Many companies – even small companies – have communications problems between their finance and sales departments. Even if each “department” consists of only one person, they still have a hard time talking to each other. The problem can be even worse at smaller companies that don’t have sophisticated feedback or evaluation mechanisms and can’t afford expensive consultants to help them work through the problem.
The finance guys see the salespeople as spendthrifts who are going to bankrupt the company if they aren’t reigned in. The salespeople see the finance team as biting the hand that feed them. It’s a difficult situation that cannot be ignored by business owners. I have seen it – on more than one occasion – lead to a complete lack of cooperation, threatening the existence of the business. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Here are simple and effective ways to improve communications between your finance and sales teams.
Have natural leaders set the tone
Sometimes the people that are most able to improve communications between finance and sales aren’t the department heads. The head of finance and the head of sales each have too much riding on the outcome of any disagreement. In their minds, an act of compromise could be interpreted as a sign of weakness. This hurts their position in future disputes. In some cases this is entirely imagined but in many companies it does work this way.
Other members of each team – perhaps more junior members – have less at stake in this regard. They are usually more open to new ideas and to different types of collaboration. Having junior sales and finance employees team up can be an effective way to improve communications between teams and send a subtle but powerful message to department heads.
Use incentives that properly blend both types of goals
Setting the proper incentives for employee performance is never easy. Simple incentives may be easy to track, but they can have results that are not in the interests of the company’s long-term growth. Many times the problems in communication between finance and sales are due to each team having specific targets that do not take into account the other department’s interests. If finance is solely measured by its ability to manage costs and sales are solely measured by its ability to meet targets, then there is no good reason for communication between the two groups.
If the finance team proposes certain costs or other adjustments to the marketing and sales budgets they need to explain why other options are not viable. If the sales team disagrees with a proposed cut by finance, they need to justify their objection by presenting the opportunity cost of going through with the cuts. Both teams should then be held to their analyses during the next budget cycle.
Consider implementing LoveMachine
No, it’s not what you think. LoveMachine is an online software product that helps develop positive reinforcement and collaboration within companies. The software allows individual employees to send short “thank-you” messages (similar to Twitter) to specific employees that have helped them. Unlike a thank you e-mail, these messages are visible to the entire company. That is a key benefit of LoveMachine. It allows good deeds and good works to be publicly rewarded. Since it doesn’t rely on management, any employee can thank another directly. The paid version of the software allows companies to provide financial incentives to employees based on the recognition received through the system.