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.

Best in Class Finance Functions For Police Forces

Background

Police funding has risen by £4.8 billion and 77 per cent (39 per cent in real terms) since 1997. However the days where forces have enjoyed such levels of funding are over.

Chief Constables and senior management recognize that the annual cycle of looking for efficiencies year-on-year is not sustainable, and will not address the cash shortfall in years to come.
Facing slower funding growth and real cash deficits in their budgets, the Police Service must adopt innovative strategies which generate the productivity and efficiency gains needed to deliver high quality policing to the public.

The step-change in performance required to meet this challenge will only be achieved if the police service fully embraces effective resource management and makes efficient and productive use of its technology, partnerships and people.

The finance function has an essential role to play in addressing these challenges and supporting Forces’ objectives economically and efficiently.

Challenge

Police Forces tend to nurture a divisional and departmental culture rather than a corporate one, with individual procurement activities that do not exploit economies of scale. This is in part the result of over a decade of devolving functions from the center to the.divisions.

In order to reduce costs, improve efficiency and mitigate against the threat of “top down” mandatory, centrally-driven initiatives, Police Forces need to set up a corporate back office and induce behavioral change. This change must involve compliance with a corporate culture rather than a series of silos running through the organization.

Developing a Best in Class Finance Function

Traditionally finance functions within Police Forces have focused on transactional processing with only limited support for management information and business decision support. With a renewed focus on efficiencies, there is now a pressing need for finance departments to transform in order to add greater value to the force but with minimal costs.

1) Aligning to Force Strategy

As Police Forces need finance to function, it is imperative that finance and operations are closely aligned. This collaboration can be very powerful and help deliver significant improvements to a Force, but in order to achieve this model, there are many barriers to overcome. Finance Directors must look at whether their Force is ready for this collaboration, but more importantly, they must consider whether the Force itself can survive without it.

Finance requires a clear vision that centers around its role as a balanced business partner. However to achieve this vision a huge effort is required from the bottom up to understand the significant complexity in underlying systems and processes and to devise a way forward that can work for that particular organization.

The success of any change management program is dependent on its execution. Change is difficult and costly to execute correctly, and often, Police Forces lack the relevant experience to achieve such change. Although finance directors are required to hold appropriate professional qualifications (as opposed to being former police officers as was the case a few years ago) many have progressed within the Public Sector with limited opportunities for learning from and interaction with best in class methodologies. In addition cultural issues around self-preservation can present barriers to change.

Whilst it is relatively easy to get the message of finance transformation across, securing commitment to embark on bold change can be tough. Business cases often lack the quality required to drive through change and even where they are of exceptional quality senior police officers often lack the commercial awareness to trust them.

2) Supporting Force Decisions

Many Finance Directors are keen to develop their finance functions. The challenge they face is convincing the rest of the Force that the finance function can add value – by devoting more time and effort to financial analysis and providing senior management with the tools to understand the financial implications of major strategic decisions.

Maintaining Financial Controls and Managing Risk

Sarbanes Oxley, International Financial Reporting Standards (IFRS), Basel II and Individual Capital Assessments (ICA) have all put financial controls and reporting under the spotlight in the private sector. This in turn is increasing the spotlight on financial controls in the public sector.

A ‘Best in Class’ Police Force finance function will not just have the minimum controls to meet the regulatory requirements but will evaluate how the legislation and regulations that the finance function are required to comply with, can be leveraged to provide value to the organization. Providing strategic information that will enable the force to meet its objectives is a key task for a leading finance function.

3) Value to the Force

The drive for development over the last decade or so, has moved decision making to the Divisions and has led to an increase in costs in the finance function. Through utilizing a number of initiatives in a program of transformation, a Force can leverage up to 40% of savings on the cost of finance together with improving the responsiveness of finance teams and the quality of financial information. These initiatives include:

Centralization

By centralizing the finance function, a Police Force can create centers of excellence where industry best practice can be developed and shared. This will not only re-empower the department, creating greater independence and objectivity in assessing projects and performance, but also lead to more consistent management information and a higher degree of control. A Police Force can also develop a business partner group to act as strategic liaisons to departments and divisions. The business partners would, for example, advise on how the departmental and divisional commanders can meet the budget in future months instead of merely advising that the budget has been missed for the previous month.

