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**AMA NOW CLOSED** I'm GitLab’s Head of Corporate Finance. Ask Me Anything...

What’s up War Room! 


I’m James Shen. After starting my career in IB, I moved into the tech space (Facebook, Rainforest QA, Docusign). I now run finance over at GitLab.


My friends at Bravado told me you asked for a finance exec to join in the AMA series, so here I am - ask me anything for the next 48 hours and I’ll hop in from time to time to respond to your questions.

🎈 Mentorship
👑 Sales Strategy
💵 Finance
65
CoorsKing
WR Officer
+11
King of the Coors Knights
When a team at GitLab comes to you with a request to allocate budget for a new tool or service, what goes into your decision to approve/deny? Is there anything we as reps can add into the business case to sway the decision towards an approval for budget? 
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Three things to share: 

1. Prove to me you’ve done your research. When a team shares in-depth research, it goes a long way, such as: benchmarking what our peers purchase, what comp transactions look like, what Gartner says about the space, etc. To the extent you have this data, share it with your buyer to arm them. 

2. Think strategically and long term about the solution. I am not thinking about a feature which solves a pain point today, but about how the solution fits with our company in 3-5 years. How does the vendor address our future pain points? What other areas are they branching into which we could use? Or does it get ripped out and replaced in a year? 

3. Is the executive sponsor fighting for it? Keep in mind - finance doesn’t technically own the departmental budget after it is allocated during the Planning cycle, the business-unit exec does. If s/he believes in your solution, they will fight for it, and when push comes to shove a good finance team will support.
CuriousFox
WR Officer
+11
Senior Account Executive
What's one thing you want sales reps to ask that we miss? 
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Some of the most productive conversations I’ve had were after a sales rep asks me something to the tune of “what gives you hesitation about moving forward?” 

It’s an opportunity to move past the fluff and have an honest conversation about the blockers, which are what a lot of purchase decisions come down to. Don’t be afraid to dig. Also, don’t get too optimistic about any one prospect and not ask these types of questions. There are always things on the buyers’ mind, it is better to surface them proactively.
poweredbycaffeine
WR Officer
+9
Bean Juice Drinker | Sales Savant
When would you say is the ideal time for a sales rep to get the finance team involved in the sales cycle?

Do you prefer to be an active or passive member of that process?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
It depends - for most purchases I like to be passive and can be brought in later. For major purchases where there are large financial obligations, I get more actively involved and would like to be involved as soon as pricing starts to get scoped.

Think of a good finance team as an advisor to your business unit during purchase decisions. The subject matter expert is the business unit, the budget is owned by that exec, and they live with the consequences of their purchase. Finance advises by pressure testing, building business cases, and ultimately providing approvals if purchase is big enough. But at the end of the day, the purchase decision is often owned by the business-unit, not finance.
poweredbycaffeine
WR Officer
+9
Bean Juice Drinker | Sales Savant
Thanks, James! As an advisor are you prone to being influenced by the seller, or are you truly a neutral party?
Show 2 more replies
Wi
Wildcard
Opinionated
+4
Account Executive
Have you ever purchased a product that you learned about from a cold call? 
If yes, why do you think that was?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Yes - from a cold email. It all comes down to timing -  I happened to be thinking about a particular problem the week a cold email landed. 

There are incredible marketing intelligence tools now which can surface intent and propensity to buy from signals at a company. E.g. if I am online researching XYZ topic, this can be picked up. Talk to your marketing teams about that. Your goal is to get the cold email to land just as I’m starting to think about a given problem. Most other times, it goes straight to Archive.
Wi
Wildcard
Opinionated
+4
Account Executive
Interesting that you mentioned a cold email, but not a cold call.
Lesson in there.
Incognito
WR Officer
+11
Master of Disaster
How much of your budget is allocated to products and services where an existing relationship exists vs taking a chance with a rep you don’t already know?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
There is not a rule about budget towards existing vs new relationships. However there is a preference for existing relationships for two reasons: (1) lower risk, faster time to implement, already integrated/trained, etc. and (2) avoids tool proliferation.

So I will always ask of the business - could anything in our existing toolset solve your pain point?
WCK
Notorious Answer
+11
Padre de Tequila, General of the Coors Knights
Do you feel there is a more effective cold outreach between email and calling? 
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Email is better by far. I give emails a passing glance before hitting Archive. The time may not be right, but if I need to research something later on, I may go search for an email I’ve seen in the past. I simply don’t pick up unknown numbers and rarely listen to VMs, which I mass-delete when my box gets full.
InQ5WeTrust
Arsonist
+8
Sales Savages, what is our profession? Trauma!
Insightful!
Kinonez
Celebrated Contributor
+9
WR Enthusiast
What makes a sales call stand out?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Couple of things:

1. Having someone who understands my experience really matters. My best sales calls were when someone has held a finance role in the past and could speak my language. If you have SE/CSM/etc. resources like that, those are your best assets. If you don’t, make some friends and bring the internal user of your product along for a few calls each quarter. 

