Chris Ortega - How to Build a Future-Focused Finance Foundation + ChatGPT
Episode #010 - Where we learn from Chris Ortega, CEO at Fresh FP&A, why you should chase your passion project, how you can leverage technology, how to align your KPIs with other departments, why you, should be more curious, how Chris is using ChatGPT and much much more.
Chris started his career in the audit division of EY, before going on to build and scale the finance organization at multiple companies. Chris now runs Fresh FP&A which he formed in January 2022 and provides Fractional CFO and Advisory Services to businesses that allow them to transform and scale their finance organization.
Audio Podcast Links
Where to find Chris
Chris on LinkedIn here
Chris on Twitter here
Fresh FP&A Website here
CAC - Customer Acquisition Cost)
CRM - Customer Relationship Management)
ASC606 – Revenue recognition standard
SEO – Search Engine Optimisation
[00:02:10] - How Fresh FP&A Was Formed
[00:05:23] – Chasing Your Passion Project
[00:08:35] – Leveraging Technology to Scale Up
[00:14:36] – When’s Right to Move to End-to-End Software?
[00:20:18] – Linking Finance & Sales KPIs
[00:28:55] – Using Dashboards to Drive Emotion
[00:36:18] – 4 Questions You Need to Be Asking + 1 More
[00:42:41] – ABC - Always be Curious
[00:47:07] – Uses for ChatGPT Now & in the Future
[00:54:40] – Resisters vs Forward Thinkers
[01:01:30] – What’s the One App or Gadget You Couldn’t Live Without?
[01:03:07] – Where to find Chris & Fresh FP&A
[00:00:00] Chris: For me, technology for the modern finance organization, that's how we scale. That's how we up-level, that's how we deliver value back to the business. We've got to leverage technology.
So many times people just do dashboards to just do dashboards. Whenever I created a dashboard or wherever I'm working with a client and they're like, "Chris, we would love a dashboard to it." The first question I ask is, what action are you trying to have? What emotion are you trying to have from this dashboard?
Simply, you got to put the right ABCs in finance, don't put the 'always be counting' back in finance put the, 'always be curious'.
[00:00:42] Adam: Yes, 100%. Do you use ChatGPT?
[00:00:49] Chris: Oh, love it. I love the topic. Let's get on this one dude. Let's talk about it.
[00:00:54] Adam: Hello, and welcome to Tech For Finance, where we help finance professionals leverage technology to level up their lives. I'm your host, Adam Shilton. In this episode, we're chatting with Chris Ortega, Fractional CFO and CEO of Fresh FP&A. Chris started his career in the audit division of EY before going on to build and scale the finance organization at multiple companies. Chris led the America's Finance Organization at Emarsys, and was instrumental during its acquisition by SAP and post-merger integration.
Chris now runs Fresh FP&A, which he's formed in January 2022, and provides Fractional CFO and advisory services to businesses that allow him to transform and scale their finance organization. Chris is based in Indiana, and loves boxing and is a lifelong fan of Dragon Ball Z, Vegeta mood all day.
Before we start, if you like what you hear today, please remember to subscribe to Tech For Finance on your favorite podcast platform, and on YouTube. For more content, head over to techforfinance.com. Thanks for joining me today, Chris, it's great to have you.
[00:02:03] Chris: Man, it's a pleasure to be here, man. Love all the work that you're doing, tech and finance. Thank you for having me as a guest.
How Fresh FP&A Was Formed
[00:02:10] Adam: No worries, absolute pleasure. Over to you to start, then. Tell us a little bit more about how Fresh FP&A was formed. Because it's what? Coming to about a year, that things have been going for you know, right?
[00:02:21] Chris: Yes, coming up on a year, man. Starting Fresh FP&A, I've been leading-- I grew up in accounting finance FP&A and financial leadership for over 17 plus years, primarily focused in high-growth businesses and scaling businesses. I was at a fast solution, and things didn't work out, honestly, Adam. It didn't work out. Expectations and reality were a lot different. Adam, I found myself at this fork in the road, "Do I continue to go now CFO level roles, continue to do that, or do I take the leap of faith and chase my passion? I started Fresh FP&A because I felt there needed to be a fresh perspective on finance.
When I was going, I was like, "Man, I've had all this experience, I know what it takes to transform and scale up finance organization. I know what it means, all the pitfalls, all the lessons learned, and I felt that there need to be a fresh perspective on finance." That's how I started Fresh FP&A.
[00:03:20] Adam: Perfect. It comes across. Anybody that follows you, and what I'll do is I'll put some links to your content in the show notes as well, the enthusiasm and energy comes across. It definitely seems like the right move for you, and you've been enjoying it, right?
[00:03:37] Chris: Yes. It's absolutely amazing. I think the most amazing part is not only the clients that we get to serve here at FP&A, but the broader community. I think one thing that has just been very impactful in my journey in building Fresh FP&A is building and connecting with so many different professionals that are not just in the finance organization. These are people that are in sales. These are people in the HR. These are people in operations. I think the undertone that you see from that is there's a lot of people that maybe have that fear or don't know how to take that leap of faith.
They have their big boy, big girl job, but they would love to do like these side passion projects. Honestly, that's how Fresh FP&A was developed. I've been doing Fresh FP&A consulting, fractional work, thought leadership work for the last seven years before I even went full-time into Fresh FP&A. I've had my VP of Finance, those higher-level finance jobs, but I was doing this on the side as well too.
I think one thing that I just loved over the last year of building Fresh FP&A is empowering and enabling people to say, "Look, you can still have that job where you get that consistency, you're building and growing your skills, but you can also have these five passion projects where you're learning new skills, you're working on more passionate things that you want to focus on. I think that's probably been the biggest takeaways that I've had over the last year, is how my story and how building Fresh FP&A has empowered other people to go chase their dreams and passions as well.
