The Customer-centric CFO: Three Reasons for Finance Teams to Adopt Salesforce
Most businesses today are focused on building close, long-term relationships with existing customers while also reaching out to new ones. Companies are driven by the need to provide real and lasting value.
Business leaders generally want to know the answers to questions like: What are our existing and prospective customers looking for? What are their pain points and challenges? How are these changing in current circumstances? Being aware of changing market dynamics is key to being one step ahead of the competition, and nobody wants to offer their customers second best.
At my company, Place, I spend a lot of time talking to finance executives, many of whom work for dynamic start-ups in the tech sector. And they are as focused on understanding the customer as anybody else in the C-suite.
Being truly customer-centric often means taking a non-traditional view of what the role of a finance officer involves. It is no longer — if it ever was — about crunching numbers in the back office — instead, the CFO and the whole finance team are very much in the control room, viewing each decision on investment or cost reduction from the customer’s POV.
Here are three reasons adopting Salesforce can help the finance team to work in this more customer-centric way.
1. A strong relationship with the sales team
Most finance teams have integrations with Salesforce, where they extract the data to use into their spreadsheet. Bringing finance into Salesforce means building forecast and accounting data directly on the platform instead of extracting sales data out and meshing it into a spreadsheet or another system, finance is now using Salesforce to do their work and also to see everyone else’s.
This means the finance team is literally on the same page as everyone else. They are then in a better position to build strong relationships with the sales team. That allows them to develop a stronger sense of how financial decisions impact the customer relationship.
In companies where data is siloed and different departments have to make an effort to share it, the finance team can end up simply counting the beans that someone else threw at them. In these kinds of businesses, the CFO will most likely have to confine their contribution to strategy meetings to revealing the variance between the expected revenue and the actual revenue and trying to explain what happened.
In contrast, customer-centric CFOs often have a very strong relationship with the sales teams, attending meetings, and staying in the loop about which deals are being won and lost — and why.
2. More accurate predictions based on real customer data
A key role for the finance team, particularly in volatile and uncertain times, is to look forward, to plan ahead, and to understand the impact of various outcomes on the business. They will have to make predictions and plan scenarios based on whatever information they have to work with.
Most CFOs are expected to be able to gather the data to answer questions like — what would be the impact on our profitability if we lost ten percent of our customers? Or — some support staff have left, can we afford to hire more?
Working in a system that is linked to Salesforce is a basis for making plans and predictions using real-time customer data. Which of our customers are most at risk of churn, assessed by the number of support tickets they have raised, and how long they are taking to resolve? What would be the impact of losing these particular clients? Using this up to date customer information is much more likely to lead to accurate predictions. But it also feeds into a more customer-centric response — can we invest in more support staff to increase their satisfaction levels and stop them from leaving?
3. Supporting customer-centric investment decisions
In the kind of company where data is siloed and the finance team is not able to get that customer-centric view, it becomes more difficult for the CFO to contribute effectively to investment decisions.
The default position, if you can’t trust the data and you can’t see the impact on customers, is to become cautious and risk-averse. In this situation, the primary preoccupation of the CFO might be to comply with rigorous accounting standards. They can end up pushing out revenue recognition and discouraging investment because they simply can’t see what is ahead and so they don’t have enough confidence to open the purse strings.
And yet, investing in the new propositions or products that the market is moving towards, and being ready to move funds and resources into new growth opportunities are key to building and sustaining a strong business.
The CFO has a central role in delivering on the mission of customer-centricity. Bringing finance into Salesforce helps them to understand the customer relationship and to enable more effective planning and investment.