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Why Accounting And Sales Departments Need To Get Along

The tension is easing, but the rivalry is still hurting companies

21Mar

There is a longstanding animosity between sales and finance. Go to any finance conference and you will hear sly digs about sales teams being prima donnas who they have to do everything possible to control. Equally, wander through any sales conference and you will hear yarns of times finance has held them back. Too often the departments operate as completely separate entities working at crossed purposes. For example, in a Graydon and Credit Expo survey, 60% of credit managers who responded felt that the issue of timely payment wasn’t given enough importance in client discussions. This way of working can have dire consequences and is incompatible with success in today’s business world.

The problem boils down to a lack of understanding about why two departments need each other. It is, at its heart, an issue of communication. The departments, by their very nature, have different focuses and subsequently totally different mind-sets. Finance’s focus is profit and loss, business volumes, and tracking and predicting progress accurately. Sales, on the other hand, is focused on closing deals and growing the customer base. One requires a killer instinct for closing business, the other a more prosaic attention to detail for accurate billings and recordings that conform to the regulatory environment of the time. As a result, sales often sees accounting as a bunch of paper pushers good only for enforcing business restrictions that hamper the sales process. On the other hand, finance sees sales as overcompensated and unwilling to follow procedures or do anything at all that doesn’t directly grow their commission, exposing the company to significant risk in the process.

Despite these differences, each department greatly affects the success of the other. Finance deals with the bottom line while sales deal with the top, and one cannot exist without the other. In order for organizations to nurture more alignment between sales and finance departments, each needs to understand how they work together. Finance leaders need to understand that nothing happens until there’s a sale and how they can facilitate them in doing this. They need to understand that sales often needs to find creative solutions to close the sale and this requires making decisions on the fly. Sales, meanwhile, has to recognize the necessity of attention to detail. If there is any misunderstanding with the customer, if a sale isn't properly recorded, it can't be billed, can’t get paid, and is essentially pointless. If records are not filed correctly, finance can’t forecast accurately and their projections will be wrong, which has a knock-on effect on the entire company strategy.

Equally, finance has a lot to offer sales through closer collaboration. They can provide sales with information, tools, and analysis that help them make better decisions on everything from the best sales programs to pricing models that calculate the effect on customer profitability from price and/or volume changes. Finance can also be useful for gathering intelligence on prospects to determine their financial strength so sales can better prioritize leads.

Things have improved in recent years thanks to cloud technology and integrated CRM software technologies, which has led to faster response time and better relationships. Salesforce and Zuora have also been a great help. With Salesforce, you have an indirect path to controlling sales behavior. Sales teams only have drop down menus so they have almost no control over what happens. So if you build it into the form, that’s what they have to do. Zuora, meanwhile, is for back-end subscription management. It does all the recurring revenue billing, all the account timing, revenue regnition, and so forth. Because it ties very tightly to Salesforce, the quote invoice and billing is all tied together through very controlled forms that totally reduces sales’ freedom. This means no creative negotiations, no terms unknown in a contract, and when the organization is audited, every deal looks like every other deal

While technology may have improved things, there is still work to be done bridge the gap. This starts with respect, and the faster this happens, the better the top line, the better the bottom line, and the more successful the organization is as a whole.

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