One of the less talked-about ramifications of the digital economy is the way it has broken down corporate silos. Because nearly all businesses now have some sort of digital footprint, the lines between sales, marketing, customer care and product development have become increasingly blurred. For example, digital advertising is now an important market research tool, with ad responses used as a barometer of customer interest.
The best companies rightly nurture that departmental blur, and for good reason. They mine the vast troves of data and insights that are generated along the digital journey to identify potential customers and new markets, and tweak their product catalogs. Last year, Forrester Research coined the term “insights-driven businesses,” noting that these data-driven epiphanies set the pace for global growth.
With the benefits of seamless coordination between departments so well known, it strikes me as odd that many companies have yet to integrate their planning and budgeting processes. Plans—the playbook for the company’s near- and long-term future—still sit in an Excel spreadsheet, divorced from the rest of the company’s doings. This separation often leads to unnecessary constraints and conflict. For instance, I’ve seen sales organizations launch customer acquisition programs that required help from people in marketing, customer support and operations. Although the initiative was approved by the executive team, the resources that the sales people had counted on weren’t available when they needed them, because the other groups were busy working on their own initiatives and priorities.
Companies can avoid resource constraints and misalignment by integrating their plans with their actual business operations, and updating them in real time as money is spent and resources are utilized. There are plenty of SaaS-based planning tools that integrate with other systems and support cross-departmental time, head count, expenses and so on. Under this model, a sales organization that needs a marketing resource and customer support can see exactly when those resources will be available. Conversely, marketing and customer support will know exactly when their help will be needed, and can plan accordingly.
Put another way, cloud-based integration of the company plan provides a direct line of sight into the business, allowing cross-departmental constituents to collaborate and spot potential conflicts and opportunities right away. The indicators for both are almost always metrics tracked by another department (e.g., higher than expected returns for a new product, which are first recorded by the shipping department), and they take time to disseminate. But the head of sales may want visibility into every early warning sign possible. If bad customers are being recruited, it will show up in some metric allowing the sales exec to course-correct ASAP.
Better planning and promotion
Real-time integration of planning and operations also improves project planning. With Excel, it’s difficult to predict what is likely to happen with the launch of a new program. Program owners can seek input from sales, marketing, customer support and so on, but it’s essentially guesswork. And how does the input make its way into a plan that everyone can execute against? Now contrast this with an Internet-enabled plan that tracks time, expenses and head count in real time. This naturally results in a much more accurate projection of expenses and income.
Finally, visibility drives accountability. If the head of sales promises that a program will cost $30,000 worth of internal resources and bring in $300,000 of new revenue, that will be widely known to all of a campaign’s stakeholders who can plan accordingly. And the same plan will also track whether other departments delivered the support requested. In this way, the budget becomes far more collaborative.
Effective collaboration between departments is an old idea, but with the speed at which technology is advancing, the boundaries between departments are quickly fading. Finance executives have every reason to move forward now to integrate cloud-based planning solutions into their operations.