Aligning Sales, Services and Finance

Take any company – in any sector – and it is quite likely that important departments function independent of timely input from each other, though closely interrelated functionally. To streamline work processes and improve productivity, the Finance and Sales departments should be coordinated. If each has well-established processes in place and sticks to these, the required alignment and achievement of common goals will not happen. This drift is accelerated when these departments use standalone solutions for CRM and accounting. To get these disconnected systems into sync is a time-consuming task and the organization itself may be willing to let the drift continue rather than making a one-time effort towards alignment. In a professional services organization, the services team gets caught in the crossfire. Sales department sets over-optimistic targets and Finance strictly monitors and controls each dollar earned and spent.

Customers are also affected by the divide. The finance department may not know the status of a sale or outcome of a customer meeting and may chase debts/issue invoices inappropriately. The service department may not be aware of issues raised by customers to other departments. Customers reporting issues may not receive good service if the departments are uncoordinated. In such situations, the company is damaging its customer relationships, operating inefficiently, impacting cash flow and jeopardizing future bookings.

One Solution for All

The solution to this issue is ensuring that all the departments in the organization work together towards a common goal. The customer’s needs, issues and most importantly cash flow cannot take a backseat because of a lack of internal coordination.

All the affected departments must work together towards resolving this problem. They must ensure that all the major processes are aligned and that personnel are aware of the overall scheme of things. Organizations can get the much-needed sync by switching to a common cloud platform for the sales, services and finance departments. By working from connected CRM that shares the same data as the financial application and professional services automation tool, errors and discrepancies that inevitably occur when separate systems are used can be eliminated. Manual efforts are dramatically minimized, hence reducing the work of the sales team and the risk of making mistakes. A common platform is also ideal for monitoring whether a customer is credit worthy. The sales team can consult the credit background before selecting prospects or deciding what discounts or deals to agree with customers. They can view the status of the credits and also help with collections. In this way, all the three departments, sales, services and finance, complement each other.

Collaborative Tools

Organizations can also benefit from the collaborative tools available with cloud platforms like Force.com from Salesforce.com. Built in business collaboration tools like Chatter provide a stream of business alerts and conversation, which dramatically helps to improve intra-organizational communication. This real-time collaboration is very important for all the departments of the organization to have visibility about every aspect of the business relevant to them in real-time.

Finance – More Than Number Crunchers

If you were to dissect the culture of a business, and you ask various people in an organization what the real roles of each department are, you’ll find the well-known dichotomy between “front office” and “back office” operations.

Front office staff are the people who deal with customers. They might be the customer service department, the sales department, and sometimes the marketing department (depending on how involved the marketing department is in the sales cycle). Back office staff are usually the admin assistants, HR, and the killjoy of all businesses – the Finance department.

In businesses I’ve observed, Finance departments often face silent derision or disrespect. Part of it is an us-versus-them mentality that comes out of the front office staff who feel their jobs are more difficult because they deal with customers (compared to Finance, who deal with numbers). And no one from the front office sends memos to the back office saying “please spend less time crunching the numbers” but it can feel like the back office is constantly memo-ing the front office with “watch this expenditure” or “spend less on client lunches”.

Unfortunately, this view is supported by management at all levels that give Finance the nasty job of accounts receivable, the inputting-heavy job of accounts payable, and the dull job of budget forecasting. Compared to the highly creative marketing department and the edge-of-the-seat, in-the-trenches feeling of the sales department, finance is like the broccoli side dish on a plate of steak and fries.

But it doesn’t have to be this way! Finance departments shouldn’t be relegated to the back office in the hopes that their sharp pencils won’t poke a customer in the eye! Finance departments can and should play a far more important role in the organization. Here are some ideas:

POSSIBILITY 1: Finance should be more about business strategy than number prophecy. When the Finance department hounds the sales managers to get in their budgets and then turns them around for a final target budget for the year, their role is reduced to mere numerical interpreter. But what if Finance sat down with sales and talked to them about how their numbers connected to expected outcomes? And then, what if Finance sat down with the executives of the company and actually worked out a forecast that was tied to what the market was anticipating! Imagine a world where Finance’s numbers were more than just a spreadsheet that gets pulled out at every quarterly review.
POSSIBILITY 2: Finance should be more about opportunity. Many sales managers have some limited view into which customers are sending business. But the view isn’t always perfect. Or complete. Finance should get involved to show how a customer is really impacting the business’ bottom line. If Finance and Sales talked to each other, Sales might be shocked to discover that their biggest client is actually less valuable than expected because of the amount of work involved in keeping them as clients, or they might discover that a seemingly profitable client isn’t profitable at all because their receivables get very, very old. Imagine a world where the Finance department can relate true business impacting information to Sales to tell them which opportunities are truly the most profitable.
POSSIBILITY 3: Finance should be selling, too. When Finance gets the job of following up on accounts receivables, they can potentially do more harm than good. Finance people are highly skilled at numbers, and they might be good “people-oriented” staff, but they are rarely trained in the art of sales. However, when a Finance person, tasked with accounts receivables, gets adequate training in receivables AND customer service AND sales, their success rate at getting the receivables paid can increase, but so will their success rate at winning more business.

