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Now You See (Some of) It

Sales-force automation tools can illuminate what's in the sales pipeline, but smart CFOs know that success also requires the ability to see what's not there.

CFOs can, as they say, dip into the cookie jar — by extending asset-depreciation schedules, for example, or draining obsolete-inventory reserves. Of course, one eventually runs out of cookies. It would be much better to have a rock-solid historical record for weighing deal probabilities; precisely defined deal stages so the finance chief, sales director, and salespeople are on the same page; impeccable compliance to make sure the salespeople are using the tool; and the day-to-day visibility that SFA can provide.

Given the importance of accurately forecasting and reporting revenue, it’s surprising how many organizations still equate sales pipelines with Excel spreadsheets.

Robert Hull, founder and CFO of Adaptive Planning, a software-as-a-service (SaaS) budgeting, forecasting, and reporting provider, estimates that about 70% of midmarket firms are still using Excel to manage their pipeline, as are 50% of larger enterprises.

Hull says he founded Adaptive Planning because of his own frustrations with Excel: “You’re inputting data, sending out e-mails, making sure people have the right versions, error-checking. The process takes over.”

Mike Sullivan, CFO of eIQnetworks, an enterprise security provider, adds his voice to the choir. “The problem with spreadsheets,” he says, “is that everyone uses their own format; there’s no easy way to collect data, aggregate it, and look at the total.

“Forecasting accuracy was horrible on Excel,” Sullivan continues. “In the early part of the quarter, we were closing 5% to 10% of our deals and not getting a lot of detail on who the salespeople were meeting, when they were meeting with them, and the problems that came up.” eIQnetworks began utilizing Salesforce.com about two years ago, motivated, says Sullivan, by a desire for “accuracy, more-detailed information, and better visibility.”

Tool Talk

The CRM (customer relationship management) and SFA tools that companies deploy to gain such information can be divided into two large categories: on-premise systems and SaaS offerings. (On-premise CRM vendors are increasingly offering cloud-based options. Indeed, Gartner estimates that by 2015 a third of all CRM spending will be on SaaS-provided products.)

According to Gartner, the SFA leaders are native SaaS provider Salesforce.com, the rapidly growing Microsoft Dynamics CRM, on-premise Oracle Siebel CRM, and the SaaS-model Oracle CRM On Demand. Making moves are SAP and Sage SalesLogix, with Cegedim Dendrite, NetSuite, CDC Software (Pivotal Sales) all improving in their ability to execute, while SageCRM, Act! By Sage, SugarCRM (an open-source platform), FrontRange Solutions (Goldmine), Maximizer Software, and Landslide fill a variety of niches.

All of these tools can be integrated with a company’s financials, with Oracle, SAP, and Microsoft promoting synergies with their already-massive presence in the enterprise. The degree of integration a company requires, however, is determined to a great extent by its deal volume and the geographic distribution of its lines of business.

At eIQnetworks, for example, Sullivan has not integrated Salesforce with his financials. “Eventually, we’ll get there, but right now our volume is manageable [without integration],” he says. “We maintain one item master list, but if we make a change in Salesforce we have to make the change manually in Quickbooks, and vice-versa. Today, we can afford the inefficiency.”


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