Monday, November 26, 2012

Selling to Executives – Speak Their Language and Know their Annual Report

Most sales professionals will probably never take up permanent residence in the domain of finance.

However, if you want to sell to the C-Suite, you need to be as comfortable as possible in their world so you can understand executive-level concerns and solve strategic business issues. Otherwise, you are just a pretender.

Let’s start with the basics of an annual report. An annual report is exactly what it sounds like - a formal report on a company's performance in the preceding year. It is one of the most important documents a company produces and is often the first document someone consults when researching a company. It reports how the company did financially and often explains the scope of its business mission and management philosophy. It typically includes:

  • Financial highlights. Probably the most often-read section of any annual report, these highlights give a quick summary of a company's performance. The numbers appear in a short table, usually accompanied by supporting graphs.

  • Letter to Shareholders. This letter may be from the chairperson of the board of directors, the chief executive officer, or both. It can provide an analysis and a play-by-play review of the year's events, including any problems, issues, and successes the company had. It usually reflects the business philosophy and management style of the company's executives, and often it lays out the company's direction for the next year.

  • Corporate message. Some analysts, business executives, and Shareholders consider this message an advertisement for the company; others find it useful. However, it almost always reflects how a company sees itself, or how it would like others to see it.

  • Management discussion. This series of short, detailed reports discusses and analyzes the company's performance. It covers results of operations, and the adequacy of liquid and capital resources to fund operations. Important financial issues are referenced, and often the company’s key ratios are given.

  • Financial statements and notes. These statements provide the raw numbers for the company's financial performance and recent financial history. These statements include a comprehensive set of related notes that provide explanations, additional detail, and supplementary financial information.

  • Selected financial data. This information summarizes a company's financial condition and performance over five years or longer for comparison purposes.

  • Board of directors and management. This list gives the names and titles of the company's board of directors and top management team. Sometimes companies include photographs. This information is often in the back of the annual report.

  • Shareholder information. This information covers the basics of the company's corporate office headquarters, the exchanges on which the company trades its stock, the location and time of the next annual Shareholder's meeting, and other general Shareholder service information.

  • Auditors' report. This is a summary of the findings of an independent firm of certified public accountants showing whether the financial statements are complete, reasonable, and prepared consistent with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) at a set time.

  • Report of management. This letter, usually from the board chairperson and the chief financial officer, takes responsibility for the validity of the financial information in the annual report, and states that the report complies with SEC and other legal requirements. The discussion attests to the presence of internal accounting control systems that cover effectiveness of operations, reliability of financial reporting, and compliance with federal laws.

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