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FinancialForce’s Spring 2021 Release Shows Why Being Customer-Centric Pays

FinancialForce's Spring 2021 Release Shows Why Being Customer-Centric Pays

Bottom Line: Customer revenue lifecycles are the lifeblood of any services business, making FinancialForce’s Spring 2021 release timely given the services-first revenue renaissance happening today.

The essence of an excellent services business is that it can consistently create expectations clients trust and the business regularly exceeds. Orchestrating the best people for a given project at the right time, tracking costs, revenue, and margin across all services revenue, including those associated with a client’s assets, is very challenging. Customer revenue lifecycles are in the data, yet no one can get to them because they’re hidden across multiple systems that aren’t integrated. Knowing how efficient a services business is at turning customer engagement into cash is what everyone needs to know, but no one can find. The challenge is equally as daunting for long-established services providers and those rushing into new services businesses to redefine themselves in the hope of profits that are more consistent and fewer price wars.

How Much Is Customer Engagement Is Worth?

Services businesses face the paradox of exceeding client expectations with every engagement but not knowing if extra time, resources, and staff invested are paying off with more revenue and profit. FinancialForce’s Spring 2021 release looks to solve this problem. What galvanizes the ERP, PSA, and platform announcements is a fresh intensity on customer centricity, both for the services business adopting the Spring 2021 release and the customers it’s intended to serve.

Knowing if and by how much a given customer engagement and its revenue lifecycle generate cash, and its potential is one of the core focus areas of the Spring 2021 release. It’s badly needed as many services are flying blind today, overcommitting resources for little return and too often losing control of client engagement and paying the price in lost margin and profits. FinancialForce sees that pain and wants to alleviate it with better financial visibility on all aspects of customer services revenue. FinancialForce aims to provide customer-centric financial reporting down to the revenue stream and costing measure level.  

FinancialForce's Spring 2021 Release Shows Why Being Customer-Centric Pays
Knowing every customer’s impact on revenue and profitability from all revenue streams will make managing services engagements much more accurate, easier to manage, and more profitable. 

Key Takeaways From The Spring 2021 Release

Customer centricity seen through a financial lens is the cornerstone of FinancialForce’s latest release. One of the primary goals of this release is to update more applications to Salesforce Lightning to provide FinancialForce users with a more consistent user experience across all applications.  Salesforce has been doubling down for years on Lightning and its user experience technologies, with FinancialForce reaping the benefits for over a decade. FinancialForce is transitioning their core Professional Services Automation (PSA), Billing, Accounting & Finance and Procurement, Order and Inventory Management to Lightning in this release in response to their customers wanting a consistent user experience across the entire FinancialForce suite of applications.  The Spring 2021 release reflects how FinancialForce strives to provide a real-time understanding of customer lifetime value for their ERP and PSA customers.  

Additional key takeaways include the following:

