Here’s the big secret about the often-adversarial relationship between finance and sales teams: It’s not really a people problem. It’s a process and systems problem.
This statement may seem to fly in the face of conventional wisdom but, ultimately, sales and finance are on the same team. They both want the business to succeed. They both want to grow the revenue stream. And they both want to be considered star players. But it’s also true that these teams approach these shared goals in different ways. And when processes and systems that cross departments aren’t aligned, mistakes happen, which can cause tempers to flare and personalities to clash. So if sales and finance both want to grow the business, how can you improve processes to ensure that everyone works together as a team to achieve that goal?
1. Connect front and back office data
One of the major disconnects between sales and finance teams occurs when they have different data living in different systems. Ideally, these teams would have used connected CRM and accounting systems from day one of the company’s founding. In reality, however, each department often uses its own system with access limited to certain department stakeholders. As a result, each department lives in its own data silo.
The results can be ugly. Instead of having a single source of truth, team members must navigate a bewildering maze of databases, spreadsheets, and customer records, with synchronization and timing issues resulting in incorrect information being used at crucial moments in the sales and accounting cycles. Both departments lose visibility into customer sales information, billing activity, and other important information they desperately need.
Whether your company is one day or 100 years old, it’s not too late to centralize data used by your sales and finance teams. The best practice is to consolidate everything on a single, secure cloud platform, so that pertinent data is easily accessible by anyone who needs it. Cloud-based systems have moved beyond just CRM: By managing accounting, billing, and revenue management on the Salesforce Platform, for example, Salesforce CRM customers can create a single master customer record and account history for sales and finance to reference.
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2. Manage cross-departmental processes on a single platform
An unfortunate side effect of having separate systems for sales and finance is the rise of different, often disconnected processes for each department. This forces team members to take painful, manual steps to bridge the gap.
For example, if the accounting team has to resort to a barrage of emails and voicemails to secure expense report approvals from marketing and sales managers, they will acquire an unwelcome reputation as “naggers.” This happens when the company doesn’t have a streamlined workflow spanning both departments, which would enable these authorizations to easily occur online with only a few keystrokes. Instead, finance has to go hunting for signatures at the end of the month—right when the sales team is busiest.
A dangerous divide between sales and finance often occurs during the “order to cash” process—after sales closes a new opportunity but before it has been billed by finance. Many companies still re-key orders to generate invoices, while others may resort to complex spreadsheets. Such manual processes are always susceptible to human mistakes, leading to unnecessary friction and reconciliation arguments to determine who is right.
Ironically, the problem has grown dramatically with the adoption of Salesforce as the CRM of choice by sales teams worldwide. By definition, as a cloud solution, Salesforce is disconnected from on-premise finance systems. Sales users enter their information in the cloud, but then accounting and billing teams enter data in separate systems and spreadsheets. The two systems don’t easily communicate, leading to arguments about data integrity.
Thankfully, leading organizations have begun to see the value of managing both CRM and accounting in a single cloud environment like the Salesforce Platform. Sales and finance teams can then share the same account records as well as the same user interface, and the platform allows users to create invoices from closed opportunities in a single click without re-keying or resorting to spreadsheet workarounds. Additionally, finance teams can leverage the same workflow authorization system and task lists already used by sales and marketing, so authorization tasks such as expense approvals become seamless, painless, and part of an ordinary day’s workflow.
3. Align everything around the customer
CRM literally means “customer relationship management” —the whole point is to build a strong relationship with the customer. But if accounting activity is handled separately from CRM activities, a company can end up appearing to customers as uncoordinated, unprofessional, and lacking in basic communication skills.
For example, after agreeing to one set of terms with a member of the sales team, who diligently enters this information into CRM, the customer could end up receiving a completely different set of terms from the accounting department. This is just one example of the many problems that can be avoided by bringing sales and finance together on a shared platform.
Rather than focusing on specific, siloed departments and systems, you must align the entire organization around the customer. From a technology perspective, this can be done by consolidating all sales, services, and financial activity in one place. Doing so gives a 360-degree view of customer data to key stakeholders while giving specific team members access to the details and insights they need to do their best work.
This can pay off in unexpected ways. For example, someone managing 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. Alternatively, they may come across an onerous service issue that should be resolved before anyone starts shooting off threatening “past due” emails.
4. Enable social collaboration
The foundation of any healthy relationship is communication. When it comes to a relationship as critical as the one between sales and finance, you can’t depend on the water cooler or annual team-building events to build teamwork, especially when companies have become increasingly virtual and geographically distributed.
Thankfully, social business and collaborative technologies are available to help teams work better together, regardless of employees’ locations or departments. Tools such as Salesforce Chatter, the world’s #1 enterprise social network, can send system-generated or conversational information proactively via a real-time news stream to appropriate personnel. Users can follow co-workers, accounts, and projects to receive broadcasted updates about project and customer statuses. They can also form groups and post messages on each other’s profiles to collaborate on projects.
Chatter helps to capture information that has traditionally been scattered across email or behind-the-scenes on phone calls. Those conversations can now be attached directly to an account or transaction, providing a richer, auditable view of account activities and events.
Furthermore, Chatter is ideal for capturing information about customer situations. For instance, a receivables clerk might share that a big account is refusing to pay their bill because of a satisfaction issue. Those in sales and services following the customer stream will be instantly notified, enabling them to proactively address the issue.
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5. Collect cash and grow business as a team
Cash is oxygen to a business, so it shouldn’t only be the accounting team’s domain. Sales and services team members can greatly affect how quickly cash is collected and help avoid bad debts. The last thing finance should do is prevent sales from seeing a customer’s payment history, but this is a common (if unintentional) practice at many organizations. Instead, these teams should share data and work together to collect cash, avoid bad debts, and grow business.
Bring finance and sales together with a single cloud platform offering 360-degree views of accounting and CRM activities to share customer payment history. This allows reps to:
Help collect cash. Sales and services reps often have the strongest personal relationships with customers, and they can help expedite payments.
Avoid selling business to poor payers. One of the biggest advantages of the 360-degree customer view is that it exposes bad payers and poor credit risks.
Get paid. Many sales reps are paid on collections, so they will be highly motivated to make sure customers pay on time. But they can’t do this unless they have complete visibility into the customer’s receivables history.
Improving the relationship between sales and finance is hugely profitable for business, leading to significant efficiencies, cost savings, and opportunities for growth. It’s simply a matter of optimizing their processes and systems to help them share data, collaborate across activities, and align around the customer. Doing so will not only have a tremendous impact on the business, but also put sales and finance where they want to be—on the same team and working together with shared goals, shared tools, and a shared desire for success.