With the mundane number crunching being performed in a shared service center, finance professionals will find they now have time to act as business partners to divisions and departments and focus on the strategic issues.

The cultural impact on the departments and divisional commanders should not be underestimated. Commanders will be concerned that:

o Their budgets will be centralized
o Workloads would increase
o There will be limited access to finance individuals
o There will not be on site support

However, if the centralized shared service center is designed appropriately none of the above should apply. In fact from centralization under a best practice model, leaders should accrue the following benefits:

o Strategic advice provided by business partners
o Increased flexibility
o Improved management information
o Faster transactions
o Reduced number of unresolved queries
o Greater clarity on service and cost of provision
o Forum for finance to be strategically aligned to the needs of the Force

A Force that moves from a de-centralized to a centralized system should try and ensure that the finance function does not lose touch with the Chief Constable and Divisional Commanders. Forces need to have a robust business case for finance transformation combined with a governance structure that spans operational, tactical and strategic requirements. There is a risk that potential benefits of implementing such a change may not be realized if the program is not carefully managed. Investment is needed to create a successful centralized finance function. Typically the future potential benefits of greater visibility and control, consistent processes, standardized management information, economies of scale, long-term cost savings and an empowered group of proud finance professionals, should outweigh those initial costs.

To reduce the commercial, operational and capability risks, the finance functions can be completely outsourced or partially outsourced to third parties. This will provide guaranteed cost benefits and may provide the opportunity to leverage relationships with vendors that provide best practice processes.

Process Efficiencies

Typically for Police Forces the focus on development has developed a silo based culture with disparate processes. As a result significant opportunities exist for standardization and simplification of processes which provide scalability, reduce manual effort and deliver business benefit. From simply rationalizing processes, a force can typically accrue a 40% reduction in the number of processes. An example of this is the use of electronic bank statements instead of using the manual bank statement for bank reconciliation and accounts receivable processes. This would save considerable effort that is involved in analyzing the data, moving the data onto different spreadsheet and inputting the data into the financial systems.

Organizations that possess a silo operating model tend to have significant inefficiencies and duplication in their processes, for example in HR and Payroll. This is largely due to the teams involved meeting their own goals but not aligning to the corporate objectives of an organization. Police Forces have a number of independent teams that are reliant on one another for data with finance in departments, divisions and headquarters sending and receiving information from each other as well as from the rest of the Force. The silo model leads to ineffective data being received by the teams that then have to carry out additional work to obtain the information required.

Whilst the argument for development has been well made in the context of moving decision making closer to operational service delivery, the added cost in terms of resources, duplication and misaligned processes has rarely featured in the debate. In the current financial climate these costs need to be recognized.

Culture

Within transactional processes, a leading finance function will set up targets for staff members on a daily basis. This target setting is an element of the metric based culture that leading finance functions develop. If the appropriate metrics of productivity and quality are applied and when these targets are challenging but not impossible, this is proven to result in improvements to productivity and quality.

A ‘Best in Class’ finance function in Police Forces will have a service focused culture, with the primary objectives of providing a high level of satisfaction for its customers (departments, divisions, employees & suppliers). A ‘Best in Class’ finance function will measure customer satisfaction on a timely basis through a metric based approach. This will be combined with a team wide focus on process improvement, with process owners, that will not necessarily be the team leads, owning force-wide improvement to each of the finance processes.

Organizational Improvements

Organizational structures within Police Forces are typically made up of supervisors leading teams of one to four team members. Through centralizing and consolidating the finance function, an opportunity exists to increase the span of control to best practice levels of 6 to 8 team members to one team lead / supervisor. By adjusting the organizational structure and increasing the span of control, Police Forces can accrue significant cashable benefit from a reduction in the number of team leads and team leads can accrue better management experience from managing larger teams.

