Even with advances in technology, I’m a great believer that the future of finance depends on the power of people. This may seem to be a controversial statement coming from the CFO of a technology company, but I truly believe that technology will only get you so far. It can certainly speed up the entire process of getting to the nuggets of gold – valuable business information and real-time insight, but nothing good will come of it if you don’t have people who are able to influence others to act based on that insight. Collaboration is the key to success – and it’s one area where finance leaders, particularly in Asia Pacific, seem to struggle the most.
Take the results of a recent study by Oxford Economics. Of the 1,500 respondents of a global survey of finance executives, a third came from Asian countries. Within that third, 44% are recognized as “leaders,” more than in any other geographic area studied. Living and working in Asia, I’m not surprised by this finding. I’ve experienced firsthand the entrepreneurial spirit that exists here. However, it’s interesting to learn that these same respondents, who score so high in many areas of leadership, aren’t measuring up to their peers in other regions when it comes to inter-departmental collaboration.
Percentages of finance leaders by region among survey respondents
Corporate performance improves considerably when finance actively engages in collaboration with other business functions. For example, the study shows that 87% of companies with 5.1%–10% revenue growth report that finance collaborates effectively with IT. This compares to only 65% of companies with revenue growth below 5%. What’s more, three-quarters of the fastest-growing companies report effective collaboration between finance and R&D, compared with only 54% in the 0.1%–5% growth group.
Yet it appears that CFOs in Asia collaborate significantly less than leaders in other regions with operations, procurement, marketing, R&D, and human resources. They exceed global averages only in their collaboration with customer service. Perhaps one of the biggest opportunities for improvement is with sales and marketing; CFOs in Asia are lagging behind leaders by 22% for sales and by 19% for marketing.
Level of sales and marketing collaboration among survey respondents
Bridging the sales and marketing gap
In my role as CFO, I spend a large portion of my day working with people in sales and marketing. SAP’s go-to-market strategy requires a careful balance between global, regional, and local resources to maintain a strong focus on the customer. If we don’t collaborate and communicate well, we could very quickly let control slip away and lose sight of our collective goals. That’s my reality.
If other CFOs are not readily collaborating with sales and marketing, then there’s a great opportunity for them to step it up. My finance team is front and center in helping manage the sales pipeline by driving transparency, visibility, and accountability for forecasting and the accurate delivery of sales outcomes on a quarterly basis. We partner with our sales colleagues to provide valuable commercial guidance to ensure that risks are identified and managed and revenue growth is sustainable. We also work closely with our marketing organization to make sure that the investments they are making, particularly in areas like demand generation and brand building, are delivering the expected ROI.
But an effective dialogue doesn’t just happen overnight. You can’t suddenly turn to your counterparts and say, “Hey, let’s collaborate.” Effective collaboration is built on developing trusted partnerships.
Using collaboration as a core tool
Building trust begins by building relationships. That means spending time listening and learning from peers and being empathetic to their challenges and their goals. As finance builds an understanding, then we can find ways to add value and support. Over time, it becomes safer to challenge a bit more, to add your data-driven insights and opinions to the debate, thereby “testing and improving” upon ideas and collectively making better decisions.
If you think of collaboration as a core tool – your “killer app” for achieving corporate performance – how you get the message across and influence others becomes quite important. By using the tools you have to your advantage – objective facts, figures, and data-driven insights from what is considered to be a single source of truth – you can paint a credible picture of where the business is today and where it’s going and become a trusted partner to help steer the organization to get there.
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