As far as Cinderella stories go, the office of finance is at the top of the list. In more recent years, its focus has shifted from cost management practices to the likes of enterprise planning, market differentiation, performance delivery, and strategic business partnering. Now strategic advisors to the company, finance teams help drive revenue across the entire business.
In doing so, finance has uncovered an unlikely ally in the sales team. More and more, we’re seeing that a collaborative partnership between sales and finance is the secret weapon to delivering strong business performance – something that Planful customer SmartyPants Vitamins knows all too well.
But it’s not always easy to break down the walls between sales and finance. Let’s look at common friction between the two teams, how Continuous Planning can remove it, and later, how SmartyPants has connected finance and sales in Planful for unified insight across the business.
Understanding the Friction Between Finance and Sales
When it comes to business planning, collaboration between different business units is a key ingredient. Yet despite our very best efforts, these silos still exist. In some ways we can chalk it up to human nature: as a people, we’re inherently tribal. People inside of our circle are good. People on the outside, well, they’re generally viewed as not-so-good.
In many ways, businesses are no different and departments in and of themselves can feel quite tribal. This is often the case for sales and finance, who both drive revenue and growth for the company, but do so in different ways.
For finance, it’s all about making strategic decisions that drive revenue. Sales, on the other hand, cares about hitting their revenue goals while keeping costs in line with financial forecasts. Together, these two teams need to address gaps in performance early (and often) to avoid the kinds of surprises that can throw revenue goals off course.
Where collaboration grows difficult for the two is in the data and tools they use. Spreadsheets have plenty of benefits as personal productivity tools, but they simply can’t align revenue targets with sales plans or provide real-time visibility into margin and revenue drivers.
For finance and sales teams who re-forecast frequently, spreadsheets can quickly melt into a vicious quicksand of wasted time, energy, and productivity, especially when combined within a manual planning process. This is exactly where a Continuous Planning approach can help.
Continuous Planning = Collaborative Planning
Companies today no longer operate in an annual planning cycle. In fact, many business leaders will tell you it’s more akin to a daily planning cycle. To make continuous decisions with greater accuracy, it’s become more important than ever that people collaborate with data and plans in real time.
Here’s an example of why: Let’s say your company just wrapped up its annual operating and revenue planning process. Your sales team starts selling and for the first couple months, they’re on track with their targets. But we know business is fluid and therefore, your sales soon begin to ebb and flow.
At any given point, you could find your sales trending higher or lower than your revenue targets. This is where the relationship between sales and finance teams becomes key. Finance and sales leaders have to carefully watch these numbers to spot any significant deviations or disruptions to the plan.
When these disruptions happen, collaboration between the two departments becomes even more important and your decision-making points become critical. Depending on the disruption, this collaboration can range from pulling new levers to improve lagging sales performance to analyzing different scenarios for dividing territories or assigning quotas.
When sales and finance can do this effectively, it can accelerate the growth of a company. SmartyPants is a great example of this. At SmartyPants, different areas of the business all rely on the accuracy of the sales forecast to make strategic decisions.
For example, during the COVID-19 outbreak its demand planning team needed to make decisions based on a weekly sales forecast. By moving its sales forecast into the Planful platform and providing greater visibility into that data across the company, different teams can now get the insight they need in minutes.
During Planful’s Virtual Tour, Senior Finance Manager Cheryl Chow explained: “Being able to pull the information that we need – right when we need it – really helps us drive better business decisions across the company.”
How SmartyPant’s Finance Team Supports Sales with Planful
Sales is one of the biggest drivers of business operations at SmartyPants and how they re-allocate their working dollars throughout the year ultimately depends on the topline. “We implemented Planful because we needed a tool that could allow us to pull in actuals, and then re-forecast sales and trade spend for the rest of the year really quickly – at a very detailed level,” Cheryl shared during her Virtual Tour session.
Due to COVID-19, re-forecasting needed to speed up, and therefore, the finance team decided to create a complete, dynamic forecasting ecosystem in Planful. Because of the impact that sales has on the entire organization, having sales forecasting and trade spend as the very first use cases live within Planful felt like a natural step.
Teaming up with Planful partner Cogenics, the SmartyPants team implemented the Planful platform in under three weeks. And within two months, Cheryl said, the company was fully forecasting its 2021 sales and trade spend budget and preliminary 2021 profit and loss reporting in Planful.
Now that they have reliable sales, trade spend, and operating expenses templates and reporting available to sales and across the entire company, SmartyPants found similar opportunities to connect finance with other areas of the business.
As Cheryl explained: “We’re beginning to roll out operating expense templates to other departments to help them maintain and manage their own forecasts. Now different teams can make changes and see what’s happening in their forecasts without coming to finance for information.”
Greater ownership across departments is one of the key advantages of a Continuous Planning platform. No matter where you start your journey, you’ll find endless ways to connect different data sets, collaborate across business units in new ways, and make more data-informed decisions.
As we see more and more companies use Continuous Planning to align sales and finance, we look forward to even more success stories like the one shared by SmartyPants.
For more information on how SmartyPants automated its sales and trade spend reporting in 20 days, you can read their customer story here.
And if you missed the Planful Virtual Tour earlier this year, get on-demand access to presentations from Planful executives, industry thought leaders, and valued Planful customers.