  • FinancialForce sees reducing days to close as one of the highest priorities they need to address today. The majority of new feature announcements center on how the days to close cycles can be streamlined, especially across multi-company and multisite locations across geographic and currency-specific regions of the world. Multi-company currency revaluation will help FinancialForce customers who operate across multiple geographies that operate in different currencies and will be especially useful for those clients creating new global channels and considering foreign acquisitions. Further showing the high priority they are putting on reducing days to close, the Spring 2021 release also includes automated eliminations, multi-company period close for software closes, which are designed to temporarily close out a financial report and revenue schedules that can provide a future view in revenues – a key factor in knowing customer revenue lifecycles.
  • New features and a new Lightning interface for Accounting, Billing Central, and Inventory Management simplifies complex transactions for users. FinancialForce has one of the most customer-driven product management teams in enterprise software. The depth of features they have added to inventory management, transactional and reconciliation processes for accounting, drop-ship use cases, and enhancements for adding products to billing contracts show how much FinancialForce is listening to customers.
  • AI-enhanced financial reporting that works with any Einstein data set. FinancialForce leads the Salesforce partner ecosystem when it comes to integrating Tableau CRM (formerly known as Einstein Analytics) into its platform. Now thirteen releases in, FinancialForce’s Spring 2021 release reflects the intuitive, adaptive intelligence that the product management team aims to achieve by integrating Einstein into their financial reporting workflows. 
  • Professional Services Automation (PSA) Applications Including Resource Management, Project Management, and Time & Expense upgraded to Lightning.  Transitioning three of the core PSA applications to Lightning will help broaden adoption and make them easier to upsell and cross-sell across the FinancialForce customer base. It will also help existing customers using these applications get new employees up to speed faster on them, given how much more streamlined Lightning is as an interface compared to previous versions.
  • Intelligent Staffing solves the complex challenges resource managers face when assigning the best possible associates to a given project. Designed to filter and intelligently rank potential resources based on region, practice, group skill sets, and availability, Intelligent Staffing is designed to get resource managers as close to an ideal match as possible for a given project’s requirements. This is a much-welcomed new feature by FinancialForce customers who are large-scale services providers as they’re facing the challenges of assigning the right person to the right project at the right time to ensure project success.    
  • Integration of Salesforce AI’s Next Best Action (NBA) will raise the level of project expertise at scale across customers.  Part of the customer centricity focus in Spring 2021 is focused on providing customers with new technologies and applications to share expertise and knowledge at scale. Next Best Action provides prescriptive guidance for the project manager and will see heavy use in new associate onboarding across services businesses and achieve greater corporate-wide learning at scale. This is consistent with the focus in the Spring 2021 release on bringing greater space and speed to mid-size and larger services customers.

Conclusion

FinancialForce defines customer engagement and centricity from a financial standpoint in the Spring 2021 release. Too often, services businesses commit to large-scale projects without a clear idea of the customer revenue lifecycle. With FinancialForce, they can stop and ask if the level of customer engagement they’re committing to is worth it or not – and if it isn’t, what needs to be done. FinancialForce is doubling down on user experience and accelerating time-to-close, two areas their customers want innovation to and look to them to deliver. Look for FinancialForce to scale out with more MuleSoft and Tableau integration scenarios, all aimed at capitalizing on their expertise developing on the Salesforce platform. There’s a bigger challenge to customer engagement on the horizon, and that’s providing a real-time view of financials across all customers with all available data across a business, making MuleSoft integration key to FinancialForce’s future growth.

How FinancialForce Is Using AI To Fight Revenue Leakage

How FinancialForce Is Using AI To Fight Revenue Leakage

Bottom Line: Using AI to measure and predict revenue, costs, and margin across all Professional Services (PS) channels leads to greater accuracy in predicting payment risks, project overruns, and service forecasts, reducing revenue leakage in the process.

Professional Services’ Revenue Challenges Are Complex

Turning time into revenue and profits is one of the greatest challenges of running a Professional Services (PS) business. What makes it such a challenge is incomplete time tracking data and how quickly revenue leaks spring up, drain margins, and continue unnoticed for months. Examples of revenue leaks across a customers’ life cycles include the following:

  • Billing errors are caused by the booking and contract process not being in sync with each other leading to valuable time being wasted.
  • When products are bundled with services, there’s often confusion over recognizing each revenue source, when, and by which PS metric.
  • Inconsistent, inaccurate project cost estimates and actual activity lead to inaccurate forecasting, delaying the project close and the potential for bad debt write-offs and high Days Sales Outstanding (DSO).
  • Revenue leakage gains momentum and drains margins when the following happens:
    • Un-forecasted delays and timescale creep
    • Reduced utilization rates across each key resource required for the project to be completed
    • Invoice and billing errors that result in invoice disputes that turn into high DSOs & write-offs
    • Incorrect pricing versus the costs of sales & service often leads to customer churn.
    • Revenue leakage gains momentum as each of these factors further drains margin

Adding up all these examples and many more can easily add up to 20-30% of actual lost solution and services margin. In many ways, it’s like death by a thousand small cuts. The following graphic provides examples across the customer lifecycle:

How FinancialForce Is Using AI To Fight Revenue Leakage

Why Professional Services Are Especially Vulnerable To Revenue Leakage 

Selling projects and the promise of their outcomes in the future create a unique series of challenges for PS organizations when it comes to controlling revenue leakage. It often starts with inaccurately scoping a project too aggressively to win the deal, only to determine the complexity of tasks originally budgeted for will take 10 – 30% longer or more. Disconnects on project scope are unfortunately too common, turning small revenue leaks into major ones and the potential of long Days Sales Outstanding (DSO) on invoices. When revenue leaks get ingrained in a project’s structure, they continue to cascade into each subsequent phase, growing and costing more than expected.

The SPI 2021 Professional Services Maturity™ Benchmark Service published by Services Performance Insight, LLC in February of this year provides insights into the hidden costs and prevalence of revenue leakage. The following table illustrates how organizations with high levels of revenue leakage also perform badly against other key metrics, including client referencability. The more revenue leakage an organization experiences, the more billable utilization drops, on-time project deliveries become worse, and executive real-time visibility becomes poorer.

How FinancialForce Is Using AI To Fight Revenue Leakage

How FinancialForce Is Using AI To Fight Revenue Leakage

It’s noteworthy that FinancialForce is now on its 12th consecutive product release that includes Salesforce Einstein, and many customers, including Five9, are using AI to manage revenue leakage across their PS business. Throughout the pandemic, the FinancialForce DevOps, product management, and software quality teams have been a machine, creating rich new releases on schedule and with improved AI functionality based on Einstein. The 12th release includes prebuilt data models, lenses, dashboards, and reports.

Andy Campbell, Solution Evangelist at FinancialForce, says that “FinancialForce customers have access to best practices to minimize revenue leakage by scoping and selling the right product and services mix to allocating the optimal range and amount of services personnel and finally billing, collecting and recognizing the right amount of revenue for services provided.” Andy continued, saying that recent dashboards have been built for resource managers to automate demand and capacity planning and service revenue forecasting and assist financial analysts in managing deferred revenue and revenue leakage.

By successfully integrating Einstein into their ERP system for PS organizations, FinancialForce helps clients find new ways to reduce revenue leakage and preserve margin. Relying on AI-based insights for each phase of a PS engagement delivered a 20% increase in Customer Lifetime Value according to a FinancialForce customer. And by combining FinancialForce and Salesforce, customers see an increased bid:win ratio of 10% or more. The following graphic illustrates how combining the capabilities of Einstein’s AI platform with FinancialForce delivers results.

How FinancialForce Is Using AI To Fight Revenue Leakage

Conclusion

FinancialForce’s model building in Einstein is based on ten years of structured and unstructured data, aggregated and anonymized, then used for in-tuning AI models. FinancialForce says these models are used as starting points or templates for AI-based products and workflows, including predict to pay.  Salesforce has also done the same for its Sales Cloud Analytics and Service Cloud Analytics. In both cases, Salesforce and FinancialForce customers benefit from best practices and recommendations based on decades of data, which should be particularly interesting considering the “black swan” nature of 2020 data for most of their customers.

6 Ways Cloud ERP Is Revolutionizing How Services Deliver Results

  • Cloud ERP is the fastest growing sector of the global ERP market with services-based businesses driving the majority of new revenue growth.
  • Legacy Services ERP providers excel at meeting professional & consulting services information needs yet often lack the flexibility and speed to support entirely new services business models.
  • Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) is quickly emerging as a must-have feature in Services-based Cloud ERP suites.

From globally-based telecommunications providers to small & medium businesses (SMBs) launching new subscription-based services, the intensity to innovate has never been stronger. Legacy Services ERP and Cloud ERP vendors are responding differently to the urgent needs their prospects and customers have with new apps and suites that can help launch new business models and ventures.

Services-based Cloud ERP providers are reacting by accelerating improvements to Professional Services Automation (PSA), Financials, and questioning if their existing Human Capital Management (HCM) suite can scale now and in the future. Vertical industry specialization is a must-have in many services businesses as well.  Factoring all these customer expectations and requirements along with real-time responsiveness into a roadmap deliverable in 12 months or less is daunting.  Making good on the promises of ambitious roadmaps that includes biannual release cycles is how born-in-the-Cloud ERP providers will gain new customers including winning many away from legacy ERP providers who can’t react as fast.

The following key takeaways are based on ongoing discussions with global telecommunications providers, hosters and business & professional services providers actively evaluating Cloud ERP suites:

  • Roadmaps that reflect a biyearly release cadence complete with user experience upgrades are the new normal for Cloud ERP providers. Capitalizing on the strengths of the Salesforce platform makes this much easier to accomplish than attempting to create entirely new releases every six months based on unique code lines. FinancialForceKenandy and Sage have built their Cloud ERP suites on the Salesforce platform specifically for this reason. Of the three, only FinancialForce has provided detailed product roadmaps that specifically call out support for evolving services business models, multiple user interface (UI) refreshes and new features based on customer needs. FinancialForce is also one of the only Cloud ERP providers to publish their Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) already to support their current and next generation user interfaces.
  • Cloud ERP leaders are collaborators in the creation of new APIs with their cloud platform provider with a focus on analytics, integration and real-time application response. Overcoming the challenges of continually improving platform-based applications and suites need to start with strong collaboration around API development. FinancialForce’s decision to hire Tod Nielsen, former Executive Vice President, Platform at Salesforce as their CEO in January of this year reflects how important platform integration and an API-first integration strategy is to compete in the Cloud ERP marketplace today. Look for FinancialForce to have a break-out year in the areas of platform and partner integration.
  • Analytics designed into the platform so customers can create real-time dashboards and support the services opportunity-to-revenue lifecycle. Real-time data is the fuel that gets new service business models off the ground. When a new release of a Cloud ERP app is designed, it has to include real-time Application Programming Interface (API) links to its cloud platform so customers can scale their analytics and reporting to succeed. What’s most important about this from a product standpoint is designing in the scale to flex and support an entire opportunity-to-revenue lifecycle.
  • Having customer & partner councils involved in key phases of development including roadmap reviews, User Acceptance Testing (UAT) and API beta testing are becoming common.  There’s a noticeable difference in Cloud ERP apps and suites that have gone through UAT and API beta testing outside of engineering.  Customers find areas where speed and responsiveness can be improved and steps saved in getting workflows done. Beta testing APIs with partners and customers forces them to mature faster and scale further than if they had been tested in isolation, away from the market. FinancialForce in services and IQMS in manufacturing are two ERP providers who are excelling in this area today and their apps and suites show it.
  • New features added to the roadmap are prioritized by revenue potential for customers first with billing, subscriptions, and pricing being the most urgent. Building Cloud ERP apps and suites on a platform free up development time to solve challenging, complex customer problems. Billing, subscriptions, and pricing are the frameworks many services businesses are relying on to start new business models and fine-tune existing ones. Cloud ERP vendors who prioritize these have a clear view of what matters most to prospects and customers.
  • Live and build apps by the mantra “own the process, own the market”. Configure-Price-Quote (CPQ) and Quote-to-Cash (QTC) are two selling processes services and manufacturing companies rely on for revenue daily and struggle with. Born-in-the-cloud CPQ and QTC competitors on the Salesforce platform have the fastest moving roadmaps and release cadences of any across the platform’s broad ecosystem. The most innovative Services-focused Cloud ERP providers look to own opportunity-to-revenue with the same depth and expertise as the CPQ and QTC competitors do.
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