Technology Enabled Improvements

There are a significant number of technology improvements that a Police Force could implement to help develop a ‘Best in Class’ finance function.

These include:

A) Scanning and workflow

Through adopting a scanning and workflow solution to replace manual processes, improved visibility, transparency and efficiencies can be reaped.

B) Call logging, tracking and workflow tool

Police Forces generally have a number of individuals responding to internal and supplier queries. These queries are neither logged nor tracked. The consequence of this is dual:

o Queries consume considerable effort within a particular finance team. There is a high risk of duplicated effort from the lack of logging of queries. For example, a query could be responded to for 30 minutes by person A in the finance team. Due to this query not being logged, if the individual that raised the query called up again and spoke to a different person then just for one additional question, this could take up to 20 minutes to ensure that the background was appropriately explained.

o Queries can have numerous interfaces with the business. An unresolved query can be responded against by up to four separate teams with considerable delay in providing a clear answer for the supplier.

The implementation of a call logging, tracking and workflow tool to document, measure and close internal and supplier queries combined with the set up of a central queries team, would significantly reduce the effort involved in responding to queries within the finance departments and divisions, as well as within the actual divisions and departments, and procurement.

C) Database solution

Throughout finance departments there are a significant number of spreadsheets utilized prior to input into the financial system. There is a tendency to transfer information manually from one spreadsheet to another to meet the needs of different teams.

Replacing the spreadsheets with a database solution would rationalize the number of inputs and lead to effort savings for the front line Police Officers as well as Police Staff.

D) Customize reports

In obtaining management information from the financial systems, police staff run a series of reports, import these into excel, use lookups to match the data and implement pivots to illustrate the data as required. There is significant manual effort that is involved in carrying out this work. Through customizing reports the outputs from the financial system can be set up to provide the data in the formats required through the click of a button. This would have the benefit of reduced effort and improved motivation for team members that previously carried out these mundane tasks.

In designing, procuring and implementing new technology enabling tools, a Police Force will face a number of challenges including investment approval; IT capacity; capability; and procurement.

These challenges can be mitigated through partnering with a third party service company with whom the investment can be shared, the skills can be provided and the procurement cycle can be minimized.

Conclusion

It is clear that cultural, process and technology change is required if police forces are to deliver both sustainable efficiencies and high quality services. In an environment where for the first time forces face real cash deficits and face having to reduce police officer and support staff numbers whilst maintaining current performance levels the current finance delivery models requires new thinking.

While there a number of barriers to be overcome in achieving a best in class finance function, it won’t be long before such a decision becomes mandatory. Those who are ahead of the curve will inevitably find themselves in a stronger position.

Finance and Insurance – The Profit Center

I would like to make myself clear on a few items of interest before I get too deep into the sales processes at any dealership, including: automobile, recreational vehicles, boats, motorcycle, and even furniture or other big ticket items. A business has to turn a fair profit in order to stay in business. I believe that they should make this profit and use it to pay better quality employees a premium wage in order to serve you better. The financial strengths or weaknesses of any business can definitely have a dramatic effect on your customer service and satisfaction. I do not, in any shape or form, wish to hurt a dealerships profitability, as it is essential for his survival. I merely want to advise people how to negotiate a little better in order to make the profit center more balanced.

Let’s get right down to this! Every dealership has a finance and insurance department. This department is a huge profit center in any dealership. In some cases, it earns more money than the sale of the automobile itself. Profits are made from many things that most buyers do not understand.

You as a consumer should understand the “flow” of the sales process to understand the profit centers that are ahead of you. Most negotiating from the consumer seems to stop after the original price is negotiated and agreed upon. Let’s examine just a small portion of what leads up to that point.