Chasing Your Passion Project
[00:05:23] Adam: It's a very interesting point about building on the side. I'm hearing more and more about this at the moment that there are more people moving into senior finance position, and maybe not even senior finance positions, but thinking, "What's next? What's a little bit more me that I can start focusing on?" What I found in conversations and from personal experience, is actually a lot of people get a bit concerned, and you can speak to this. A lot of people get a bit concerned if they start a side hustle or a side projects whether it's going to detract and take away from their full-time job. They're scared because either, they're worried that an employer might find out or that there's going to be questions asked about where they're spending their time.
I found that actually, it energizes in a lot of instances. That side project is more often than not related to what you're doing full-time anyway. In a lot of instances, they can work hand in hand. That stuff that you're doing for you energizes the stuff that you're doing during the day for your employer. I don't know whether you found that.
[00:06:31] Chris: Oh, yes, most definitely. I think for me that is like people chasing their passion. When you look at this motive unfortunately, when you look at the macro environment of business right now, you see the salesforce reduction of 10%. You see the coin base reduction of another 20%. You're seeing a lot of organizations that are tightening up their budgets right. For me, I look at it where it's like, man, imagine if you were just laid off or going through that situation, and my heart goes out to all those employees. I've been there. I've been in that situation.
I know what that feels like but the one thing that I've always said is I've had this passion project that I can work on. It's almost like you're creating your own safety net for yourself. It's like, you go do these things and a lot of the passion projects, for me as an example, it was already things that I was doing in my full-time job. I told all my managers, I said, "Look, this is something that's important to me. It's never going to conflict with my responsibilities, my work quality is never going to suffer. I'm going to deliver higher value because I have this opportunity to go work and share this."
It supplemented it and you're exactly right. It energized me because I get to go work on this client and help them build their organization. It's in a completely different space but it's also supplementing the education and the skills that I'm developing in my job. To me, I think that safety net aspect of it, that it created, that I'm able to make passive income, while also working a full time job and I'm gaining fulfillment from both different areas. I'm building an organization. I'm writing the story, but I'm also using my skills, passions, and talents and experience to share that with other people in building that same story. For me, I think it's 100% following that purpose, finding that passion and executing on it.
Leveraging Technology to Scale Up
[00:08:35] Adam: Yes, totally agree. The next we'll jump around a bit. I did send you some questions, but I very rarely ask them in order. With doing lots of things, full-time job, and finance pros never got any time anyway. Everybody is always asking questions, send me this, send me that. Oh, we need to do this, we need to do that. If you are going to consider taking on more work, you need to be ruthless with your time. I can see from your experience, it seems as though you've always leveraged the technology with a view to freeing up that time.
When you look at the different companies that you've worked for, you've amassed a huge amount of experience implementing different software tools. Saw some notes how you moved one company where you did a full Office 365 migration in two days for one company, didn't you?
[00:09:29] Chris: Yes.
[00:09:30] Adam: You set up Power BI to measure lagging and leading KPIs, which obviously is going to save you time in Excel. You've got the Oracle Hyperion stuff, which took you what? 12 months rolling estimate from 6 to 2 days. Then you've been creating commission reporting tools, which comes back to that bridge that you mentioned between finance and other departments. Talk a little bit more on that. Was the aim of those tools with a focus on saving time? Was it a focus on solving a challenge or was it a focus on, these are the ambitions of the business we need the tools to be able to achieve our goals? Can you talk about that?
[00:10:09] Chris: I think the number one thing that solidify why I did all of those is definitely what modern finance organizations are struggling with right now. Humans don't scale anymore. Traditional finance. Growing up in finance, a lot of times CFOs ,and I get a lot of clients and prospects that come to me with this problem, they think that they have a problem and they're like, "Hey, we'll solve the problem." Go hire more people to solve the problem and you'd be surprised, Adam, so many organizations suffer from that fallacy where it's just like, "We got a problem. Go hire people to solve problems."
Earlier in my career, even going back to my public accounting days, I was like, "that's not the solution. Technology is meant to scale you and your people. This is what I talk about in my six pillars of financial transformation, those six pillars being people, process, partnership as the foundation of building any minor finance organization, the scaling pillars to scale on top of those, platform, performance, and profit. That is what it's meant to be. Always, my mindset was saying, "Hey, I can no longer get to the higher value activities I want to do, really get into the strategic level thinking and scale myself across all these different businesses if I don't leverage technology."
I never had the luxury, and I'm pretty sure a lot of the VPs of finance, the CFOs that are going to be looking at this conversation, we don't have the luxuries to go hire a bunch of people. We don't get the 20 different headcounts that we get to get. I was reading an article about CFO of DOB yesterday, and the CFOs have to do less with more, but that's where technology comes in. Technology can help you accelerate and put your people in those higher value activities.
For me, in all of those initiatives that you talked about, the number one thing I was thinking about was, "How can I leverage this tool in technology to scale what I'm doing to put me in the highest value, to deliver the highest value to the partners that I'm serving, and also to the fun stuff I want to do?" Listen, nobody wants to be-- If you have your allstar FP&A or your allstar VP of finance turning and burning through Excel, updating data models, doing all this data aggregation, that's not value, that's not going to change the game.
If they're doing that, they're already looking for a job right now. For me, technology for the modern finance organization, that's how we scale. That's how we up-level, that's how we deliver value back to the business. We've got to leverage technology.
[00:13:00] Adam: Talking about scaling there, and these principles apply to all size of businesses, it's just different levels of scale. Whether you're a startup business looking to get funding and go to the next level, whether you're an established business that's looking to maintain 20%, 30% year-on-year growth, there's often a fork in the road, as you say, when we think how do we scale? Because we've got the option to get more people with experience and they can do these sorts of things standing in their head or we've got the option to invest in technology, but at the same time, we don't necessarily know what technology is going to help us. When you look at-- I'll just use the example of a smaller business.
Let's take a scale-up business, still relatively young. We've got the foundational members, we're starting to build a finance team, maybe getting towards maybe five people, and to date, they've been getting along fine with something like a Xero or a QuickBooks, all those entry-level systems. Now, the next option is, take the example of FP&A using that planning example I gave there, and obviously maybe Oracle Hyperion not the best choice for a small business.
