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FinancialForce looks to the GL to get a grip on customer engagement in the service economy

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright April 16, 2021
In its spring release, FinancialForce delivers a customer engagement dashboard for service businesses that goes all the way back to the GL

New Customer Engagement Metrics in FinancialForce's Spring 2021 Release
Customer Engagement metrics (screenshot via FinancialForce)

Every business claims to be customer-centric, but how do they achieve that? The question is especially pertinent for cloud ERP and PSA vendor FinancialForce. Its core target market consists of service businesses that use cloud CRM platform Salesforce, which automatically implies a strong focus on customer engagement. Yet the shift to a service economy in which customer relationships are multi-faceted and demand rapid reactions has left many companies struggling for direction. Dan Brown, Chief Product Officer (CPO) at FinancialForce, says they grapple with obstacles to becoming customer-centric such as poor user experiences, disconnected data and a lack of agility. He explains:

First of all, they have a challenge being able to incorporate a plethora of technologies, from the supply side to the demand side. Their data aren't connected, so they have difficulty getting insight. And then when they do have insight, if you have disconnects, it's really tricky to change those in concert, and then ultimately be able to respond.

I think those three elements are really tricky for many companies, and most are still struggling to figure out what it means to be a service economy company ... I think a lot of companies are really at the bottom of this journey.

My conversation with Brown this week came as part of the vendor's spring release of new functionality, probably the most significant of its four releases each year. Naturally FinancialForce believes its platform helps these companies resolve many of those challenges, although of course there's a lot more than putting the right software in place to find success in what diginomica calls the Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) model. Hold that thought while we run through the key elements of this week's new release.

UX, analytics and financials

FinancialForce offers two overlapping product sets, both of which run native on the Salesforce platform and thus inherit many of its capabilities along with its data model. The Professional Services Automation (PSA) product is typically sold to professional services organizations as part of a PSA Cloud along with billing and revenue recognition, while the ERP Cloud includes the latter functions alongside accounting/finance and procurement, inventory and order management. The ability to join up sales, service and marketing data and processes inside Salesforce with PSA and/or back-office ERP is seen as an important aspect of the FinancialForce proposition.

Key features in the spring release encompass improvements to the user experience, in analytics and reporting, and extending multi-company support in financials. Here's a quick overview:

  • Continued roll-out of the modern Salesforce Lightning user experience across the product portfolio to provide a consistent information architecture, with more configurable navigation and built-in user guidance.
  • Improvements to reporting and analytics, taking advantage of the underlying capabilities of Salesforce Einstein. For example, there's a new financial report builder that allows a financial controller or analyst to build powerful custom reports based on data sets and lenses provided by Einstein. Automated schedules have been updated to provide foresight into future earnings, based on contracts or billing schedules. Finally, there's now a consolidated view of all the things that are related to delivering and monetizing value with the customer, which FinancialForce is calling its Customer Engagement feature. I'll return to that in a moment.
  • Improved support in financials for larger, more complex organizations with multiple companies and currencies, introducing multi-company currency revaluation, automated eliminations and multi-company period close.
  • Use of Salesforce Einstein AI to add suggested Next Best Actions in service delivery, and to provide intelligent staffing suggestions when resourcing projects.
  • Enhancements to the Customer Lifecycle Experience (CLX) Hub, adding a new workbench to manage user permissions, and intelligent troubleshooting for implementations, including pre-flight checks to forestall conflicts.

The CLX Hub is part of a customer success program launched two years ago to accelerate implementations and ongoing support. As a result of that program, all FinancialForce deployments are now based on pre-configured packages, and almost two thirds now take "less than 100 days from project initiation to go-live," says Brown. The target is to see that proportion rise to 100% within the next year.

That customer engagement feature

Coming back to the Customer Engagement feature, this highlights one of the challenges that service economy businesses face in getting handle on the various touchpoints they have with a customer. Looking for example at FinancialForce's own customer engagements, as well as delivering its software on a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) basis, it will also typically have a services project to manage the implementation. There may well be paid training as part of the implementation, and potentially some kind of support contract. Each of those service offerings will have their own contract and billing terms as well as costs associated with them. Sometimes, for example in a competitive situation, some elements may be discounted. It's a very complex set of calculations to then collate all of those various revenue and cost streams and recognition schedules to get a clear overview of profitability throughout the customer lifecycle. This is what the customer engagement feature is designed to do. As Brown explains:

It helps you see all of the things that you're doing with the customer from an obligation standpoint, from opportunity all the way to renewal. And it helps you get a better viewpoint into the financial implications of that engagement ... a one-stop shop for seeing all of the elements of a total solution for the customer, including all the financial implications of that engagement.

It provides the ability to drill down into services contracts, billing documents, the associated revenue recognition, the original opportunity and so on, along with a timeline showing each element as they take effect. For a large professional services organization that may be delivering multiple projects in parallel to a single account, it's very valuable to see the timelines and the profitability, says Brown.

Admittedly, this may not be the first thing everyone thinks of when you hear the words 'customer engagement' — to my mind the concept encompasses metrics such as adoption, usage metrics, sentiment and satisfaction. But it's a starting point, which FinancialForce is well-placed to deliver, with its ability to offer end-to-end visibility from the opportunity through to the General Ledger (GL). As Brown explains:

Obviously, there's a multitude of problems in getting a view of customer engagement. We picked this side of the equation, because we have an advantage to expressing it, obviously, owning the GL and understanding the source documents that contribute to your balance sheet and revenue recognition.

We also think that this is one of the places where a lot of companies really struggle to understand, 'How am I monetizing at the sub-account level, [at] the solution itself? How do these things come together?'

My take

Sometimes you can be in a conversation with someone using exactly the same words as them but understanding something completely different. I started this briefing expecting that the newly available Customer Engagement feature would be a way of tracking customer interactions, perhaps bringing in data from Salesforce Service Cloud or third-party customer success platforms such as Gainsight (with whom FinancialForce has a partnership). Brown doesn't rule out adding metrics like those in the future, but as he explained why customers would find it useful in its current form, I started to make sense of it.

The point is that, before you can start tracking these additional metrics, you first of all need to actually have a handle on how your business is engaged with its customers. Many service organizations have been so focused on internal processes that they don't even have that knowledge, and therefore the journey to customer-centricity does begin at the GL, simply establishing what relationships currently exist — and at what point they become profitable. This becomes even more important at a time when new types of relationship are being established, in particular the move to XaaS models.

All of this underlines how long a journey lies ahead of some organizations on the road to customer centricity. But at least getting started is better than going nowhere.

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