The first thing that every consumer should understand is that when you go to a dealership several things come into play. One of the most important things that I could point out to you is that you are dealing with a business that has been trained to get the most amount of money from you as they can. They are trained and they practice these tactics everyday, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year. Let me point out a couple of important facts that I have said in this paragraph. First, you’ll notice that I said a dealership and not a salesman and secondly, I emphasized times of day after day, week after week, etc. etc. This was done to let you know that the salesman is working very closely with the sales managers in order to make as much money as he can. Your interests are really not their objective in most cases.

One tactic that is used heavily in the business is that the salesman says he is new to the business. This may be true or not, however; keep in mind that he does not work alone. He is working with store management, who gives him advice on what to say and when to say it. These guys or gals are very well trained on how to overcome every objection that you may have to buying from them. They have been trained in the psychology of the buyer and how to tell what your “hot buttons” are. They listen to things in your conversation that you may say to one another as well as to the salesman. They are trained to tell their desk managers everything that you say and then the desk manager is trained to tell the salesman exactly what and how to answer you. A seasoned salesman does not need as much advice from his desk and may negotiate a little more with you directly without going back and forth.

The process of negotiation begins the moment that you walk into the front door or step foot out of your car and begin to look at vehicles. Different stores display inventory in different ways. This is done for crowd control or more commonly known as “up control”. Control is the first step in negotiating with a customer. Ever who asks the questions controls the situation. Let me give you an example: A salesman walks up to you and says “Welcome to ABC motors, my name is Joe, and what is yours?” The salesman has just asked the first question- you answer “My name is George.” He then asks you what you are looking for today, or; the famous “Can I help You?” As you can see, step after step, question after question, he leads you down a path that he is trained to do.

Many times a well trained salesperson will not answer your questions directly. In some cases, they only respond to questions with other questions in order to avert the loss of control. An example of this could be something like you asking the salesman if he has this same car with an automatic rather than a stick shift. Two responses could come back to you. One would be yes or no, the other could very well be something along the lines of: ‘don’t you know how to drive a stick shift?” In the second response the salesman gained more information from you in order to close you. Closing means to overcome every objection and give your customer no way out other than where do I sign. The art of selling truly is a science of well scripted roll playing and rehearsal.

We have established that the negotiating process begins with a series of questions. These questions serve as two main elements of the sales process. First and foremost is to establish rapport and control. The more information that you are willing to share with you salesman in the first few minutes gives him a greater control of the sales process. He has gathered mental notes on our ability to purchase such as whether you have a trade in or not, if you have a down payment, how much can you afford, are you the only decision maker (is there a spouse?), how is your credit, or do you have a payoff on your trade in? These are one of many pieces of information that they collect immediately. Secondly, this information is used to begin a conversation with store management about who the salesman is with, what are they looking for, and what is their ability to purchase. Generally, a sales manager then directs the sales process from his seat in the “tower”. A seat that generally overlooks the sales floor or the sales lot. He is kind of like a conductor of an orchestra, seeing all, and hearing all.

I cannot describe the entire sales process with you as this varies from dealer to dealer, however; the basic principals of the sale do not vary too much. Most dealerships get started after a demo or test drive. Usually a salesman gets a sheet of paper out that is called a four square. The four square is normally used to find the customer’s “hot points”. The four corners of the sheet have the following items addressed, not necessarily in this order. Number one is sales price, number two is trade value, number three is down payment, and number four is monthly payments. The idea here is to reduce three out of the four items and focus on YOUR hot button. Every person settles in on something different. The idea for the salesman is to get you to focus and commit to one or two of the hot buttons without even addressing the other two or three items. When you do settle in on one of the items on the four square, the process of closing you becomes much easier.

