Over the years, the chief financial officer’s (CFO) role has evolved from gatekeeper to trusted advisor and business partner. But not every CFO thrives in the strategic planning side of their role.
KPMG found that “30% of CEOs say their CFOs don’t understand and assist with the challenges that they face within the organization.” A McKinsey survey also indicates a gap between “the leadership that CFOs currently demonstrate and what other business leaders expect of them.”
Why the disconnect? Many finance leaders confuse financial planning with strategic planning. But when it comes to strategic planning components, CFOs shouldn’t be in a pure finance mindset. Instead, think about connecting the finance function with the big picture, from product innovation to sales and marketing.
Certain key components of a strategic plan have the power to determine if the company will survive or thrive through the market’s ups and downs—it’s essential to consider them when you’re creating your organization’s strategic business plan.
Strategic Planning Component #1: Revenue
Traditionally, finance leaders have relied on cost-based planning to ensure the company’s financial health. But to propel your organization forward, it’s essential to focus on increasing your company’s revenue just as much as reducing costs.
A revenue plan helps you strategize for the company’s growth more accurately. It empowers you to determine which initiatives are driving more sales, so the company knows where to double down on its efforts. Taking an informed bet on what will drive revenue and innovation is riskier than reducing costs alone—but it’s essential for a company to grow.
In the case of a food-and-beverage manufacturer that saw sales decline in larger markets, a McKinsey study found that an investment in strategic revenue growth management (RGM) created “a shift toward higher-growth revenue and profit pools.” Using customer behavioral insights, the company was able to recognize “underserved opportunities that were complementary to its current portfolio.”
What was the outcome of the investment in strategic RGM? The food-and-beverage manufacturer “reversed its downward trajectory and is on track for a 10 percent revenue increase over three years.”
There are several steps to think about when creating an effective revenue strategy. As recommended by Freshbooks, the following steps can help you get started:
- Set your goals. The first and most essential element in the revenue planning process focuses on the future. Where do you want the company to go in terms of revenue and growth? Collaborate with other leaders to determine the short-term and long-term goals of the company. Once you know the goals, you can determine the investments that will help you achieve them.
- Encourage return customers. Encouraging customers to return and make more purchases is cost-efficient and effective in boosting revenue. The data supports this—a 2019 survey by Gartner suggested: “technology general managers expected a substantial majority of their revenue from existing customers buying existing products.”
- Refine your pricing strategy. Create highly targeted pricing strategies by region, distribution channel, and inventory. Structure your revenue planning and forecasting based on various scenarios to prepare for uncertainties.
As the McKinsey study found, the critical success factors for strategic RGM included “a shared vision,” “support from top management,” and “cross-functional ownership across the sales, marketing, supply chain, and RGM teams.” When you use Planful for revenue planning, you can collaborate through the platform with different departments and plan revenue according to multiple variables, such as price, distribution channels, facilities, territories, and more.
Strategic Planning Component #2: Competitors
Strategic financial planning is often an inside-looking function with external impact. Those in the field typically aren’t naturally inclined to think about external factors, like competitors.
“CFOs may lack the domain knowledge to argue — or to understand the organization’s points of differentiation — even when they understand the value proposition of the business,” says Jackie Wiles at Gartner.
Understanding your organization’s differentiation points is critical as a CFO. With this knowledge, you can guide your investments in product development initiatives to beat the competition.
How can you determine the industry’s competitiveness for your strategic business plans? One way to overcome any knowledge gaps is by collaborating with leaders in other parts of the business—product, sales, marketing, and more.
Assess the threat of competitors on your finances by asking yourself and relevant leaders the following questions:
- Do we have a first-mover advantage?
- Does our company/product hold powerful brand loyalty?
- Does our organization have the benefit of economies of scale?
- Does our company produce and sell a unique and patented product?
Once you’ve assessed your competitiveness, consider how these factors may impact your company’s finances. If you have a first-mover advantage, you may not need to invest in marketing to gain market share. Instead, you might invest in product innovation to not only retain your current customers but also to expand your present market share.
Planful allows you to analyze different sales scenarios and take your competition into account, based on facts rather than guesswork. Plan across multiple scenarios and understand the impact of your business’s key drivers instantly.
Share these scenarios with your product and business development teams, so they’re better prepared to modify your product and outshine competitors.
Strategic Planning Component #3: Customers
Customers are vital to an organization’s continuity. But CFOs often aren’t hyper-focused on the customer unless the company is in a turbulent period.
“In normal conditions, the most effective CFOs spend 5%-10% of their time with customers,” says Jackie Wiles at Gartner. “In crisis mode, Gartner recommends CFO duties involve spending even more time on the front line listening to how their key customers are modeling out the recovery and how, therefore, things will change.”
Recognizing the broader impact of financial planning and analysis (FP&A) on customer segments—from buyer power to consumer behavior—can give you better insights to remain strategic during a crisis. Customers’ interests and their ability to purchase can decide if your sales will remain consistent or decline—a key determinant in a business’s success.
Mark P. McDonald, a Gartner Fellow and VP, recommends answering the following questions to understand your customers’ health and capacity.
- “How healthy are my existing customers, financially, strategically, organizationally? What is the state of your customers’ customers?”
- “What do customers need to be more successful in a tough environment?”
- “What is your role in customer success?”
- “Will they have the will and the means to engage, purchase and realize value from our solutions? How well are we positioned to deliver on their success? How clear is the connection between customer need and solution abilities? What is customers’ ability to get value from our solutions?”
Knowing where your customers stand will help you create a better strategic business plan. While no one can truly foresee a recession that affects buyer power, every strategic business plan should include ways to navigate unexpected market bumps and pivot your organization so it can stay afloat. Aim to understand customer behavior trends and analyze their potential impacts under different scenarios.
But Excel isn’t the best way to do that. With so many spreadsheets to keep track of, you run the risk of inaccurate data, data silos, and a heavy time investment.
With the help of a planning solution like Planful, you can collect and analyze customer data to support detailed forecasting and scenario analysis. Don’t worry about spreadsheet errors anymore. Robotic process automation (RPA) eliminates manual input for repetitive data, updates forecasting data instantly, and speeds up the FP&A process.
Better FP&A Leads to Strong Strategic Planning
Data is at the core of the FP&A process, and when you’ve nailed its accuracy, you’re better positioned to create a strategic business plan that matches realistic scenarios. A powerful cloud-based solution is invaluable for collecting and analyzing data from various sources. Planful will help you eliminate silos and plan for multiple scenarios from a single source of truth.
Planful is a comprehensive strategic planning solution for all your FP&A needs. Watch a short demo to learn more.