The Role of Finance in Driving Sales Effectiveness

These days customers are more equipped with more information about the company’s products and services before they have even talked to the salespeople. Unfortunately, in most organizations, the sales function normally lacks high-quality data to drive sales effectiveness. For example, sales managers lack data to help align sales incentives, overcome price pressures and become a strong competitor in the market.

In these organizations, finance can play a critical role in delivering the information required to maximize sales productivity. In today’s economy of big data, the difference between success and failure more than ever lies in the quality of the data that finance shares with the organization’s salespeople.

Taking advantage of its analytical skills, the finance function can assist salespeople obtain the most relevant information about the company’s customers which ultimately helps transform the selling process and cultivate new relationships with the right customers. For any organization, sales costs are a major component of the expenses hence the importance of managing sales processes and improving sales performance. It is therefore imperative that you improve the way your company gathers and uses sales activity data in your planning, budgeting and forecasting processes. How do you rank the quality, timeliness, accuracy, transparency and completeness of the sales information used to forecast top-line revenue?

The quality of sales data at your disposal determines the usefulness of that particular data and your company’s ability to plan. In a world where technology is constantly evolving and aiding successful decision-making, to maximize sales force effectiveness, company’s should invest in analytical and modeling techniques in order to find out what changes would bring the best improvements in outcomes. This also includes improving management’s ability to use sales reporting tools such as dashboards. Getting hold of high-quality data for revenue forecasts requires you to match sales resources to changing opportunities and business objectives. This will help you retain customers from the jaws of aggressive competitors.

By gathering and integrating timely information about the company and its industry, salespeople will be able to gain insights about changes in customer behaviour which in turn leads to smarter pitches, shortened sales cycles and opening up of new opportunities.  Data that reliably reveals valuable selling processes and practices as well as patterns in customers’ buying habits is effective for improving sales force effectiveness.

As market competition continues to intensify, managers must improve the effectiveness of their salespeople as quickly as possible to avoid losing market share to rivals. Improving sales performance involves improving existing sales methods and processes, better training, better hiring, better sales management and making use of refined selling behaviours such as cross selling, bundled selling, targeted discounting and focusing on sales profitability.

In many organizations, salespeople are regarded as catalysts for growth and profitability. For salespeople to successfully fulfill their role, they need high-quality data and analysis. Thus sales must partner with finance in order to gain better insights necessary for effective decision-making. Instead of just reporting on the periodic sales figures, finance can educate salespeople on data gathering and analysis and provide them the relevant information so that they become better informed prior engaging current and prospective customers. Improving collaboration among finance, operations, sales and marketing and human resources enables the company to reach its stated objectives.

As the guardians of the company’s finance data, the finance function is in a better position to supply salespeople with the information they need to take a more strategic and data-driven approach to winning over customers. Finance is able to provide more analysis, more insights and more recommendations so that people are aligned with what drives the business forward. Thus with quicker and better information, as well as accurate forecasts and targets, salespeople are empowered to make more informed decisions about which customers to target and interact with.

To successfully deliver on their business partnering role, finance people should move beyond their isolated number crunching and routine transaction processing roles and partner more with other functions of the organization. Finance must become more proactive with data. More than projecting into the future, finance could use the information in the present to improve market and competitor insights and build better selling tools. Making data-driven decisions helps managers deliver more customer value with less, outperform rivals, target the right profitable customers, design the right value proposition and create value for the company. The key for finance is therefore to provide better information that is actionable to improve sales.

If salespeople are lacking in high-quality data about their company’s costs and price competition, they can and do end up working in complete opposition to management’s goals. Selling is not about selling products that are considered legacy products but no longer support the company’s strategy. Instead, selling is about selling products that are targeted to grow top line revenues. Salespeople should therefore not be encouraged to close deals that weaken the bottom line. Pricing controls should be implemented to ensure minimum levels of profitability while remaining sensitive to market competition. Find more profitable customers and avoid negative margin deals.

Furthermore, finance can also help educate sales managers redesign sales incentive compensation plans by better linking rewards with the salesperson’s achievements and the company’s strategic objectives. However, there has to be a mutual understanding between sales and finance of what success looks like so that incentives line up with the organization’s performance measurement systems. By utilizing ABC/M techniques, finance can provide salespeople with quality information that helps them understand the various cost components of their activities, their drivers, whether they can be influenced or not and their ultimate impact on bottom line.

With the right data, salespeople will have answers to their various questions. For example, “Whether to sell to existing customers through cross selling”, “Whether to use leads to tap new markets”, “What price is no longer worth making the sale”, and “What the financial impact of  sale is.” Finance therefore plays a critical role in helping the sales function achieve its effectiveness.

As sensibly as the sales function may plan and implement its strategy, it will not produce better leads, attract more customers and generate higher profits if the data is not used dynamically by finance. Finance ensures the timeliness of sales and sales-activity reporting. Finance is also capable of responding quickly to changing business situations with relevant reports and analytics.

How else can finance drive sales effectiveness?