[00:14:25] Chris: [inaudible]
[00:14:25] Adam: There are obviously more accessible tools to smaller businesses that might tackle the forecasting or the cash flow forecasting or all that sort of thing.
[00:14:34] Chris: Absolutely.
When's Right to Move to End-to-End software?
[00:14:36] Adam: Using Xero is the example, you've got Xero marketplace, "Let's find an app that plugs into Xero, and let's scale that way." There's nothing wrong with that because you're investing in the right areas, you're picking and choosing, you're taking the best-of-breed approach and saying, "Right, well, instead of employing somebody else to crunch the numbers in Excel, we're going to add on this solution to Xero that's going to tackle 50%, 60% of the forecasting piece or the budgeting piece or whatever," so that you've then got a human that can oversee that and say, "This is the data, let's make that decision from it."
Totally agree, that's one scenario, but the other scenario, and again, you can correct me, is maybe higher growth businesses where that approach to just picking and choosing the add-on applications isn't going to scale because in no time you're going to end up with 6, 8, 10 different little bits of software, they're all talking to each other, not all completely integrated.
I'm talking a lot here. The short question is, at what point for you do you think businesses need to make that shift from sticking plasters, lots of different applications to support different functions to, "Right. Well, let's implement an end-to-end DRP system"? I know prior experience you've got a bit of experience with NetSuite, but obviously, in that space you've got your SAPs, we mentioned that during the acquisition, you've got your Microsoft Dynamics, you've got your Sages and all of that stuff.
What markers are you looking out for that says, this isn't just a budget app or an expense app, this is a shift in platform? What are the markers that you look for where you think the right time to move into an end-to-end solution would be?
[00:16:17] Chris: You talked about the business and the journeys. This is like a lot of the experience. I had feed startup scale up to enterprise throughout that entire journey. When you're like that speed company, a lot of seed companies are operating in the mentality that you just said, like point solutions. I think of them-- they're finding their chemical compounds. Hydrogen is maybe QuickBooks, oxygen is maybe Power BI with QuickBooks, and then their carbon is going to be Excel to do some of their data analytics. They're creating all these different recipes of formulas, you just have to, you're scrappy. You don't have the time, energy, and effort, probably the resources or expertise to go get those bigger solutions. Once you get into that startup phase, maybe you're a Series A, you just raised that Series A level money.
Now you're thinking about, we're broadening our market positioning, a lot of things are changing in the business. Maybe your market position is changed, the total addressable market, your ICP is changing. Now, you start to get more mature in terms of how your business is being directed. Once you get to that scale up phase, now business is not just about the finance organization, it's not just about the rev rec, it's about contract administration.
Once it starts branching outside the finance organization, you start getting rev ops, you start getting marketing, you start getting client success. Now you're thinking about how do we bring in a holistic NetSuite or an SAP or a O365. How do we bring in this cross collaboration aspect of it? One of the biggest tales of you need to branch out to find a more centralized ERP for the organization is when that decision making and that insight becomes outside the finance organization.
Typically it happens in for hydro status businesses, you'll start seeing that in the sales and marketing group. Once you start seeing velocity build up, you start seeing pipeline get increasing, you start seeing a significant headcount, you start getting to more complexity around commissions, you start getting into more complexity around territory management.
Once that starts branching outside the finance organization, now you start to need-- how are we going to directly connect the sales? They start getting Salesforce or maybe they start getting other CRM solutions. That's one big tell sign for me, and the second thing is always in organizations, a lot of times they start down that road and I see it all the time. One organization I was at, they had this solution Goho book, I'm not here to knock any solution.
I'm not going to do that, but I was like, "What is this? Who made--? Who would ever decide to start their business on that?" It's just a, maybe a bad instance, but a lot of times, that owner, that leadership group, that seed that started the organization, they don't have that expertise. They're just doing a Google search and saying, hey, what tool is out there? This is where you can bring in that person that has that battery included that's already seen that journey earlier on in that process. I talked about foundation earlier. Think of the modern finance organization as a house.
The most important thing out of every house irregardless of what's built on it, is that foundation, if that foundation has cracks, if it's not built to scale, it doesn't matter what you build on top of that. Then when you think about the time, energy, and effort takes to go back and fix a foundation of a house, it's the same thing that applies to finance organizations. For me, those are some of the leading indicators and telltale signs where it's like, look, you need to move away from all these different point solutions because decision making is not streamlined. You're not bringing in the business to collaborate, you're not communicated effectively, and data is everywhere, data siloed. That's when you need to bring the organization together.
Linking Finance & Sales KPIs
[00:20:18] Adam: Thanks for that, Chris. It makes sense. I guess just scratching a little bit further, and I said that I wouldn't stick to the script, so an interesting point that you made was about departments working closer together, and the example that you used there was a growing sales team, growing revenue operations and the way that data needs to flow between sales and finance.
Now we don't need to to pick into the systems that will allow you to do that because again we could have a whole new podcast on CRM systems and finance systems that talk to each other, that's not the point of the question. The point of the question is, apart from the obvious benefits, which is we are not having to bang on the sales director's door to say give me your forecast. What's coming up? I need to know what I'm expecting to see in the coming month, quarter, year, whatever it has to be.
If we look to the future and you've done it, but for organizations that haven't got this integrated piece yet, when you've built organizations that have that integrated sales and finance piece, what are the KPIs that you've then potentially got access to that you're going to be able to make better decisions from?
[00:21:40] Chris: Yes, so I'll talk at a strategic level and work down. I like to think about vision, strategy, tactics, milestone metrics. The metric piece of it is the bottom. The most important thing that I look back over my career when I partner primarily with sales and marketing. When you're at a high growth size business, sales and marketing need to be in lockstep with finance. That is the most critical relationship in any high-growth status business, sales and marketing and finance together.
The most important thing that I always looked at from a strategic perspective was my value that I'm bringing to the sales and marketing group was the connect the dots. So many times in the sales and marketing organization, you got leads driving opportunities, opportunities with close one, going to close one business, and then the sales and marketing organization passing the batton to finance and it's no conversation.
