Three ways sales and finance can align around the customer

When conflicts arise between finance and sales, it has almost nothing to do with the people involved, and almost everything to do with processes and systems. The reality is that sales and finance are on the same team, and that they both are driving toward the same goal: the ultimate success of the business.

Problems, however, arise when processes and systems between the two departments are not integrated. That’s when mistakes happen and responding to new threats or opportunities is slowed. One of the biggest disconnects I see is that finance and sales have their own disparate datasets that never quite seem to align properly. In a perfect world, sales and finance would use connected CRM and accounting systems that essentially put everyone on the same page. But, in reality, sales and finance teams still work in silos and are often miles apart when it comes to their data.

The results aren’t pretty. Instead of benefiting from a single source of truth, finance and sales teams are left to slog through a confusing web of mismatched spreadsheets and customer records. At moments when access to accurate information is vital, these teams are left with questionable data that can ultimately harm the business. Both departments are blocked from getting a clear picture into sales information, billing activity, and other crucial data they desperately need.

Today, however, the world is changing rapidly. Businesses are gradually moving away from an infrastructure where data lives in silos, and toward one where everything is centred around the customer. To achieve this transition, businesses first need a coordinated two-way dialog between the front office and back office that is anchored to growing customer value and facilitating data transparency and organisational agility.

Here are three ways that businesses can better synchronise their data to ensure that sales and finance works together as a team and that everyone is successful.

#1: Align around the customer

Every business must become a customer-centric business. The current economic crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has made this abundantly clear. The whole point of business is to forge a strong and potentially life-long relationship with the customer.

But if finance activity is handled separately from sales activities, a company can end up appearing as clumsy and unprofessional to customers. For instance, after agreeing to one set of terms with the sales team, the customer could end up getting a completely different set of terms from the finance team. Additionally, when finance and sales are not coordinating, there are many instances of smaller bits of revenue and value leakage that can occur after the deal is closed that can add up to big numbers. These are just a few of the many problems that can be eliminated by better aligning sales and finance data on a shared platform. 

Consolidating around the customer can also give specific team members access to the details and insights they need to work most effectively. For example, accounts receivable might decide not to pressure a customer for the next payment if they see a large sale pending with the account, electing to defer the issue to sales. Or the support team might spot an ongoing service issue that should be resolved before bothering the customer with “past due” notices. Sales, for their part, can become an extension of finance, bringing up invoices during a sales/service call.

#2: Rethink the back office

Sales and finance teams need to come together as one with a joint purpose. The best way to accomplish this is by no longer thinking in terms of the traditional “front office” and “back office”. Rather, rethink what a modern back office can look like if finance teams are armed with the right information, at the right time This is essential because, in today’s services economy, the finance function should provide insight back into the business that influences how your organisation can maximize the value and margin contribution derived from customer relationships in aggregate across the actual services and/or products you offer.

A modern back office seamlessly merges finance systems with customer relationship management (CRM), thus providing finance teams with a clear and accurate view into sales and revenue streams. This kind of alignment also enables finance teams to build more accurate forecasts based on company-wide data, better model what-if scenarios, and create optimal pricing strategies.

In the end, a modern back office can help eliminate those frustrating errors between finance and sales,and reduce areas of revenue leakage such as billing errors, increases in days sales outstanding (DSO), project cost overruns, and customer churn.

#3: Centralise data used by finance and sales

Before knocking on the customer’s door and trying to sell them something new, salespeople really need to know the usage and billing history of that customer. For instance, is there an ongoing collection challenge with that customer? By the same token, the finance team needs information about that customer. Is it a customer that requires unique payment terms or has a track record of paying late? What is the true cost to service that customer? How profitable is that customer in reality—and is this a customer that the company is actually better off not renewing?

You can only answer those questions if you have all your finance and sales data in alignment.

Here’s the good news: whether you’re a brand-new startup or a hundred-year old business, it’s never too late to unify the data used by your sales and finance teams. The best practice is to centralise all your information on a single cloud platform, so that every scrap of data is easily accessible by all members of the finance and sales departments.

It’s important to note that cloud-based systems have moved well beyond CRM and now encompass all aspects of the business. That means it is now possible to manage both CRM and accounting in a single cloud environment such as the Salesforce Platform, from anywhere on any device. Because of this integration and flexibility, sales and finance teams can easily share the same account records and eliminate much of the old, disconnected process.

For example, the finance team no longer has to resort to a barrage of emails and voicemails to secure expense report approvals from marketing and sales managers. Instead, when the company has a streamlined workflow that spans across both departments, these kinds of authorisations can now easily occur online with a few taps on a mobile device from any remote environment.

Removing the disconnects between sales and finance can be hugely profitable for business, resulting in significant efficiencies, cost savings, and opportunities for growth. Aligning around the customer not only greatly benefits the business, it also squarely puts sales and finance on the same team with shared tools and a shared plan for success.

By Andy Campbell, global solution evangelist at FinancialForce

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