I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Thanks for sharing:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to get notified of new posts by email

Recent Posts

Categories

Finance Analytics: It’s Not About the Size of The Data

As the need to make impactful operational and strategic decisions in real time increases, CFOs are playing a greater role in the adoption and integration of data analytics in their organizations to support data-driven decision making.

Executives and business unit leaders are increasingly relying on insights produced by Finance to better understand enterprise performance. That is, what has happened, why it has happened, what is most likely to happen in the future, and the appropriate course of action to take.

In an era where data is proliferating in volume and variety, decision makers have realized it’s no longer enough to base key enterprise performance and risk decisions on experience and intuition alone.

Rather, this must be combined with a facts-based approach. Which means CFOs must set up modernized reporting and analytics capabilities with one of the main goals being the use of data as a tool for business decision making.

Appropriately analyzed and interpreted, data always has a story, and there’s always something to discover from it. However, many finance functions are failing to deliver value from their existing data analytics capabilities.

There is a misconception that to deliver actionable insights, the function needs more data for analysis. As a result, the supply of data keeps rising, while the ability to use it to generate informed insights lags badly.

Yet it’s not about the size of the data. It’s about translating available data and making it understandable and useful.

In other words, it’s about context and understanding that numbers alone do not tell the whole story. Finance leaders should connect the dots in ways that produce valuable insights or discoveries, and determine for example:

  • What is being measured, why, and how is it measured?
  • How extensive the exploration for such discoveries was?
  • How many additional factors were also reviewed for a correlation?

Further, to use data intelligently and influence better decision making, CFOs and their teams should recognize that most enterprise data is accumulated not to serve analytics, but as the by-product of routine tasks and activities.

Consider customer online and offline purchases data. Social media posts. Logs of customer communications for billing and other transactional purposes.

Such data is not produced for the purpose of prediction yet when analyzed, this data can reveal valuable insights that can be translated into action which delivers measurable benefits.

Often the company already has the data that it needs to answer its critical business performance questions, but little of it is being aggregated, cleaned, analyzed, and linked to decision making activities in a coherent way.

Exacerbating the issue is the mere fact that the company has a mishmash of incompatible computer systems and data formats added over the years ultimately making it difficult to perform granular analysis at a product, supplier, geographic, customer, and channel level, and many other variables.

There is nothing grand about data itself. What matters most is how you are handling the flood of data your systems are collecting daily. Yes, data can always be accumulated but as a finance leader:

  • Are you taking time to dig down into the data and observing patterns?
  • Are the observed patterns significant to altering the strategic direction of the organization?
  • Are you measuring what you really want to know, what matters for the success of the business?
  • Or you are just measuring what is easy to measure rather than what is most relevant?

CFOs do not need more data. What they need right now is the ability to aggregate, clean and analyze the existing data sitting in the company’s computer systems and understand what story it is telling them.

Before they can focus on prediction, they first need to observe what is happening and why. Bear in mind correlation does not imply causation.

Yes, you might have discovered a predictive relationship between X and Y but this does not mean one causes the other, not even indirectly.

For instance, employee training hours and sales revenue. Just because there is a high correlation between the two does not mean increase in training hours is causing a corresponding increase in sales revenue. A third variable might be driving the revenue the increase.

Jumping to conclusions too soon about causality for a correlation observed in data can lead to bad decisions and far-reaching consequences, hence finance leaders should validate whether an observed trend is real rather than misleading noise before providing any causal explanation.

Certainly, big data can be a powerful tool, but it has its limits. Not all data is created equal, or evenly valuable. There are situations where big data sets play a pivotal role, and others where small, rich data sets trump big data sets.

Before they decide to collect more data, CFOs should always remember data is comparable to an unexploited resource.

Even though data is now considered an important strategic asset for the organization, raw data is like oil that has been drilled and pulled out of the ground but not yet refined to its finer version of kerosene and gasoline.

The data oil has not yet been converted into insights that can be translated into action to cut costs, boost revenues, streamline operations, and guide the company’s strategic direction.

Thanks for sharing:

Doing The Right Thing For Too Long

Markets and business models are shifting, and so should you keep up with these market changes if your business is to survive and succeed. Compared with the past, the current era of digitization represents an inflection point.

Consider individual trends such as artificial intelligence, virtual reality, Big Data, cybersecurity threats, drones, the Internet of Things, driverless cars, blockchain technologies, and more.

These new technologies have significantly changed the way we connect and interact as individuals, including how businesses deliver products and services to their customers.

Reinventing your business will determine whether you succeed or fail in the digital age. As the saying goes, disrupt or be disrupted. No company, business, or industry is safe from disruption. Today, individual businesses have the potential to compete against multinational companies and win.

These businesses are quick to anticipate market changes and flexible to get ahead of the curve. Sadly, many companies are blinded by their successes and aren’t willing to disrupt themselves. They are not experiencing their desired growth trajectory because they are stuck doing the right thing for too long.

Don’t get comfortable with the status quo and allow your business to get stuck on a strategy and mindset that no longer fit the market.