One of the biggest things that finance organization can have is connect the dots further along. How does that lead that came in from that event that was worked by that sales rep that closed that 90 days, which contributed to a 35% win rate that had this contract valuation, how does that follow away all the way through to revenue, to cash, to dollar revenue retention to customer lifetime value? What I would do is I would hold quarterly trainings with the sales organization and marketing team, and I'll say, ''Hey, let's go do a retrospective of some of the great deals we had. I want to tell you the story of A, B, C company." Maybe that was a close one opportunity.
I'll pick one of the largest deals that we had and say, ''Hey, I'm going to tell you the retrospective of a A, B, C company. Here's where it first came in.'' I will walk them through that entire journey. ''Here's where Nicole took the first SDR, took the first call and qualified it. Here's how it moved through the sales cycle. Here's how we got into contracting. Here's ultimately the first time we recorded revenue on it. Here's the first time we collected cash. Here's the upskill that we could potentially get in it because we closed a multi-year contract. Here's the revenue retention rate impact.'' I would just do a quick retrospective like 30 minute conversation, but why that was so valuable because sales, marketing, finance can speed that entire journey. We were having conversations about what we could do better, how we can improve.
To your metric conversations, I mentioned some of those earlier on. First off, one of the biggest questions for the marketing organization is ROI around marketing. Like when you go and invest $50,000 into a marketing event, how are you qualifying that that turned into leads opportunities? One thing that I would do with always doing our SDR organization is we would have incentives around, we would say, ''Look, we're going to this big event in Chicago, here's how we're going to qualify the leads.
Here's how we're going to see how those leads perform. Oh, by the way, here's the historical metric on how we did last year.'' All about velocity. Then once it gets into the sales conversation, sales throughput, how are they moving through the stages? Fluppage is another one. How many of these opportunities are moving through stages but they get delayed off quarter to quarter because that has an in year revenue impact. The other piece of it is a lot of cohort analysis on new business.
Like what territories are hot, how are they performing? Then once it got into the finance organization the KPIs that we would look at, customer lifetime value was huge. Net dollar retention rate is a huge one to look at. The other one that we would look at is like CAC, obviously. CAC is a huge important one on the new business acquisition side. The metric that I'd like to compare against was CAC compared to [unintelligible] value.
I know some people look at that CAC ratio. I always like the revenue impact of CAC is like revenue's always going to have a tail in a SaaS business. That's not really a valuable metric. How are we turning over our CAC to the amount of cash that we're getting? That was always like a unique metric that I always looked at with our sales and marketing organization because that is measuring ROI. Here's how much we're spending, how much in your cash are we getting from this marketing spend from our customers?
To me that's that vision and that strategy with the sales organization all the way down to some of those metrics that we would look at. The key takeaway that everybody should take away from that conversation, that partnership with sales. Not about go fill out this Excel to update your territory, connect the dots, help them see the value of what they're doing, what's in it for sales with them. You should be able to communicate that to the sales organization, the finance organization, to know what width for me is for the sales and marketing groups.
[00:26:43] Adam: Oh, that's fair. For those of our listeners that aren't familiar with CAC, can you just break that down a little bit?
[00:26:50] Chris: Yes. CAC is customer acquisition costs. Think of it as the cost that you pay to acquire your new customer. A lot of times people look at it, and CAC can be looked at a lot of different ways. I've measured it where you just take your total sales and marketing expense divided by the number of new deals that you receive. For example, if your CAC is $50,000 in a month, that's the total of your sales and marketing expenses all-inclusive. That salary, that software spend, everything that hits that department, sales in marketing, all of those costs. Maybe in that month you close two new deals, take that $50,000, divide that by 2. Now you get the CAC of $25,000 on the new customers. I've also seen in another way where people break out CAC based on here's how much of CAC is related to our personnel spend.
Here's how much of CAC is related to OpEx, because there's different pieces. You can play with your CAC to say, all right, maybe if we lower down some of the OpEx side. Maybe we make better investments in software. Maybe we consolidate them tools. Maybe we reduce our travel and marketing, that's going to actually reduce your CAC while not actually impacting the people. There's many different flavors of it. I think at the highest level, you can just take the total sales and marketing. I've also looked at it from a people perspective and also an over operational expense perspective. Then the cool thing is you can break that by territories.
How does CAC look between territories? Another cool unique way of building that collaboration is looking at CAC between different cohorts of clients that you have. Your CAC for Maybe a small, medium-sized business is going to be different because your sales organization is structured that way. Maybe you have a sales organization that's enterprise, mid business, small business. Now you can start looking at CAC between those different levels. That to me can be a-- I nerd out so much on customer acquisition costs because I think it's probably one of the most important metrics, if not the most important metric in a high-growth SaaS business.
Using Dashboards to Drive Emotion
[00:28:55] Adam: No, I think that's fair. Then obviously the idea is we've been talking about integrated solutions where you might be able to create a dashboard that says, just show me this data in a pretty dashboard. I suppose for companies that don't have that advantage, you can still get some of that data out, even with like a basic CRM system and a basic finance system. We touched on Power BI earlier. You can connect Power BI to lots of different data sources. That could be a, I guess, a short-term bridge to start surfacing some of this insight. Of course, you can still use Excel. We're not Excel bashing. It is still a tool. It is still there to be used, but we're talking about speeding up workflow. Often getting stuck in Excel isn't a way to speed up a workflow. Obviously, it's not going to go to quite the extent of a totally integrated solution. Do you think a business intelligence tool could go some of the way to amalgamating some of that data?
[00:29:50] Chris: 100%. I think broader perspective of not even tools. So many times people just do dashboards to just do dashboards. Whenever I created a dashboard or wherever I'm working with a client and they're like, "Chris, we would love a dashboard to it." The first question I ask is, what action are you trying to have? What emotion are you trying to have from this dashboard? Because a lot of times people produce dashboards and it says, "Okay, we had a budget of 12 widgets and actual say we did 10 widgets." What does that do? Don't create dashboards for the sake of reporting information. Create dashboards to drive actionable, you want to drive emotion from somebody. I create my dashboards in whatever tool that I'm using, whether that's Power BI, Tableau, Click, Board, ThoughtSpot, you name the tool. I want that person receiving that information that it draws some action from them. They look at this and they're like, " I need to either press on the gas, I need to slow down the gas, or I need to go get gas.
