employee experience, while also supporting our growth goals.

What are some ways investments can be made within an organization to improve performance and customer service amid macroeconomic headwinds?

Right now is the time to make forward-looking investments in effectiveness. One area where this can take place is with the customer experience. Often, a customer’s experience with an organization is only as good as an employee’s experience with that organization. When employees feel supported, they are more likely to provide positive customer experiences. 

We’ve recently doubled down on this strategy by creating a new customer success team, that pairs customers who are using more than one Datasite application with a designated support team member to spur increased adoption and retention. While the current team is small, they’re already having a big impact, with their net promoter scores, or the likelihood that customers will recommend Datasite, measuring well above industry standards.

How important is digital transformation for organizations throughout these headwinds?

Companies continue to invest in acquiring technology, as they pursue digital transformations that initially accelerated during the pandemic. In fact, a July Gartner survey of 226 chief financial officers showed that digital acceleration is the top spending priority over the next 12 months. A focus on automation is also among the top priorities, including using emerging technologies that can connect and analyze data and automate tasks to improve efficiency. The idea being that, by leveraging data from across the enterprise, companies can create more efficiencies and position themselves for success, while also driving down costs.

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