FinancialForce talks up the need for joined-up processes in services organizations

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright April 14, 2023
FinancialForce updates its platform with new features to help service organizations manage resources and margins across their operations - but is the industry yet ready for joined-up processes?

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Most organizations today recognize that they need to join up data and end-to-end processes to improve operational efficiency and customer experience. The response from most enterprise application vendors is to talk up a platform message, largely because they themselves are currently rearchitecting disparate suites of applications to provide a more joined-up solution. One vendor that doesn't need to do that is FinancialForce, because right from the start it built its core ERP and PSA products natively on the Salesforce platform. Instead of selling the platform itself, it's therefore able to focus on the business outcomes for services organizations of putting those joined-up processes in place — for example, being able to chase down discrepancies between what the customer was originally quoted and what ended up being delivered. Scott Brown, CEO of FinancialForce, says:

A big issue our customers have is the 'as quoted' versus the 'as delivered' are almost always materially very different. That's where you end up with margin erosion. That's where you end up with revenue leakage.

In any services offering, pricing up in advance involves a lot of estimation — what type of skills are required, for how long, and what other expenses will be incurred. Brown's comment was made in the context of the vendor's Services CPQ product, which allows estimates to be based on the specific resources and rates set down in the PSA system, improving the accuracy of quotes. The vendor's spring release, which rolled out this week, adds expenses to the estimation product. Other newly announced features help monitor how those estimates turn out, helping to either keep the project on track, or at least learn what went wrong and how to estimate more accurately next time around.

A new scheduling risks dashboard is a case in point. Chloe Stevenson, Senior Product Strategy Manager, outlines the challenge it aims to address:

We know we've taken all that great care to estimate the work accurately, and then once that project starts and begins, we need to staff it with the right people at the right place. But projects rarely go to plan. People are poorly, or things get delayed, scope changes.

The new dashboard provides an overview of planned schedules and the overall revenue impact, and can be filtered by project or by individual to identify where projects may be running under or over schedule. Resources can then be reallocated to mitigate those risks. Other features in the new release improve the experience for individual consultants, with additional automation to streamline time recording and integration with Outlook calendars, as well as making it simpler to update and manage skills profiles, including the ability to express an interest in projects where the consultant can build up new skills. On the financial analysis side, there's a new capability to maintain multiple versions of a forecast and compare them against each other.

The product's end-to-end process automation is designed to cater to the specific needs of services organizations. One example is what Dan Brown, Chief Product & Strategy Officer, calls "set-and-forget-it revenue recognition," whereby delivery against contract automatically feeds into billing, revenue recognition and ultimately contract renewal.

Finding value in customer success

Another part of the end-to-end services delivery journey is customer success, which FinancialForce caters for through its CS Cloud offering. Two "very large" customers are about to go live with this recent addition to the product portfolio, says Brown, and the vendor has been working closely with them to co-develop certain features. This is an illustration of the importance of ensuring the customer success function is focused not just on completing the implementation or securing renewals. Ideally, its job is to ensure the customer achieves the value proposition they had in mind when they signed the contract. He comments:

Number one is really framing customer success based on the value creation. I can't emphasize this enough. As a service-as-a-business platform and as a service-oriented company ourselves, sitting down with a customer, partnering with the customer, identifying what the goals of the solution are, and then tracking that all the way through the customer lifecycle with an intentional customer success plan, and then a family of playbooks that are associated with that — that's what we support today.

Built on the Salesforce platform, CS Cloud can bring in a full view of cases, projects, subscriptions and other account information from the CRM system, while its customizable playbooks define the tasks that a customer success manager should carry out to fulfil a specific goal. For example, a playbook for a Quarterly Business Review (QBR) might include a task to create a presentation deck ahead of the meeting. Stevenson explains how having access to the CRM records supports this task:

If we go back to our tailored view of the account record, I can see here we've got an open case that I might want to reference and check on its status, and also a current success plan. This success plan is telling me all of these objectives that we've collaborated on with our customer, where we've identified some key metrics — things that they want to work towards — so that they get the maximum value out of their engagement with us ...

You can see how we're really operationalizing and streamlining the customer success journey. What that does is, it not only improves the time to value for customers, but it also supports successful outcomes for them as well.

What's interesting however is that most of the service organizations FinancialForce has spoken to about its customer success product are not yet seeing this function as one that works hand-in-hand with the service delivery teams. Dan Brown explains:

We went into customer success with that thesis, that the Chief Customer Officer, her/his group, this common resource management, this common set of paid or not-for-pay services, would be the vision. There are definitely leaders who have that top of mind, but we pretty quickly figured out [that] customer success organizations and professional services organizations today don't necessarily want to have their information mixed ...

Most customer success organizations and professional services organizations, even if they report into the same C-suite executive, like to operate independently. That's actually been one of our big learnings.

In the future, end-to-end processes and shared resources are likely to become more prevalent, and the platform message will resonate more strongly then. But in the meantime, the product is still seen as useful in its own right for helping to automate customer success processes.

My take

Another reminder that refreshing the underlying technology by moving to a new platform is only one step towards joining up data and processes across the organization. The path to Frictionless Enterprise is as much about changing the culture and mindset of how the business operates.

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