You want to have that emotion to be able to do something with it. I think a lot of times, dashboards are just-- People just create them. It's like you get 80 of these different dashboards that people are looking at, and it's not really telling you anything. The reason why it's not drawing emotion. To me, this is a four-skill set for the finance organization. How do you help drive the business where you're in that driver's seat of writing and say, ''Hey, here's the emotion that I want to give into the business that it drives action.''
Here's how sales can look at a dashboard and say, ''Hey, our leads are down.'' It's like red lights going. Because it's a fuel gauge. We're running out of gas, we don't have enough leads. If we don't have this enough amount of pipeline, we can't have this amount of close opportunity. We got a problem. How can I go, ''Hey, I need to go check in on this one.'' We need to do something about that. Dashboards should not be about, ''Oh, that's cool.'' It should be about you wanting to do something.
[00:32:08] Adam: It ties to telling the story, doesn't it? Again we could have a completely separate podcast on storytelling as well. I'm sure we could, but you're dead right, there needs to be an objective that isn't just pretty [unintelligible] and being transparent, I use HubSpot, really love HubSpot. Question over to whether it's the perfect fit for a SaaS business when you start getting into contracts and you'd never use it for financials, obviously. Anyway, that's an aside. We've been doing quite a lot of work with some of those metrics that you've been mentioning recently. Cost of customer acquisition and then lead attribution and that stuff.
[00:32:56] Chris: Huge.
[00:32:57] Adam: When you've got the MD of a company looking at these dashboards and saying, ''I'm none the wiser,'' that's a big red flag to say, are we either focusing on the wrong data or is it not formatted in a way that tells that story? The thing that I find interesting is things get a lot more interesting when you add the time element into reporting. Because when you look at C-suite, as you know, you're CEO of a business work as a fractional CFO for lots of other businesses. A lot of people see a world of two dimensions which is data, dashboard. This is how it displays.
C-suite people that are forecasting people looking strategically, don't just want to see what's going on now it needs to be how does that compare to what happened last month and last year and what's that going to mean for moving to next month for next year? You add in that third dimension, which is back and forth, I guess. Coming back to that point about lead attribution. Lead attribution is such a pain because if you're investing in marketing in all areas, you don't always know whether guests hosting on a podcast or being involved in that webinar or investing in this billboard in the middle of a city center is going to lead to those leads coming through.
In HubSpot, you've got the concept of first-stage, second-stage attribution. This is potentially the first time they could have heard about you. This is potentially the second time that they've inquired. It's difficult to choose what you want to be. That metric is where did they first hear about this? That aside, using the example of the dashboard. Let's say we set up Power BI and we had Power BI pulling some data on number of leads converting to opportunities, and then we've got data coming from our finance system that's syncing up with the customers. We've got that record that says this is the full story, I guess.
This is how much revenue we've produced over the past however many months or years. Great. Maybe a pretty representation, but A, people probably know a bit of that already without needing to see it again but B, what's the end goal? If we switch that to a storytelling approach, and we say, it's not just leads, but let's look at all of the mediums that we were using in terms of marketing spend, lead attribution, and let's have a look at-- Actually quite a large part of our new names have come from this marketing investment that we didn't really think was going to perform well, but actually it is. How does that then relate to the way that we tweak our sales cycle? How does that then relate to the way that we manage the billing after the fact? It's being able to, I guess, set a context and as you say, from that emotional response of what's next and what is the target that's going to be useful rather than just displaying data in a pretty format. I went off on a bit of a tangent there, Chris, I'm sorry. Is that in line with your thinking?
4 Questions You Need to Be Asking + 1 More
[00:36:18] Chris: It's 100%. I would even go more high-level to summarize it. When I always think, and if it's four steps to get those finance people listen to this or looking at this, there's four questions that you need to have, what did we say we're going to do, what did we do, what are we going to do about it, and how are we going to get it done? Let me break that down.
What did we say we're going to do? That's past. I said six months ago that we were going to do $1 million in Q1 in sales. That answers that question. To your exact point, that gives you that history. It gives you what do we say we're going to do? It gives you that context. What did we do? That's time period now. I said we were going to do $I million we did $2 million. Nice. What are we going to do about that? That's the forward-thinking side of it.
Now the most critical and a lot of good 90% finance organizations, if you answered those three questions, great job, pat yourself on the back but we don't want to be that, we want to be great, we want to be top, we want to be Argentina winning the World Cup kind of finance organization. How did we do that? That's where you take that whole retrospective. You look and see every piece along the way, you tell that story. If you are a finance organization and you're able to give the business what did we say we're going to do, what did we do, what are we going to do about it, and how did we deliver on that? Game changer.
You've answered the four questions and once you are able to walk a business through that, that's the challenge, the how part is the challenge. Now you got to go back and succinctly simplify, you got to speak the business language, you got to find the right ad and right talk track and story to deliver that value to the business. As you keep that momentum going and keep doing those exercises, that is tremendous value, man. To me, I think those are the four critical questions that drive that emotion, that drive that insight.
If you get the business walking along in that journey-- I remember being in finance organizations, Adam, where people were excited about our retrospect, excited about those conversations. I'm going to nerd out right now and say, I made ASC606 exciting for our sales organization. They were looking forward to that meeting to say, "Chris is going to walk us through the new revenue recognition and what it means for us." That's really how you bring that, man. Those four questions, game changers.
[00:39:05] Adam: You could. It's part-covered in the questions that you mentioned there, but another question could be, how do we continue making this better? It speaks to that continuous improvement piece because again, I don't want to deal with this to death, but if we take that scenario that we talked about looking from the acquisition through to revenue, how could we get money in the bank quicker next time? It leads to some of those KPIs that you mentioned earlier, is there any lag? How do we stop that lag? Is there a delay from the point of sales handover to delivery to the point where there's always a week's worth of delay in getting invoices out? You see what I mean?
