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I was talking with Sally Massagee, a CPA in Hendersonville, NC, about … all sorts of things. One of which was how to read financials.

I have always looked at our P&L with an intuitive, squinty-eyed fuzziness—sort of the way art directors look at page layouts. I really never grasped the detail. But I was able to understand things like balance, trends, fixed cost, topline billings, and stuff like that. I thought the word for me was financially challenged. But Sally taught me otherwise.

“Listen to the numbers” resonated with me. If you look at numbers and all you see is numbers, its a little like looking at the Mona Lisa and seeing paint on canvas. If you don’t see the picture, what’s the point?

Same with things like media cost, postage, printing costs, sales reports, and all those other things we spend so much time wrestling with clients about (and with each other). Is $5,000 a lot to pay for printing a post card? Maybe. Can you get it cheaper? Well, you can certainly get something cheaper. But all that is looking at the paint and ignoring the picture.

We are philosophically predisposed to start with strategy…and that starts with objectives. Now, if the strategy says, generate $10,000 worth of transactions (as a goal), and $5,000 worth of something (post cards) will generate that, then $5,000 is not a lot to pay for printing the post cards. If $2,000 worth of a cheaper post card will not generate the $10,000 worth of transactions, then $2,000 is a lot to pay. Too much in fact.

In the strategic paradigm we work in (OGSM), the cost of the post card would be part of a list of things called measures. It’s at the end of the process for a reason. If you start with measures, then you’re already saying, “it won’t work,” or “it costs too much,” before you even know what “it” is.

I loved that Sally’s approach was to begin with listening, rather than with calculating.

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