By Robert Douglas, European planning director,Adaptive Insights
While finance might be at the centre of business planning, sales operations are at the centre of growth. Revenue is the lifeblood of a business—it keeps it alive, growing and moving forwards. However, it is also unpredictable.
Top-line growth is vulnerable to external factors over which businesses have no control. Despite hiring sales reps, training them, and passing them quality leads, businesses still run into obstacles. Prospects can walk back on commitments, for instance, or a new competitor or solution could disrupt the marketplace.
While a sales operation is a critical engine for the business, it is also a significant risk centre. As such, it is a compelling candidate for active planning—planning that’s collaborative, comprehensive and continuous. Active planning for sales operations delivers the following two benefits; more intelligent revenue planning and lessening the risk of the function as a whole.
More intelligent revenue planning means becoming more data driven in the way you handle quota allocation and territory planning. This in turn allows you to incentivise performance, prevent attrition, and achieve intelligent, sustainable growth. Reducing the risk inherent in sales operations comes down to understanding how sales activities impact—or depend on—both the macro finance plan and other operational departments.
In either case, sales plans are central to the financial plan. It simply does not make sense to conduct sales operations planning in a system that’s not inherently and directly linked to the financial plan. What’s more, sales and finance models need to speak the same language.
Disconnected sales operations planning costs you
When sales operations planning is out of sync with the broader operational goals and activities, the impact on a business can be severe. For obvious reasons, it’s imperative that sales is accountable to the rest of the business. Factors such as booking targets must remain consistent with marketing objectives, head count plans, and expense data.
Even small oversights in quota and territory planning can lead to major misses in growth, creating huge knock-on effects for the overall financial plan. It is not just about revenue failing to materialise or immediate cash flow problems – errors can send misinformation, false flags, and unreliable indicators to the rest of the business about performance, customer appetite, market health, and more.
Instead, with finance operating as the planning hub for the whole organisation, sales operations planners have a pathway into the other sales plans distributed across the different geographies, in addition to every other functional plan in the organisation.
The power of uniting sales and finance
In highly dynamic businesses, isolated planning is not really planning—it has little bearing on what is really going on or what is going to happen. Even in moderately complex organisations, plans usually benefit from coordinated participation from across the business. Integrating sales operations with the rest of the business gives other functional departments a chance to align objectives, synchronise activities, and contribute to resources in ways that maximise positive outcomes. And, importantly, the cost of acting in isolation is not just a suboptimal result—it is a potential disruption.
For example, imagine you’re running sales operations for a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) provider. The recent loss of a customer means you need to increase your bookings. By running the numbers on a few scenarios in your sandbox planning environment, you can determine how much quota to apportion between different teams and territories. The next step is to settle on a plan, and then make changes in your transaction system. But what does that do to other areas of the business? Who else does it impact? And what can other departments do to help?
To snare more bookings, marketing probably needs to generate more leads. A sudden customer influx might mean HR need to bring in more implementation staff. And that hiring cost probably contributes to the lost revenue your business is trying to make up from the key customer it lost. So this inevitably impacts the number of new bookings needed to manage cash flow.
Isolated static planning accounts for none of these external dependencies or impacts. The result is either that sales is less likely to deliver on its revised figures—because of the cross-functional assistance they forfeit—or that its success causes disruption or delays elsewhere in the business.
These disconnects would go undetected until the company-wide planning event, where some unlucky soul will have to forensically consolidate and reconcile disparate Excel sheets from all over the business.
Integrated planning avoids all of these problems. Finance professionals can see the increase in bookings within the sales transaction system. They can pull up those figures against the target for marketing qualified leads this quarter, identify a mismatch, and recalibrate that target accordingly. They can see the implementation bottleneck those bookings will create three months from now, and they can advise HR to hire more technical resources.
A future with active planning
By investing in planning technology that the whole business can plug into—whether it is sales, finance, workforce management or operations—every department will be working from a single source. This means plans between different regions, and even different functions, are easy to consolidate, reconcile, and cross-reference with each other. Ultimately, everyone is engaged in more active planning, which results in a comprehensive, interconnected model of the business.
With an active planning environment, sales remains a critical engine for the business. Now, however, it’s tightly integrated with finance and other business units—and sales operations becomes much less of a risk centre.
AI: CUSTOMER FACING EMPLOYEES’ BEST FRIEND IN THE FINANCIAL SERVICES INDUSTRY
By Ryan Lester, Senior Director, Customer Experience Technologies at LogMeIn
We’ve all heard the old saying “money talks.” Well when it comes to customer loyalty and retention, good customer experience talks much louder, with 30% of customers leaving a brand and never returning due to a bad experience.
The truth is, there are a lot of companies with similar products and services, but that doesn’t mean that differentiation is impossible. So, what’s the solution? For financial services, large and small, customer experience is becoming the key competitive differentiator and the best way to deliver an impactful experience is to empower customer-facing employees to do their best work. Artificial intelligence (AI) is enabling these employees to create remarkably better customer experiences, resulting in customer loyalty, advocacy, and overall growth.
For financial institutions that have been considering new strategies for improving the quality and efficiency of their customer experience, here are a few ways AI can enable them to deliver the “human factor” that good customer experience demands whilst ensuring customer facing employees can provide a more positive experience for customers.
Increase employee productivity
How much of employees’ time is spent searching for answers to questions? Do they ever have to put customers on hold or even step away to get additional help? AI helps provide front-line employees real-time guidance so they can spend less time looking for information and more time solving problems. An AI-powered chatbot, for example, can be listening in the background of a conversation helping point employees to the right data, solutions, and processes to resolve customer issues faster than ever before.