You've got that iterative process that says, we've got our four questions, now we are really amazing at doing that, what's the next step? You're into that scientific message which is continuous improvement over time. Fabulous. I think you're right.
[00:40:07] Chris: Just that scientific piece that you get to because one other thing that I would give those finance leaders and even CFOs to be thinking about, go find those quarterly business hypotheses that you want to go test. One of the things I always did, and one of the things that empower our clients Fresh FP&A to do, go pick two to three projects that you want to test hypothesis on.
Most of them is, are we really getting the efficiency in our contracts that we need out of the sales organization? I'm partnering with a client right now they say, "Hey look, did you know that if you were able to increase more knowledge upstream of your contract management process, if you were to able to make that more streamlined both for yourself and the client, you could probably get more contracts sold, more contracts efficient, you have a better customer handoff once they get into implementation and oh, by the way, everybody knows the contractor you're trying to sell. That's most advantageous to the business."
This was an organization, Adam, they were monthly contract, daily contract. It was all over the place, and I said, "Go test a hypothesis of you doing that, not just to finance organization getting the contract, go communicate that knowledge upstream."
I think taking the scientific method even a step further and diving deeper into that, go find two, one to three business hypotheses that you want to test that either increase revenue, reduce cost, build better efficiency or build better value in the finance organization. That'd be the criteria, go find those things and test. Now you're getting in the business and now you're not just reporting the numbers you're like, "I'm going go test this hypothesis to see if it's right, wrong or indifferent." Highly recommend to do those.
The people side of what makes that fun, you created almost these special ops projects that you got your finance team working on, tying back to the conversation we had earlier, you can create those passion projects inside the organization. Those can be those passion projects. The best way to do that is one question, go ask your team, "What could we be doing better to help support our business?" Go listen to the business, listen to their pain, listen to their risks that they had, the challenges.
You can get a lot of those business hypotheses testing and listening from those conversations, and now you've got those passionate projects that your team is working on, that you're excited about, and the ultimate result, you're building the value that the finance organization's giving to the business, man.
ABC - Always Be Curious
[00:42:41] Adam: I completely agree and it comes down to asking questions, doesn't it? Not just of the data, not just of the process, but of your team as well. What fires you up? What do you want to be working on that you're not working on at the moment? I'll be very open, and I did post about it on LinkedIn back-end of last year. I lost a guy recently, quite disappointed. Things happen, right?
See the grass being greener and sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't but that's by their decision. I went through quite a rigorous process of essentially trying to create a new role for them. You are obviously unhappy doing what you're doing at the moment, how do we re-engineer your role so that you stay with us because we still think you've got the skillset, we still really want to keep you as part of the team. It was more money at the end of the day, but we won't go into that.
The point there is, in having that open conversation that said, "Be honest, what don't you like? What do you like? What you not spending time on? What are you spending time on?" Maybe if I'd done that six months earlier, the situation would have been completely different because we found out going through those questions, we actually mapped his job role. We said, "These are all your responsibilities. This is the entire remit of your department, you work in this area, but if we look at the entire department, what areas do you think fires you up?"
It turned out that a lot of the areas that did fire him up and actually interested him were outside his area of responsibility. If I'd had that conversation and said, "What do you want to be doing more of?" Then we could have potentially re-engineered his role earlier. Now sometimes it doesn't work out, as I say, it is what it is, but we live and we learn, but you're absolutely right. Even if you're not threatened by potential employee loss, which everybody is at the moment, unfortunately, the tension is still an issue. Everybody, all throughout 2022, I'm sure we'll be speaking about it in 2023, with the advent of hybrid, remote working, all of that sort of stuff people just flying all over the place.
[00:44:54] Chris: Definitely.
[00:44:56] Adam: That was an interesting point but yes, whilst you've got them have those key questions, those key conversations with your team to tease out what's most important to them, and if you find the "I don't want to be spending my entire day stuck in a spreadsheet", find the technology to free out their time so that they can work on that passion project.
[00:45:17] Chris: Adam, you touched on a great topic and I'm so glad you talked about this. Simply, you got to put the right ABCs in finance, don't put the 'always be counting' back in finance put the, 'always be curious'. That starts from the leadership down. One of the things I love about working with clients and all of my years in building hydro SAS businesses was I was the curious person, man. I would walk in and say, "Man, why do we only collect that amount of money? Could we have done something better?"
Why is the catalyst. There's been trillion dollars industries, Adam, created off of people being curious, right? Being curious about something. Look at ChatGPT. That's the most wildfire curiosity project. You go out there daily and I'm just like, "Man, when is the last time Microsoft traded above this level and what was their quarterly performance and revenue target that they hit?" You talk about being curious about stuff, that is the right place. When you build that curiosity inside your organization, you go uncover those things.
I always have my team working on those quarterly, I call them process excellence initiatives. Go find a process inside the business that you go collaborate with the business that either increase revenue, drive costs down, increase more efficiency or build a better collaborative relationship. Go find those work on and your responsibility. I would tie compensation tool them. I would get that metric in there to say, if you complete these projects that you've identified, you get a spot bonus or an extra bonus around that. That's the thing, man, is like curiosity is a superpower in the finance organization.
Uses for ChatGPT Now & In the Future
[00:47:07] Adam: Yes, 100%. Do you use ChatGPT?
[00:47:14] Chris: Oh, love it. I love the topic. Let's get on this one. dude I'm trying to tease that one out there because I was like, let's talk about it.
[00:47:22] Adam: We've got to talk about it, because I lost my Christmas to it. 100%. I got an account, I was like, "Hang on, this is free?" [laughs]
[00:47:35] Chris: It's free!