2. A demo which speaks precisely to my pain point. A good demo can only happen after a great discovery. You’d be surprised how many “custom demos” I’ve seen not actually address the issues I raised in discovery.
ChumpChange
Praised Answer
+1
Channel Manager
Hey James!  Thanks for taking the time to do this open forum AMA. I got a couple of quick questions for you.  What should salespeople be mindful of when actively soliciting you?  What is the dumbest pitch you've ever heard?  In the pitches you've heard where you moved forward... what did they do to really tip the scales?   
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Will answer these in a slightly different way:


1 & 3. Mindful / moving forward - don't sell too hard. It comes off as disingenuous, especially if I have done my research. Let's have an honest conversation about how we can work together as well as shortcomings - not every tool is perfect. Help me think through my issues and offer me advice, even if it doesn't directly tie to what you're selling. The more open and helpful you can be, the more credibility you build.


2. Won't share dumbest pitch, but will share that the most frustrating thing is when I can't get through quickly to just learn about a product. Occasionally I come across something with a "wow" factor and just want to learn more in an exploratory way. When I inbound and have to complete 2 or 3 calls just to see a real demo and have a real conversation, it turns me off; sometimes I just lose interest or get distracted. Maybe that is intentional from a sales perspective to protect your time, but those experiences leave a bad taste in my mouth.
Tres
Politicker
+6
Account Executive
What sort of impact does Finance leadership (your role) have on Tech or IT strategy for the company? Do you sit down with the CTO or CIO and help set the vision and strategy for technology or work with a more hands off approach and review after they've put together the budgets? 
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Varies and is nuanced depending on what "strategy" you are referring to. For example, Finance will set direction and targets around top-line growth, expense envelopes, investment areas, etc. which determine how much a CTO or CIO can spend, what initiatives they spend on, and how their success might be measured. However the deeper strategy around which product features to build/when, which tools to purchase to support a CTO's workflow, etc. are more often made by the business-unit itself.
Tres
Politicker
+6
Account Executive
Thanks so much for the reply James! This helps!
InQ5WeTrust
Arsonist
+8
Sales Savages, what is our profession? Trauma!
Are budget restrictions ever really a stopping factor, or does the team just not want it enough?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
A combination of both - budgets definitely are real and restrictive at times. However if a team "wants it" enough they will find trade offs to fund - I've seen it done many times, you just have to prove your ROI vs. their trade off (other tools, headcount, etc.)
InQ5WeTrust
Arsonist
+8
Sales Savages, what is our profession? Trauma!
 Thanks for the answer!
UserNotFound
Politicker
+9
Mid Market Manager
Is there ever a scenario where the soft costs matter to you when calculating ROI? If yes, when do you find yourself willing to roll the value of those soft costs into your decision making process?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Purchase decisions are often not a hard Yes/No based on ROI numbers - that would be too easy! In fact the most important factors in my purchase decisions are often soft - for example referrals from my network or my personal comfort with a solution/rep.
1nbatopshotfan
Politicker
+5
Senior Director, Enterprise Technology
Thanks for joining this AMA! 

Is it tough to balance purchases that reduce headcount through process improvement with keeping teams and people employed? 

How much research do you do when team members recommend a software purchase? How much do you trust them to go and procure software themselves? 


OpalTiddyChurger
Arsonist
+9
Funbags Enthusiast
Why did you leave IB and what about that industry helped you in Tech? 
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
During my career in investment banking and private equity investing, I realized that while Wall Street was exciting, it didn’t align with my personal values. I found Tech much more fulfilling - a real sense of ownership over outcomes, more opportunity for collaboration, and a chance to build some really cool companies! I also grew up & went to school in the SF Bay Area so Tech has always had a presence in my life.

My biggest learning from Wall Street - how to GSD. You’ve never known true pressure until you’ve had to work 120+ of the 168 hours in a week…
RealPatrickBateman
Politicker
+7
Amateur Butcher
Hi James, thanks for being here and answering our questions!


As head of Corporate Finance:

- what are some of the Top Priorities for you in your role?
- what are the types of metrics that you measure?
- can you speak to your career path and how you ended up at GitLab?
Wi
Wildcard
Opinionated
+4
Account Executive
What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
SADNES5
Politicker
+6
Hittin' Dingers
Where have the best deals come from? Cold prospecting? Warm intros? Self searched?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Warm intros, followed by self-researched validated by network referrals. You would be surprised at how much tools/vendors develop "reputations" and buyers will naturally trade insights from their experiences. That in my opinion is the most valuable factor into go/no-go decisions, assuming business case ROI plays out. Often pricing is fairly transparent across competitive solutions and ROI becomes commoditized.
SADNES5
Politicker
+6
Hittin' Dingers
Thanks for the insight! Buyers talk. I like that. Really shows how important long lasting good positive interactions are. 
Show 2 more replies
Biznasty
Opinionated
+5
Lead Business Development Manager

What's the best way to get finance involved early on in the sales process to gauge the likelihood of a purchase being approved without stepping on key decision makers?
1nbatopshotfan
Politicker
+5
Senior Director, Enterprise Technology
Another round of questions. 

