The way I see it, FP&A is playing a new role at many organizations these days—bridge builder. Specifically, bridging the gap between FP&A and other business partners and internal teams.
I recently wrote about how FP&A can take steps toward becoming a trusted member of the management team. Along those same lines, another key relationship FP&A can develop is with the sales operations team, to gain a unified view of the business and develop and execute on key metrics that can drive better sales results.
So how do you get on the path to bridging the gap with sales?
It all starts with laying the framework for a collaborative relationship. And, for me, that means developing a greater understanding of what makes the sales folks tick. As a key part of my work with the FP&A team here at Adaptive Insights, I have focused my efforts on becoming a trusted business partner to our sales team. It’s not always a perfect process, but I think I’ve identified some useful tips that can help others looking to make a positive impact on revenue forecasting and sales planning.
Tip 1: Get away from your desk
You can’t be a back-room numbers cruncher and expect to make a real impact on sales planning. You have to get out in the trenches with the sales team to earn their trust. Here at Adaptive Insights, I’ve made the effort to understand the sales team’s business model and show that I care about them and their business. The only way I can do that authentically is by connecting with them on a regular basis.
Tip 2: Sharpen your soft skills
Collaborative, fast, easy, and powerful cloud-based tools help FP&A get to the table with sales and offer significant added value to the process. Yet, to leverage those tools effectively and provide long-term benefit, you need to make sure you are building relationships through strong soft skills. For me, or anyone else in this role, you have to learn to talk effectively with sales executives or a chief revenue officer. You may need to find ways to tactfully tell the CRO he or she is being too aggressive or not pushing hard enough. At the same time, you need to be able to communicate with a junior analyst. Take the time to get to know the personalities of those you are working with and figure out the best way to collaborate with them. If your team needs some soft skills training, then get it.
Tip 3: Seek consensus
With salespeople, trust builds over time—and with actions, not only words. That means you don’t show up at the end of the quarter or year and say, “OK, sales team, did we hit all our goals?” To get the best results, FP&A can’t dictate, and the sales team can’t go it all alone. Here at Adaptive Insights, FP&A and sales operations collaborate a lot at the beginning of the planning process. On a monthly basis, we have goals we want to achieve together. We both bring numbers and projections to the table. From there, we discuss the variances, and compare and contrast notes. We hash it out and agree on the numbers or modify them. Those numbers serve as the starting point of our planned KPIs.
Tip 4: Look beyond the numbers
There’s an assumption at many organizations that FP&A is singularly focused on the numbers and data. No doubt, the numbers are essential, but they shouldn’t entirely rule the day. For instance, while the data might support a 20% growth rate for sales, the organization might not be ready for that based on the realities of the situation. Maybe a more realistic goal is 10% growth and then you make up the deficit in another market segment. You have to look beyond quantitative growth to consider a range of issues that may impact targets and results. Weigh factors such as attrition, morale, systems, accounts, territory, managerial support, and more. Addressing those issues allows you to develop sales targets that help ensure a sales rep’s success. The reality is, if you lay out a growth plan that’s unattainable, you won’t only miss the marks, but the reps will be more likely to hit the road and look for another job.
Tip 5: Be a partner for the long haul
I partner very closely with sales for the two to three months when we’re coming up with an annual plan and hashing out sales targets. Yet my work doesn’t end there. Here at Adaptive Insights, we continue to meet on a regular basis to review and adjust plans and sales forecasts as needed. This makes for a more holistic and healthy solution. At times, we may debate numbers I bring to the table, or sales might come back with additional business information that I might not have had. That give-and-take is very important, so we can identify trends or issues and make adjustments as needed that benefit not only sales, but the entire organization. Ultimately, there should be no surprises at the end of the year—everyone should be on the same page.
Build that bridge
No doubt about it: Establishing a strong relationship with sales takes work and commitment. Yet the payoff is huge. Done right, it allows FP&A to make a significant impact—and build a bridge to a better, more profitable future.