[00:47:36] Adam: Yes, and it's not going to be free for much longer. I hear they're spending like two, three million a day on infrastructure and just the price of running the servers. I'm sure it's not just that. I'm sure there's a lot more employees, all of that sort of stuff. You talk about curiosity there, you can get yourself into a pretty serious ChatGPT hole because it's not just the Traditional Google approach, which is, "Tell me how to cook this recipe." It's "Oh, well change this recipe so it's gluten free." It's that iterative being able to-- and let's take a step back
For listeners who don't know what ChatGPT is, because it is still really new, right? It's developed by a company called Open AI. Microsoft are in on the game, aren't they? They're partnered with Microsoft and it's a conversational AI platform that uses data up until 2021, so historic texts, internet pages, all of these sorts of-- it's heavily focused on language based.
The whole aim of it, is that it is meant to be almost like a personal assistant, a research bot, whereby you can ask it pretty much any question and it will get back to you with a really concise informed response. They banned it in schools now because people are getting it to write essays for them. Write me an essay on the downfall of Napoleon in whatever it is. It'll write you a page-worth of essay.
It is exciting, but it's also quite terrifying. Now, I don't want to put words in your mouth, Chris, but obviously, you and I produce quite a lot of content, whether it's LinkedIn or blog posts or whatever. ChatGPT will give you themes. If you want to ask it a question, oh let's scratch a little bit deeper on this. Oh, what is a challenge here? It would give you bullet points and all that stuff. As the starting point for content writing is also really useful.
The concern is that people are just going to abuse it and just basically copy content from ChatGPT and use it to bolster their web presence and SEO. I hear there may be watermarks that they're building into it for Google to essentially squash content that's created-- Anyway, I'm going off on a bit rant here. Summary is, it's amazing. You should use it. Also Google is seeing it as a massive threat because I'm already using ChatGPT over Google because I don't have to surf through 10 webpages to get what I want. I just ask a question and it's all there ready to go. I don't know what your experience is with it. How are you using it at the moment?
[00:50:24] Chris: I've used it on a lot of different places and platforms, but the thing I love about it is we are getting to the place in technology whether you're in finance, whether you're in marketing, regardless of whatever functional area you're in or regardless of whatever you're doing in life, this is a great AB test. The gold standard of any testing for-- This comes from my pharma space, AB and blind testing to be able to do it. You can go out there and a lot of times I go through and I just think on things and I'm like, what is this? Then you can say, all right, well change this aspect of it. I'll write a question and say-- One of the things I posted on my LinkedIn was I typed inside ChatGPT, "What is a fractional CFO?" It gave me a response, and it was like-- You could tell that even ChatGPT was like, I don't know if this was the right thing, because it was mixing in a regular CFO, then it was throwing financing there. I felt like it was going through, but one of the cool things that you can go through with it is you can actually add comments and say, "No, this isn't really it. This is a better definition of it", and the AI learns from your feedback that it gives.
The application that it has is tremendously important. I've been leveraging. Basically, the core technology, the baseline, and what it uses on is something called NLP, Natural Language Processing. It takes the language that you write, and it processes that to articulate the question you're trying to answer. Adam, back in 2009, I worked at a software company called [unintelligible] and we used the same platform, but it was text-based. You would ask a question on text, "What is Michael Jordan's birthday?" We would read that through text, and it would actually serve back an answer based on the population of questions that were asked.
I remember using Natural Language Processing way, way back then. I won't age myself for everybody listening and viewing this, but it has huge applications. I'd seen a great tweet yesterday. It says ChatGDT won't take your job, but a person leveraging ChatGPT will take your job. I was like, "That's game changer, dude." We talked about this earlier in the conversation. For finance organization, we talked about scale.
If you look at solo entrepreneurs, if you look at people like yourself, me, other great people in this space that are building their business, you can only scale so much. Once they are able to get that incorporated inside of business productivity tools, dude, I'm going to be on a call one day talking to my-- Microsoft is already doing this in their Power BI application because they have [inaudible] . [sound cut]
We're going to get to a place where you can talk in your phone, for whatever the name is, "Cortana, give me our last sales projections for last year and this year, and what's our forecast deviation year to date?" You're going to be able to say that on your phone. It's going to have that, it's going to tell you what it is, and it's going to have that in your screen. Think about the value and how that changes the game for the traditional CFO and the modern CFO.
The traditional CFO, they get that email, they feel all powerful, "Yes, the business is asking me what our sales was last year and what our forecast is, and where we're tracking. I'll wait to answer that later." Modern CFOs, you've already given that to the business because you're focused on, that's not the value for the business anymore. Let technology give that to the business. I want to focus on those four questions that we talked about.
Overall, artificial intelligence and machine learning has a broad application across the board. Let me answer the question. Do I think it's going to take people's jobs and replace them? No. Those tools are meant to upskill you whether you're in content, whether you're in finance, whether you're in marketing operations. Use those tools to upskill you to have higher value to your clients, to your team or to the environment or to the community that you serve. That is really the value proposition.
Resisters vs Forward Thinkers
[00:54:40] Adam: You're absolutely right. I think, and I don't want to be too controversial, but there will be a bit of a divide. There'll be the forward thinkers that are not resisting and thinking, "I'm going to avoid that like a plague because I'm scared of it", and there'll be the people saying, "This can actually really help me", like you and I that have already been using it. In legitimate and totally aboveboard ways not to produce 1000s of pages of web content, just to get the SEO rankings and all that sort of stuff, but takes some examples. I've got a fair amount of experience in sales.
Let's imagine a complex software sale, an ERP system. Traditional approach to solving an ERP solution is an initial phone call, and then back in the day when everybody's still on the road, I'm sometimes still on the road, but you'd have a face-to-face meeting with the organization and you'd have your toolkit of questions, which was, "Tell me a little bit more about what's going on in your industry." "Oh, how are you doing this? I've got a bit of experience here, but how's that changing?" Look to the future, irrespective of whether it's face-to-face or on Teams, or on Zoom. You don't need to ask those questions anymore. "ChatGPT, tell me industry trends for this type of company that I'm about to go and speak to. Tell me the challenges of this company that I'm likely to meet."