Here are a few questions to ponder, the answers to which will determine the future of your business:

  • What is at the core of your strategy?
  • Are you in touch with the customers you want to serve? When customers give you negative feedback, how often do you listen and act on it?
  • Are you operating your business on the premise that you know what is best for your customers therefore they are supposed to buy whatever product or service you offer them?
  • Are you keeping up with market shifts or you only know how to grow under one set of conditions or products and services, but not how to survive and strive under another?
  • How robust and flexible is your IT infrastructure to help you innovate, perform your company’s Jobs To Be Done, and scale your business?
  • Are you creating a strong culture that is focused on customers, including a culture that not only embraces change but seeks it out?

Given our world is changing faster, it’s imperative to continuously look for signs that things are changing and think about how those shifts would play out in the short-term, medium-term, and long-term, not forgetting the impact on the execution of your strategy and enterprise performance.

The signs can reveal individually. At times, they are part of a wider trend.

Nonetheless, how you adapt will determine whether you succeed or fail. Keep learning. Learn about innovations in your industry and beyond. Try out new business models and technologies and embrace a philosophy of constant change.

Once you understand how the market is changing and evolving, you can develop the right product or service and strategy that will help you achieve your desired outcomes.

We often talk of the ability to “connect the dots” and “take a helicopter view of the business” as key ingredients for success. But how often are business leaders and their teams doing this?

Across the organization, a culture of “them versus us” prevails. Important decisions are made at a functional level with little or no consideration of their impact at the enterprise level.

Having the ability to grasp the big picture and see how different trends intersect is essential for determining the right path or course of action to pursue.

So, how do you spot market transitions and develop a clear sense of where the market is going?

  • Be curious and hungry for new ideas. Continuously ask tons of key performance questions and pay attention to what’s around you.
  • From time to time, challenge conventional wisdom. It’s easy to stick with what you know about your business model, customers, competitors, markets, or industry but dare to pivot when conditions change.
  • Don’t be nostalgic about the past or worried about protecting what you’ve built in the present. Always be curious about the future and develop a willingness to take calculated risks.
  • Ask existing and would-be customers how they feel about your company’s products, services, and strategy. Instead of turning to sources that reinforce your existing point of view, seek multiple perspectives and cross-reference them as new facts come in.
  • Develop an ability to handle multiple random data points at once. This will help you generate critical market, customer, and business performance insights and make smarter, informed decisions. Be careful to distinguish between the signal and the noise since data can be deceiving, especially when you’re looking for “confirmation” that protects your business model.

Data might not tell you why something is happening, but it does tell you what’s going on.

  • Look for patterns and abnormalities that might suggest something is going on, including any interdependencies.
  • Anticipate all the various scenarios of what could happen.
  • Plan your course of action in response to what’s happening in real time.

As the signals of a market shift increase, the need to act becomes more imperative. Note, monitoring and identifying market shifts, and effectively taking the appropriate course of action is a matter of timing.

If you continue doing the right thing for too long and lack the boldness to disrupt both the market and your own organization, you risk being disrupted and left behind. There is no company that is too big to fail. Neither is there a startup that is too small to succeed.

Thanks for sharing:

How Feasible Are Your Strategic Objectives?

Every organization sets out its goals and objectives, to accomplish its mission and vision. The two often seem like two interchangeable phrases but there is a distinction.

A goal is a desired result you want to achieve and is typically broad and vague. An objective, on the other hand, defines the specific, measurable actions each employee must take to achieve the overall goal.

It is every leader’s job to create a coherent set of feasible objectives or what Richard Rumelt calls proximate objectives. Objectives that define targets the organization is fairly expected to achieve, even overwhelm.

This is essential for ensuring energy and resources are focused on one, or a very few, critical objectives whose accomplishment will lead to a cascade of positive outcomes.

An effective strategy defines a critical challenge or opportunity and clearly articulates how the organization is going to play to win or perform customers’ Jobs to Be Done.

Thus, the objectives an effective strategy sets should stand a good chance of being accomplished, given existing resources and competence.

On the contrary, a bad strategy results in the setting of bad strategic objectives.

Long lists of “things to be done,” are often labeled wrongly as strategies or objectives. Or the desired outcome is simply rehashed with no explanation of how this will be accomplished.

It doesn’t matter how well-thought your strategy is in response to an identified challenge or opportunity. If the resultant strategic objectives are merely a list of things to do, or just as difficult to achieve as the identified key challenge, there has been little value added by the strategy.

In today’s highly competitive, uncertain, dynamic, and complex environment in which a leader’s ability to look further ahead is diminished, it is better to focus on a few pivotal items through taking strong positions, creating options, and building advantage.

First identify the key challenges or opportunities for the business. Look very closely at the changes happening within your business, where you might get an added advantage over competition.

Next, create a list of the issues, including the actions your company should take.

Then, trim the original list to a noticeably short list of pivotal issues and proximate objectives by identifying one or two feasible objective(s), when achieved, would make the biggest difference. Remember, the identified objectives should be more like tasks and less like goals.

Now, focus on the objectives by channeling skills and available resources to accomplish the overall goal.

Once accomplished, new opportunities will open up resulting in the creation of more ambitious objectives. This cycle will help you develop a system that enables the setting of feasible strategic objectives.

Thanks for sharing: