Why Finance & Sales Must Break Down the Barriers and Work Collaboratively

The perceived rivalry between finance and sales is as old as time, and with the former traditionally focused on revenue and profitability, while the latter Is concerned with winning business and attracting customers, it’s little wonder these departments clash from time to time.

But does it have to be that way? And more importantly, should it be?

We spoke to three company CFOs and one Sales Department leader who say ‘not necessarily’ in response to the first question, and ‘absolutely not’ to the second.

In fact, all agree that disharmony between the departments is, in fact, detrimental to the company, and in the end, counterproductive to the attainment of each department’s own long-term objectives.

“The relationship between the sales team and the finance team has a significant impact on the business’s ability to deliver on its growth strategies,” says Digital Wellness CFO, Samual Samhan.

“The value of sales is vital – particularly in today’s world of ever-changing customer buying behaviours and demographics, when providing insights through data analytics is essential to unlocking potential value and growth,” he says.

“Finance supports the sales department’s success – from developing efficient processes and innovative pricing strategies; to providing the appropriate CRM for use, contractual and legal support, and analysis and insights to convert and realise value.

“On the other hand, you cannot argue that sales bring in the bacon, and that really is what keeps the lights on.”

Mark Hull, Taoglas APAC Head of Sales – Smart Cities and Networks agrees it’s fundamental for the sales and marketing team to understand the base and background of the underlying financial metrics of the company.

“As the sales team are considering deals, sales opportunities, and new markets, they need to do this through the financial lens of the company,” says Mr Hull.

“There is no point in structuring a deal if it doesn’t meet the financial governance of the company.

“Both teams have a responsibility to deliver on the financial performance of the company. By working hand in hand and transparently with each other, both departments are setting themselves up for success and can support and contribute to each department individual and the company’s collective success.”

Why then, does there continue to be underlying animosity between these two departments within many organisations?

Jam Pathirana, CFO of b Dynamic, says department objectives play a role, along with lack of communication, and a proper understanding of each department’s primary goals.    

“The sales department may see the finance team as a roadblock, who limit sales opportunities,” he says.

“The finance department may feel the sales team works for the best interests of customers, but not for the business.

“This misunderstanding can create a tumultuous relationship between the two departments.”

Of course, in reality all department should be working towards the common goal of achieving the best possible outcome for their organisation.

“Working together under a cohesive and objective focused plan that supports servant leadership, meaningful relationships, clear, open and honest communication, collaborative values and clear goals – the departments can achieve outstanding results.” 

But Mr Samhan believes the notion that the CFO is solely focused on cost and efficiency is outdated, along with the idea that the sales director drives nothing more than sales and revenue. Both stereotypes can be limiting, he says.  

“To be successful in today’s world, the CFO must be a relationship-builder, focussed on team integration, and resulting growth, more than ever.

“While these two departments have nothing but the best intentions towards each other, the success of their relationship ultimately comes down to the company’s culture and ability to build a sense of team and camaraderie.

“The lack of barriers experienced at Digital Wellness is due to our appreciation of each other as people – not ‘functions’ – and being united by a clear, defined strategy that unites and streamlines our efforts.

“As CFO, I’m involved in every strategic client conversation and partnership prospect on our enterprise side.”

As Head of Sales, Mr Hull believes negative attitudes from the sales department towards finance can become a barrier to a positive relationship between the two areas, particularly if blame shifting becomes involved.

He says it’s critical for the sales department to ensure its vision and goals are aligned with the company’s strategic financial methods – if they want to achieve them.  

“Finance plays an integral part within the Taoglas business,” he says.

“(We need to ask ourselves), What budgets are we working to? What is the reality that the goals are achievable? What positive impact can one department have on the other to assist in times of challenge?

“Engagement between departments on product and market strategies are in play within the business. Setting top line quotas, department budgets and pricing engagement are all worked on collaboratively.

“Reporting is aligned and shared transparently, on a regular basis to ensure trends and opportunities are identified early, as challenges are worked on collaboratively.”

Mr Hull has the support of company CFO, Nakita McCarthy, who believes the approachability of the Taoglas finance department is a major contributing factor to the departments’ harmonious relationship.

“If sales feel they can approach finance and quickly obtain an answer to a question or get information that will be of value to them it will lead to better decisions and better outcomes,” says Ms McCarthy.

“We are also constantly evolving the tools we have in place to ensure we are providing as much value to the sales team as possible…Listening, understanding frustrations and responding with solutions is critical to maintain the positive relationship.”

Mr Hull says that mutual commitment to communication has resulted in reduced frustrations between the departments.

“We can sell into the market with confidence, knowing that we are aligned with finance,” he says.

“This covers supply, cogs, margin requirements, financial impacts and opportunity.

“It also enables the sales team to work autonomously without having constant interdepartmental disruption.”

At the end of the day, Mr Pathirana says, both the sales and finance teams are challenging each other with the genuine intention of doing the right thing for the business, as they see it.

“Open communication and always reminding each team of the organisational vision and purpose, encourages everyone to work together. This is the key,” he says.

Mr Samhan agrees.  

“Business success truly is down the harmony fostered between all its moving parts – between finance, sales/marketing and beyond.

“Fostering alignment and camaraderie is the only way a business will grow and prosper.”