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How Financial Analytics Can Answer 4 Key Strategic Business Questions

Joseph Garafalo
Joseph Garafalo
Posted on
March 11, 2021
Updated on
June 18, 2021
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The most strategic finance functions don’t just report on the numbers—they dig deep into the “why” behind those numbers to help solve tough business challenges. But 86% of finance leaders aren’t getting the value from financial analytics tools to play that strategic role. Here’s how you can change that.

Eighty-six percent of senior finance leaders admit they don’t get much value from financial analytics. The problem is that these tools are supposed to improve your forecasting and make it easier to answer strategic business questions. But instead, they often only generate backward-looking reports on financial performance, basic visualizations, and reactive ad hoc analyses.

To get real value out of financial analytics, you need to focus less on reporting and more on the variance in your numbers. With actionable insight into how your numbers change month to month—and, more importantly, why they change—you can proactively answer the toughest strategic business questions (like the four listed here).

1. How Can We Shorten Our Sales Cycle to Maximize Profitability?

Financial analytics can give you insights into the speed and throughput of your pipeline. Those insights help you identify specific opportunities to accelerate the sales cycle.

The right financial analytics system doesn’t just show you that the opportunities in your pipeline decreased compared to the previous week—it helps you understand the “why” behind that variance in your sales cycle. Without financial analytics, you’d have to rely on reporting in a CRM like Salesforce or HubSpot for insights into customer statuses, which tells you part of the story, but not the whole picture.

These systems do a good job of telling you what the pipeline looks like at any point. But they don’t give you the historical context that reveals why the numbers are changing. If you want to uncover opportunities to shorten the sales cycle, you need to use financial analytics to study how the pipeline changes over the course of a week or month.

Sales pipeline report in Mosaic

Time series data for your pipeline can help you understand when:

  • You’re spending too much time giving demos to unqualified leads.
  • There’s too much lag between when a prospect submits a demo request and when a rep sets the meeting.
  • You need to realign your hiring plan and revenue goals with your sales rep ramp.

The right financial analytics setup can help you identify issues like these that might otherwise fly under the radar. And once you do, you can collaborate with your VP of sales to come up with solutions that will maximize profitability by helping them focus on what they do best—closing deals and hitting revenue goals.

2. What Changes Can We Make to Our Business Model to Maximize Profit Margins?

Analyzing the variance in your costs and forecasting how they’ll change at scale can help you identify if/when your business model needs to change.

Executives outside of finance might see that the numbers look strong on the surface and that profit margins are meeting goals. But financial analysis can uncover the variance in the numbers and show that the business model won’t work as the business scales.

By flagging these issues early, CFOs and their teams can work with business leaders to proactively change their business models and make better decisions that maximize long-term profit margins.

I saw this play out firsthand while leading finance operations at Palantir. There were two business model challenges that may have gone unnoticed without deep insight into why our profit margins were changing month-over-month:

  • Hosting Costs: Usage-based cloud pricing with AWS could have crippled the business because of the sheer volume of data new customers would introduce. Highlighting the deeper variance in our profit margins helped make the case to shift to a more predictable AWS pricing model. Profit margins dropped in the short-term but increased dramatically over the long-term.
  • Customer Success Costs: Part of our business model was to assign field service reps (FSRs) to each new customer. Sending these highly technical contractors with government-level security clearance to new customer sites helped ensure product success. But it was incredibly expensive. We changed customer onboarding to eliminate the high-cost FSR approach, which increased our margins and made our cost structure more consistent.

Pricing and costs are the value drivers that impact business model profitability. Using financial data analytics to identify ways to change them and maximize profit margins will position your team as a more strategic finance function.

3. How Can We Hit 120%+ Net Revenue Retention with Our Customer Base?

Analyzing the variance in customer acquisition costs (CAC), lifetime value (LTV), and other customer data can help you identify the scaling mechanism for adding new customers, but maximizing net revenue retention—will ensure customers you sign today will pay more for your products and services next year and beyond.

If your customers are between 90% and 110% net retention after a year or two instead of 120%+, that’s a sign that it may be time to update your pricing model.

One way to track variance in net revenue retention is by creating a customer cohort heat map. Your financial analytics tool should be able to show you a clear visualization of net revenue retention month-over-month and year-over-year. You can use that data to look for commonalities between long-standing accounts that deliver flat or declining revenue.

Retention report in Mosaic

If your customers are between 90% and 110% net revenue retention after a year or two instead of 120%+, that’s a sign that it may be time to update your pricing model. You need to find the pricing factor that will help scale revenue and maximize LTV.

One company that has done a good job of figuring out its net revenue retention scaling factor is Fivetran. Their pricing model is built around “monthly active rows” in their database. So, as their customers’ data streaming needs increase over time, so does Fivetran’s revenue. Taking this unique consumption-based approach to pricing instead of offering standard contracts has been critical to the company’s success.

There’s no one-size-fits-all way to increase net revenue retention. But when you have a financial analytics system that provides deep insight into the variance in your numbers, it’s easier to find the scaling mechanism for your business.

4. How Does Our Marketing Spend Convert to Cash Collections?

By measuring marketing spend against cash collections, you’re able to align sales and marketing on ROI. Instead of having marketing wonder why sales isn’t closing leads and sales wonder why marketing keeps sending low-quality leads, financial analytics provides deep insight into what’s working and what isn’t.

Measuring revenue attribution is a common challenge for marketing teams, which is why collaborating with finance can be so valuable. Financial analytics can help identify which ad channels provide the best possible CAC. It can show how additional marketing headcount impacts revenue. And it can help show whether or not marketing agency relationships are worth the monthly investment.

Tracking variance in all of this marketing data will facilitate productive conversations between your department and the marketing lead. Don’t just come to the table looking to cut costs. Help connect marketing strategies to overarching business goals and act as a trusted advisor in strategic planning.

Building this cross-functional relationship will help marketing optimize its spending, ensure sales gets a higher-quality pipeline of leads, and drive revenue increases for your business.

Financial Analytics Helps You Question the Status Quo

Finance’s strategic role in the business is to constantly look for ways to increase efficiency—to question the status quo and find new ways to drive growth. That job gets a lot easier when you have the right financial analytics software at your disposal.

Mosaic gives you advanced analytics and accessible financial business intelligence that improve planning and enable better business decision-making.

It connects your disparate systemsERP, CRM, HR system, payment systems, and more—to give you real-time insight into your financial data. It provides a flexible canvas that makes it easy to collaborate with anyone in the business around your financial numbers. And it gives you an at-a-glance view of your company’s financial status, allowing you to spend more time thinking strategically and less time on backward-looking reporting.

With Mosaic, you won’t be part of the 86% of senior finance leaders who aren’t getting value from financial analytics. You’ll be creating competitive advantages with your strategic insights.

Want to learn how it works? Request access to Mosaic today and start experimenting with the financial analytics capabilities.

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