One thing to keep in mind is that all four items are usually negotiable and are usually submitted to you the first time in a manner as to maximize the profit that the dealer earns on the deal. Usually the MSRP is listed unless there is a sales price that is advertised (in may cases the vehicle is advertised, but; you are not aware). The trade value is usually first submitted to you as wholesale value. Most dealers request 25-33% down payment. Most monthly payments are inflated using maximum rate. What this all boils down to is that the price is usually always negotiable, the trade in is definitely negotiable, the down payment may be what you choose, and the monthly payment and interest rates are most certainly negotiable. If you do your homework prior to a dealership visit you can go into the negotiation process better armed. You still need to keep two things in mind through this process. The first item is that you are dealing with a sales TEAM that is usually highly skilled and money motivated. The more you pay the more they earn. The second item to remember is that you may have done your homework and think that you are getting a great deal and the dealer is still making a lot of money. The latter part of this statement goes back to the fact that it is essential for a dealer to make a “fair” profit in order to serve you better.

Once your negotiations are somewhat settled, you are then taken to the business or finance department to finalize your paperwork. Keep in mind that this too is another negotiating process. In fact, the finance manager is usually one of the top trained sales associates that definitely knows all the ins and outs of maximizing the dealerships profit. It is in the finance department that many dealers actually earn more than they earned by selling the car, boat, RV, or other large ticket item to you. We will break these profit centers down for you and enlighten you as to how the process usually works. Remember that finance people are more often than not a superior skilled negotiator that is still representing the dealership. It may seem that he or she has your best interests at heart, but; they are still profit centered.

The real problem with finance departments are that the average consumer has just put his or her guard down. They have just negotiated hard for what is assumed to be a good deal. They have taken this deal at full faced value and assume that all negotiations are done. The average consumer doesn’t even have an understanding of finances or how the finance department functions. The average consumer nearly “lays down” for anything that the finance manager says. The interest rate is one of the largest profit centers in the finance department. For example, the dealership buys the interest rate from the bank the same way that he buys the car from the manufacturer. He may only have to pay 6% to the bank for a $25,000 loan. He can then charge you 8% for that same $25,000. The dealer is paid on the difference. If this is a five year loan that amount could very well be $2,000. So the dealer makes an additional $2,000 profit on the sale when the bank funds the loan. This is called a rate spread or “reserves”. In mortgages, this is disclosed at time of closing on the HUD-1 statement as Yield Spread Premium. This may also be disclosed on the Good Faith Estimate or GFE. You can see why it becomes important to understand bank rates and financing.

Many finance managers use a menu to sell aftermarket products to you. This process is very similar to the four square process that I discussed in the beginning. There are usually items like gap insurance, extended service contracts, paint and fabric guard, as well as many other after market products available from this dealer. The menu again is usually stacked up to be presented to the consumer in a way that the dealer maximizes his profitability if you take the best plan available. The presentation is usually given in a manner in which the dealer wins no matter what options are chosen. With the additional items being pitched to you at closing, your mind becomes less entrenched on the rates and terms and your focus then turns to the after market products. Each aftermarket item can very well make the dealer up to 300-400% over what he pays for these items. Gap coverage for example may cost the dealer $195.00 and is sold to the consumer for $895.00. The $700.00 is pure profit to the dealer and is very rarely negotiated down during this process. The service contract may only cost a dealer $650.00 and is being sold for $2000.00. The difference in these items are pure profit to the dealer. You see, if you only paid $995.00 for the same contract, the dealer still earns $345.00 profit from you and you still have the same coverage that you would have had if you had paid the $2000.00. The same is true for the gap coverage. You are covered the same if you paid $395.00 or $895.00 if the dealers costs are only $195.00. The only difference is the amount of profit that you paid to the dealer. Another huge profit center is paint and fabric protector. In most cases the costs to apply the product are minimal (around $125.00 on average). In many cases the dealer charges you $1200-$1800 for this paint and fabric guard.

As you can see, these products sold in the finance department are huge profit centers and are negotiable. I also have to recommend the value of most all products sold in a finance department. It is in your best interest to get the best coverage possible at the best price possible. Always remember this: The dealer has to make a fair profit to stay in business. It just doesn’t have to be all out of your pocket.