Then you are already ahead of your competition because you've already provided a context and you can already demonstrate that you understand the business that you're speaking to and then you can just focus on the key questions that are the, "How can we add value? What are your ambitions? We know where you are, we learned where you are in five seconds, well, subject to a few probing questions." Then, again, you might be able to give a finance example, "ChatGPT, how can I get people to submit their budgets on time?" ChatGPT, how can I have meaningful conversations with people on what it means to me to actually get something met on a deadline?" Do you see what I mean?
[00:56:49] Chris: Absolutely.
[00:56:51] Adam: It goes back to that curiosity piece, doesn't it? How can we supplement our knowledge to basically shortcut having to do a lot of the learning and research? This goes back to the point about it being banned in schools because modern kid-- and scared to think what's what's going to happen, but the whole education system is going to need to change. People are getting glasses now, you can already get your Google glass and you have glasses that record, and all that sort of stuff.
If you've got something like ChatGPT that's scanning your surroundings, feeding the conversation and pulling up on screen insight that's relevant to the conversation, we're going to end up with kids that are already, and they already are with the Oculus headsets merging with machines to the point where a lot of the brain power that used to be used for knowledge retention and that sort of piece just doesn't need to be used anymore.
How can that brain power now be used? I don't think we truly get it yet. We still don't understand our brains. Take out all of that learning process, take out all of that useful information, and supplement it with something that's providing that knowledge. Where's that brainpower going to go? I don't know the answer yet, but I'm very excited to see where it goes. [laughs]
[00:58:06] Chris: Yes, man. It's super cool. I think, in summary of what you just said, man, that whole fact pattern you just walked through, it's upskilling you. That stills conversation, you spent all this time in this, now technology has replaced all of that. Most of it not, I wouldn't say all of it. I think all and always are bad words, but it replaced majority of that. Think about the time, energy, and effort, and efficiency now you have to focus on these higher value things. That to me is where I think the value of it it is, is that it puts people in the right position delivering the highest value and the highest partnership.
That echoes in the finance organization. I see people all the time post on LinkedIn where they're like, hey, write me a macro inside of Excel where it'll do A, B, C, and D and it'll do that, and it'll give you the entire script. You literally copy that in there. I remember writing macros, I remember, write me a formula that does this, and it gives you the Excel formula that you have to just copy and paste right now. Give me a controlled procedure around debt collection, around cash collection. Now it's written you this whole procedure that you don't have to go Google search, find all these templates, read them.
Write me a collection policy that relates to a retail and e-commerce business that's under $2 million. Boom, you got that right there. Now, you cannot spend that time, energy, and effort writing the words, finding all the documents. You focus on delivering that to the business and tying that out to the business. You focus on what we talked about earlier, connecting the dots.
How does this process improvement connect the dot to the sales, the operation organization that drives a business outcome? That's where you want to be positioned. I think we are on the cusp of it. It's still new. I agree with you, you're going to have those people that are going to sit in two different camps. I am team technology adopter. I am running towards the fire.
[01:00:10] Adam: [laughs] You and me both. That's really great. How are you doing for time, Chris? We've already overrun a little bit.
[01:00:18] Chris: Oh, we're good. I have a couple more minutes. I've had eleven o'clock, but I'll just message her. This has been a great conversation, dude. This is awesome. This is really good.
[01:00:30] Adam: We'll definitely have around-- I say we have a round two in about six months because the ChatGPT competitors are already banging on the door.
[01:00:38] Chris: I've read about it yesterday where there's a AI that's going to be auditing AI to know whatever you're doing came from AI. Dude, it's fucking crazy, it's so exciting, dude. It's going to be million dollar people. You see on YouTube right now, if you ChatGPT there are so much being content created on how to make passive income off of it. This topic right here is on the cusp of something like, the people that are riding this wave, these are going to be the people that are going to be like the future billionaires, bro. It is amazing to see.
[01:01:19] Adam: Yes, agreed.
[01:01:23] Chris: Before we close off, I know we'll edit this and post. You want to do a quick closing question, and that way we you have the full conclusion of this one?
What's the one app or gadget you couldn't live without?
[01:01:30] Adam: Oh, yes, absolutely. The last question that I tend to ask is, and you can't say it's chatGPT now, because we've talked about that a lot. The question I always ask is, whether there's an app, gadget, desktop app, piece of software that you just couldn't live without?
[01:01:51] Chris: In running my business, one thing that I've learned and been super passionate about that I've just taken to and dive deep into, Canva. That will be a tool I cannot live without. It may sound weird to be a fractional CFO or running a fractional CFO business, to not have to be an accounting software, but number one tool for any fractional CFO building your business, building your brand, building content, Canva, without a doubt.
[01:02:18] Adam: Yes, it's talked about quite a lot. Canva is successfully-- and that's a whole different conversation.
[01:02:29] Chris: Huge.
[01:02:30] Adam: You mentioned multi-billion dollar business, that's one of those, isn't it? I can vouch for Canva, even if it's just adding a bit of a variety of presentations, even if it's not like a side hustle or something like that, you can use it very quickly to gloss stuff up and give that professional finish. Can't you? I agree, good shout out, yes, Canva is a good one.
[01:02:52] Chris: Nice.
[01:02:52] Adam: Great. Chris, it's been amazing. Really glad having a chat. We'll write at the show notes, share them online and we'll go from there. Definitely round two in the waiting I think, see what happens in 6 to 12 months and we can revisit.
Where to find Chris & Fresh FP&A
[01:03:07] Chris: Awesome. Definitely. Adam, thank you so much for your time, really appreciate the questions. For all those listening and looking at this, if you want to follow me, I'm all over LinkedIn, just look up Chris Ortega. If you want to learn more about Fresh FP&A and how we can help build, scale your finance organization, check us out at www.freshfpa.com. Lastly, make sure to follow us on all of our social, Fresh FPA on all the socials. Adam, thank you so much for your time.
[01:03:35] Adam: Likewise. Chris, pleasure to have you. Thanks.
[END OF AUDIO]