Richard Hilton, Managing Director EMEA at Miller Heiman Group explores why finance and business leaders need to build a data-led strategy to guide businesses through difficult economic times
While the UK has suffered from economic uncertainty since the 2016 vote to leave the European Union, UK exporters have nonetheless benefited up until now from propitious economic conditions globally. Indeed, new research from CSO Insights within the World-Class Sales Practices Study finds that UK and EMEA organisations have weathered economic conditions very well, with a 6% increase in hitting revenue targets and a 9% increase in their staff hitting their quotas.
While on the surface this may seem like a significant achievement, the research also casts doubt on the sustainability of these numbers and indicates that this success is in fact down to external economic factors. In an unstable economic environment, the C-suite must therefore prepare to lead the business into its next phase – especially CFOs who are tasked with forecasting future revenue figures and investment in the business.
The study identifies 12 best practices across customer engagement, performance support and strategy alignment that correlate most strongly with sales performance. Here are three key focus areas that are particularly important for CFOs and senior finance professionals looking to drive better business outcomes:
- Evaluate your customer interactions
Customer engagement should be a priority for any sales business. Particularly, there is a need to determine whether they add to or detract from the overall customer experience and deliver consistent positive outcomes to ensure they are offering a productive way of working. Timely and organised communication, which is mutually valuable, will help to build trust and establish a relationship where customers will return to a business. While finance professionals within a business may not typically be expected to make that initial customer engagement, their interaction with customers is still hugely important, and will become even more so as B2B e-commerce is expected to outgrow B2C e-commerce. World-class companies are experimenting with using bots as a mechanism to schedule payments and appointments with prospects. This is where financial analysts can play a valuable part in evaluating these interactions to determine whether they add to or detract from the overall customer experience, deliver consistent positive outcomes and therefore offer a productive way of working.
- Adopt AI to help teams prioritise the deals to go after
While finance teams are unlikely to be making the initial contact to a prospective customer, their ability to read and analyse data is crucial to ensuring that the right qualification takes place. We’re seeing world-class organisations moving away from focusing just on subjective and historical data to do this, incorporating more predictive data with the help of artificial intelligence (AI) to better calculate the health of an opportunity and therefore help teams understand the right deals to go after and those to reject. Upskilling teams so that they can confidently use AI will also help the business to develop consistently and provide top-level service and consultancy. This should be a priority for finance and business leaders, especially in the face of rising competition.
Unlock data across sales, marketing and customer service to align your business strategy
A personalised approach will strengthen the relationship between a business and its customers – and ensure that teams are really adding value to their clients. Sales, marketing and customer service should all be aligned in this goal to avoid duplicating relationships. For finance teams, this also means having a clear strategy for leveraging both operational and customer data as an asset to the sales forecasting process. Indeed, not all data relevant to the sales organisation is in the CRM system, so focussing on a strategy that groups data across multiple systems, including those used by marketing and customer service too, will be crucial for success. Ensuring that these systems can ultimately collect and provide quality data will be necessary to avoid missing blind spots or repeating interactions with customers.
To plan for success, you need to prepare for the worst
While businesses have been lucky enough to experience favourable economic conditions over the last year or so, the signs of turbulent economic times are clear. For finance leaders in particular, this calls for a closer look at the story behind other business units, such as the sales organisation.
No-one will get forecasting 100% correct but having real-time visibility into quality data and harnessing the power of technology such as AI, can be used to create valuable, actionable insights. Not only will this ensure the finance department can be viewed continually as a strategic function in the organisation – but it will also help business units across the company operate more effectively as well, underpinning the success of the wider business’s bottom line in times of uncertain economic headwinds.