Deliver a consistent customer experience
When banking customers engage with their financial institutions, they measure the speed and accuracy of the service through two criteria. First, how quickly can the system access their account and deliver the correct information? Is it faster than a human could type it in and share it? And second, if they eventually do need to be connected to a live customer support agent, is their information captured and passed along accurately? AI technology takes those general queries off the customer support team’s plate, providing a quick, accurate, and effective response. If a query needs a more in-depth response, AI can hand it off to support staff to address.
Not only this but leveraging a centralised, AI-powered knowledge solution ensures every employee has access to the same, updated information, so no matter who the customer speaks to, they can be assured that employee responses are both consistent and accurate across the board.
Accelerating employee training and onboarding
Like any industry, employee turnover is inevitable and can be costly. But, not training new employees correctly or in a timely manner could be much more costly. When it comes to financial services there is a lot to learn, whether it is something simple like the process for checking an account balance to all the nuances associated with mortgage loans. AI can support on-the-job training by helping new employees answer questions confidently, correctly, and much quicker than they could before.
Improving employee satisfaction
Today’s banking customer has all kinds of new ideas about their banking experience. “The Amazon Effect” has successfully raised consumer expectations to the extent that a consistent, personal, and relevant experience is the new normal. As a customer, how many times have you been told “I’m sorry, I don’t know the answer?” Customers want solutions to their problems and employees want to be able to deliver those solutions as efficiently and effectively as possible. AI assisting in the background helps minimise those negative moments – making employees job easier, less stressful, and overall more enjoyable.
Identify knowledge gaps
Do you know all the questions employees are getting asked? Do you know what’s easily answered and what’s not? Real-time insights allow knowledge managers to keep up to date on frequently asked questions and gaps in current resources. This allows them to strategically improve or add content where needed.
Augmenting customer service
Whether talking with an AI chatbot or a personable customer service team member, the modern banking customer has high expectations for convenience, speed, and security. Which means that the technology you choose to deploy and how you deploy it is now just as important as who you hire and how you train them.
Today’s AI solutions won’t replace customer service agents or get in the way of the human factors that drive the customer experience. On the contrary, they augment it, allowing the business to do more without adding human resources. The higher the quality of a AI chatbot solution, the better it will be at taking the routine requests off the plate of customer service agents—giving them more time to provide a personalized and positive experience for customers.
TIPS TO PROTECT YOUR CASHFLOW DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
By Rita Cool, Certified Financial Planner at Alexander Forbes Financial Planning Consultants
The full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is as yet unknown, but individuals have already begun to have their lives disrupted by the country’s economic shutdown, with retrenchments, salary cuts and forced unpaid leave making them take stock of their financial position.
The basic principles of financial planning are especially relevant at this time, but in the short term, cash flow is more important to many people.
To help safeguard you and your family’s financial security, here are some tips to follow to make sure you’re making your money work hard for you:
- Draw up a budget – this is especially relevant if you’re worried about possible retrenchment of yourself or your partner. This will help you know how much you need to cover your basic living expenses and where you can save money. Don’t only look at what you need to spend money on, but also when you think you will need that money. Perhaps you paid school fees upfront at the beginning of the year, or your car registration is only due again next year.
- Check your bank fees. Are you in the best structure for your needs? Are you paying for services that you never use? Consider moving banks to get a better deal.
- Banks have waived the Saswitch fee payable for withdrawing cash at another ATM other than your own bank, but if you’re doing this, be aware of when this switches back as you can end up paying almost double the bank fees.
- Did you know that you start paying interest immediately if you draw cash from a credit card and that you do not get three or six months’ interest free?
- Go through your house while you have extra time and identify potential items which you could sell, as this will free up cash.
- Where possible, pay cash for items as the interest rate on hire purchase items is very high and you pay around 20% more for those items than the sticker price. If you cannot afford the item and you don’t need it right now, wait.
- Look around for bargains online rather than driving around. There are some good sales on, and you can support businesses that need your help.
- At the same time, be aware of spending extra cash you could be saving towards your financial safety net. There are lots of deals available, so balance the need for the 70% off bikini or new laptop with being cautious about the future.
- Use store coupons and discount vouchers. The main food retailers have loyalty programme structures that can be tailored to your specific spending patterns. Make sure you claim point or vouchers but look out for monthly costs to belong to a rewards program. Ask yourself if your monthly savings validate the cost. Optimally a reward scheme shouldn’t cost you money.
- Check with your insurance company if your premium can be reduced because you’re driving less during lockdown.
- Check your current insurances. Do an insurance rebroke. Make sure you are covered for what you need and take things off the list that you do not have any more and add what you have bought since the last update. Make sure you are not under or over insured and that your premium is market related. The cheapest premium isn’t always the best so be aware of exclusions and excesses and make sure you can afford the excess if you need to claim.
- In most cases you can reduce your monthly insurance premiums by not having a cash pay-out in the future. If you want a pay-out, save the extra premium in an investment product, not a risk product.
- Be wary of consolidating debt. You might pay a lower interest rate but it might well be over a longer period so the total interest paid will be higher. If you have debt issues, set up a debt plan with dates and goals to reduce the debt little by little. Do not give up.
- Be aware that payment holidays are not a free loan, you still owe the money and you’re paying interest on it. Check with your service provider.
Remember that the pandemic will pass. Try not to panic as this may lead to rash financial decisions, which could have an impact on your finances later down the line.
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