How to streamline operations in a fast-growing company.
How can a company on a rapid growth trajectory create systems and processes to overcome the operational challenges that accompany and, indeed, threaten fast growth? As a veteran finance and operations executive who has worked with many SaaS startups, Meir Rotenberg has been on the front lines of this effort. He currently leads financial and revenue operations for Spiff, a sales commissions software company. Drawing on his extensive startup experience and engineering background, Meir shared some operational strategies during a recent Twenty-minute tales from the frontlines of finance talk hosted by Airbase.
Over the course of his career, Meir has learned that operational efficiency relies on systems smoothly working together.
Operations unites the areas of marketing, sales, and finance and payroll, so smooth communications between each of those areas can determine a company’s success as it scales.
“You want a situation where everything is flowing and working together very well, so you’re empowering your team, and you’re having quick, clean, and smooth closes and audits,” he says. Achieving that level of efficiency across departments comes down to using the best tools, says Meir.
How to choose the right tools for maximum efficiency.
When evaluating software systems, teams must consider the financial cost, the time involved in the implementation, and potential for easy adoption by the team. They should also consider how a system will scale with the company, without the need to add new staff. What works well with a small company won’t necessarily adapt as the company grows, so always look ahead when making decisions regarding software platforms.
Finding the best software systems can take some trial and error, but to save time and reduce negative experiences, Meir suggests drawing on your network and asking peers, such as the participants in the Off the Ledge Slack finance group, for feedback. He recommends really taking the time to learn about their experiences with a product, not just whether or not they would recommend it.
“Vendors will sell you on the automation, but it’s also really important to dig in to determine if it handles all of your specific use cases. It’s important to dedicate the time to figure it out. Really think about how systems sync with each other and what happens when the sync doesn’t work,” he advises.
That includes considering the “edge cases” that lie outside of the norm. Meir describes a situation at a former company where a few subscriptions turned out to be outliers that couldn’t be processed automatically. As a result, he had to process every single subscription manually.
The importance of automation.
Automating processes allows information to flow through all operational areas in real time. Meir points to marketing as an example of an organizational area that requires multiple systems to be coordinated. “You might have data flowing into your marketing system from your website, from LinkedIn, from chat boxes,” he says. All of these data sources must sync perfectly in order to manage communications, since sales communications typically follow a set progression.
When these processes run smoothly behind the scenes, team members can focus on actions that drive revenue. “Something I’ve been working on a lot the past year is automating processes,” says Meir. “I think the most important thing is that you’re empowering your team. Data entry is limited to what is absolutely necessary.”
Meir adds that smooth automation can’t happen without clean data. “If you can trust the data, you can automate more processes.” The challenge for finance teams is that all kinds of data must be booked by accounting from multiple sources, and it all should flow automatically into the ERP. Irregularities in data disrupt this carefully orchestrated movement of information.
Another advantage of automation is that processes can be programmed to include all source documents as they are booked. For Meir, this is a must-have element for efficient finance teams. “When our auditors are looking for backup for all of the journal entries, everything is ready,” he says. “Suddenly, I’ve saved myself a month of work for audit.”
Meir adds that a good spend management system is an excellent example of how automation can save hours of work at the month-end close.
“If you have month-end expense reporting, it becomes a constant thing where you are chasing after people to submit expense reports, and then your close is delayed by a couple of weeks,” he says.
“If you have a system where you can automatically record all of your categorizations for expenses, and you can make sure they get approved beforehand, you can speed up your close process, and you’re no longer the bully who is chasing people.”
As an added bonus, finance teams can use a spend management system as a tool to control spend, and this adoption can relieve employees from worrying about reimbursement policies because enforcement is built into the workflow.
“I think a really good spend management system can be a lifesaver for anyone in a role where you are wearing a lot of hats,” Meir concludes. “You want to be empowering people, not being that annoying person.”
Helping finance teams to excel.
A streamlined and effective operational infrastructure enables finance team members to play an active role in accelerating a company’s growth. “If you can get all these things in place and working smoothly, suddenly you don’t have to focus on this, and instead you can focus on strategic areas, and avoid headcount growth in areas that aren’t going to drive revenue,” says Meir.
Efficient systems make it possible for a finance professional to cover many functions, which “really makes you shine, because you effectively end up playing that CFO role. It really makes you look good to the board, to the business. As someone who can think about systems and manage those, you can scale and focus on more interesting things that are strategic in nature.”
You can watch the full presentation here.
Airbase offers a one platform solution to manage all non-payroll spend. It provides oversight and control over spending with real-time reporting and automatic syncing directly to your general ledger. Control all payments – physical cards, virtual cards, ACH, and checks – from one place. Close faster. Empower employees. Control spend.