How often does your sales team lean on you to speak to a buyer as executive sponsor or to show executive buy in. 
How often does that work? 

Would you like to this tactic more when someone sold directly to you? 

thanks! 
fuzzy
Notable Contributor
+21
CMO (Chief Meme Officer)
Pineapple on pizza?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Garbage :)
Ca
CaptainCash
Director
Fair question
dwightyouignorantsale
Opinionated
+4
Manager, Sales
What is the best way for a salesperson to get your attention? Assuming the product was something relevant for you, how could a person break through the noise to get to the finance org/you?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
All about timing, then an email with a short & sweet subject line. See my response on cold emails re: marketing intelligence software which gets your cold outreach to land at the right time.
ColdCall
Valued Contributor
+4
Business Development Manager
What are 3 things an external sales person can do to help champions build a business case for new services/software/stuff? 
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
See my response at the top of this thread for the three things: (1) research/benchmarking/competitive data, (2) long-term roadmap, and (3) exec fighting for it.
ColdCall
Valued Contributor
+4
Business Development Manager
Thanks! For the response here- question was quite similar. 
MinisterOfChaos
Politicker
+5
Commercial Account Executive
What factors do you take into consideration to measure the potential ROI of a tool/project? How heavily do those factors weigh into the go/no-go decision (from Finance's POV)?
Cornholio
Opinionated
+3
Account Executive
Is there a time of the (fiscal) year that is best for a finance team to review and move on new products?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
We like to buy at your fiscal year end :)
Cornholio
Opinionated
+3
Account Executive
Smart! BUT if there was an ideal time for you what is it? Or is there even such a thing? Thank you for your answer!
Show 1 more replies
Re
RedLightning
Politicker
+7
Mid-Market AE
Hey James, thanks for doing this! I've got a multi part question for you.

Based on your experience when budgeting out for various departments, what tends to be the pecking order in terms of budgetary importance?

What departments tends to be seen as more cost to control than revenue driver? 

How have those "Cost" departments secured more budget in the past? 

Thanks again!
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
The pecking order really depends on the initiatives at the business and where it is in it's evolution. At a fast-growing Tech company, it naturally tends to be two areas: sales for revenue growth and R&D for product innovation. However there are often Board mandates to invest within a particular area, which can unlock more prioritized spend - e.g. security within infra/IT. 
Nairobi
Politicker
+7
BDR
What would make you reply to a cold email? Do you care that it's personalized to you or not?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
I personally don't care about personalization or messaging - it is all about timing - see my other response on cold emails about using marketing intelligence tools to capture the buyers' intent / timing.
MoonDog69
Executive
+7
Commercial Account Executive
What do you think about revenue forecasting software? How important is it to someone in your shoes?
Ja
JamesShen_FinanceGitLab
Catalyst
+4
Head of Corporate Finance
Extremely important to get revenue right and I am always curious about revenue forecasting software - I believe it can be done. However I have yet to see a tool which does a good job of balancing the rigor needed by a public company  with flexibility of a fast-growing business. We pressure test and revamp assumptions in our revenue model at least once a quarter, so it is often more agile to maintain outside of a tool. 
MoonDog69
Executive
+7
Commercial Account Executive
Well I heard your commission vendor has a fancy new forecast solution… I appreciate your response and participation in the War Room. Very valuable info.
jefe
Politicker
+8
Sales Director
James - firstly, thank you for taking the time to address our questions!

I work in ERP-integrated software, the decisions for which were traditionally drive by finance and the CFO. We've seen a big shift with other departments, like sales and marketing, being much more involved with decision making.

These days, to what extent is finance still the driving force in making decisions that, while impacting finance the most, also affect other departments?

And my apologies if this question is too specific, but hope to get your thoughts!

Cheers
Diablo
Catalyst
+6
Sales
What are the factors Finance team look at while allocating budget towards Marketing and Sales. How do you make sure it utilized properly without any conflict.

What are the pointers considered while allocating budget for two different locations and how do you measure it so it backed by proof. 
KingShopper
Catalyst
+5
JF Negócios Online
Is there a time of the (fiscal) year that is best for a finance team to review and move on new products?
Cornholio
Opinionated
+3
Account Executive
Generally, what approach do sales reps make that causes them to fail to be compelling or lose out on your business to a competitor?
2
Is anyone here a contributor to any of the publications like Entrepreneur, Forbes, Fortune etc?
Question
4
28
I am VP of Engineering, Ask Me Anything
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72
12
You negotiated till No Regret Price with Finance dept and he moved forward the quote to Purchase dept. Now purchase team asking for more discount else not processing forward ? How to tackle this ?
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