There are so many more opportunities, too. Businesses should be using their accounts payable list as a prospecting list. They should be temporarily swapping roles between Finance and Sales for brief “see-how-the-other-side-does-it” days to enable new appreciation and new connections. Finance should sit in on sales calls to see why Sales sometimes feels like they need to bend the rules to close the deal (and Sales should shadow the work of Finance so they know what work needs to happen at the back-end if they don’t assess risk adequately during the sale).

The bottom line for businesses should not be derived from a cloistered Finance department. Instead, a business can uncover new and exciting opportunities when it makes its Finance department an integral part of the entire business.

United States – China Trade Relations

Tuesday November 8, 2016 marked a new age of American politics. Donald Trump shocked the world and became the 45th President of the United States of America. The controversial businessman captivated the American public with his unconventional rhetoric and “in-your-face” campaign style. Throughout his campaign to becoming President he proposed many agendas and ideas on what he thought it would take to “make America great again.” One of his big talking to points during his campaign crusade was that he wanted to put America “first” again. Which means he essentially wants to initiate plans that benefit America first and then worry about the outside world. This was very controversial considering America has always done whatever they could to help other countries. However, Trump and his advisors believe that we as a country might be helping out others and suffering the consequences.

This idea of putting America first goes hand in hand with how he is dealing with international trade, most notably China. Donald Trump has often said that China is responsible for nearly half of our trade deficit and he believes that their government is manipulating their currency. To counter this, Donald Trump has proposed we slap a 45 percent tariff on all Chinese imports. The Trump administration says that this tariff would stem from years of China stealing jobs and manipulating the trade system. Recent studies have put the total job losses in the US associated with the Chinese at 2 million. Most of these jobs are in the manufacturing industry.

Fearing a significant tariff on their imports, China has now threatened to retaliate if these tariffs are in fact imposed. The Chinese government has relayed the message to the US government urging against these “outlandish” tariffs (McDonald). China’s Commerce Minister Zhong Shan stated that the US and China are interdependent and bilateral trade relations would have an impact on the worldwide economy. They are afraid that if things start to escalate a trade war might be imminent (McDonald).

A trade war between the US and China would have significant impact on both economies. First, if trump imposes his tariffs, China’s exports to the United States would fall around 25 percent. This means that China’s annual economic growth would decrease by as much as 1 percent. If China retaliates and imposes a tariff on the US, its economic growth would as much as a quarter percentage point (Reuters). Not to mention the consumers that would ultimately suffer. If Chinese imports get taxed, then companies would be forced to raise their prices, which would then hurt the consumer of said products. Really what this comes down to is the US trying to decrease the trade deficit with China. There are several ideas out there on how to go about this. One idea was that instead of placing a tariff on all Chinese imports, just impose targeted tariffs instead. These tariffs would be put on products that face heavy competition from Chinese imports such as steel, machinery, and auto parts. Another way to decrease the deficit would be enhance service exports to China.

Like any problem, the best to solving one is through discussion. These tensions between the US and Chinese governments are very real and very serious. The two biggest economies in the world are on the brink of a stand-off that could set both economies backwards. Sun Jiwen, spokesman for China’s Ministry of Commerce, believes that these trade tensions will resolve through much-needed dialogue. However, it might take a little more than an open invitation for Trump to join the table of discussion. Trump is playing hardball. He feels that the US has been wronged since China has joined the WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2001 (Reuters). China has said they are willing to sit down with Trump administration to come up with a plan that could benefit both nations. China’s President Xi Jinping has defended free trade on numerous occasions and stated that “no one will emerge as a winner” in an international trade war (Reuters).

These are significant times in our country. The US has always been at the forefront world leadership and it is interesting to see with this new administration how these problems will play out. Every decision has a consequence, good or bad. I hope the Trump administration weighs all of the options before irrationally making a decision. The fate of the United States economy depends on it.