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How to align sales and finance to achieve a customer-centric approach

Ravi Narula Profile picture for user Ravi Narula September 13, 2021
One view to rule them all - Ravi Narula, CFO of FinancialForce, shares three steps to align sales and finance in the interests of your customers and your organization.

Stream of digital data with a human eye © Sergey Nivens - Shutterstock
(© Sergey Nivens - Shutterstock)

Most companies try hard to run their business in a customer-centric way. They strive to provide positive experiences, deliver value, and earn loyalty. However, many struggle to succeed at becoming truly customer-centric. Indeed, a great number of companies have evolved with obstacles to customer-centricity built into their very structure.

For instance, a major hurdle at many companies is the disconnect between sales and finance. While the two departments focus on the same goal — to drive revenue growth from new and existing customers — they’re often not working together to get there. They operate on different systems, don’t communicate, and don’t collaborate.

Of course, the need for collaboration starts at the top. But assuming your Chief Financial Officer and Chief Revenue Officer are on the same page, running your company as a digital business is where the rubber meets the road. As a CFO, I can tell you this means getting your sales and finance teams together on the same system, so they can communicate seamlessly, share data, and cooperate throughout the entire customer journey.

Without a common system, your sales and finance teams have no synergy. They’re working with a web of different spreadsheets and customer records. At vital points in the customer journey — when shared access to relevant data is critical — the two teams are not really collaborating, not able to do the best for the customer, and therefore not driving your business forward. As a CFO, this is simply unacceptable to me.

From the silo to the cloud

So how do you get your sales and finance teams working on the same system and working for the benefit of your customers and your organization?

Step one is to eliminate your internal silos. At many companies, the separate and unequal implementation of business tools over time has gradually disconnected departments, from sales to service to finance. Key customer information is held by different teams in different places, which slows decision-making and damages the customer experience. With front-office and back-office data siloed in separate applications, you don’t have necessary insight into your organization, let alone insight into your customers. Each individual can only see a small piece of the process based on the information that’s available in that individual’s silo.

This is why you must eliminate departmental silos and work from a single dataset that reaches across your company and ensures that all departments are in sync. That’s the best way to deliver positive experiences to your customers.

Fortunately, the cloud makes this transition simple. When you move to the cloud, you can easily unite your CRM and finance systems on a shared infrastructure. You can bridge department disconnects and establish synchronicity. You can ensure that everyone is working with the same key data and sharing it. Your teams will be equipped with the right information at the right time to serve your customers well and give them the best possible experience.

One view for all of your customer departments

After you have connected your front and back office, step two is to ensure the shared dataset/infrastructure is connected across functions by a master customer record from which everyone works. When you do this, you’ll have one view of the customer for all departments, with customer orders, project goals, billing dates and accounting details all in one place. Your accounts receivable team will have what they need to bill more quickly, collect faster and streamline collaboration with sellers.

Instead of waiting days or weeks to get in sync, your teams — from accountants to sellers — will be working from the same view of important customer data in real time, cutting errors and delays. And, with a master customer record, you’ll be able to generate an invoice directly from a sales opportunity, which speeds your revenue cycle.

With this shared insight into customer information, all team members have access to the details they need to do business better. For example, accounts receivable might see that a particular customer has a large order in process and make the decision not to nudge that customer for a pending payment. Or the support team might see an existing service issue that should be fixed before a customer is pestered with a past-due notice. Or the sales team might be able to help finance and mention a past due invoice during a customer call.

A faster, better finance department

When your finance team has a shared, customer-centric view, it can do much more than generate reports, budgets, and plans. A customer-centric finance department can work with stakeholders across your company to develop strategies to build organization-wide value and bring new, beneficial experiences to customers.

But doing this requires a real shift in established practice, along with rich, timely data and better visibility to it. This allows you to make quicker business decisions and improve your operating procedures.

For example, finance can engage early on in the sales cycle. It can track key billing milestones, like the handover immediately post-sale and the point at which implementation goes live. Is the project running smoothly? Have customers covered their first invoices? Are they satisfied? If all is not in order, team members across the organization can jump in with measures to course-correct.

As an experienced CFO, I can tell you that when you unlock customer insights, implement a master customer record and eliminate internal silos, you’ll be on your way to true customer-centricity. You’ll have an accurate, 360-degree view of your customers and you’ll be able to maximize their customer lifetime value. You’ll gain unprecedented insights to your organization that support agility and lasting success for your company.

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