Finance and Sales: How to Align Goals and Priorities to Drive Growth An AchieveNEXT Briefing


Powered by the unique combination of Peer Learning Networks and integrated Talent Development and Performance Solutions , AchieveNEXT is a learning and development ecosystem that provides executives, teams, and enterprises with benchmarking, insights, and solutions to achieve next level growth. Learn more at ABOUT NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF SALES PROFESSIONALS The National Association of Sales Professionals empowers and connects influencers, sales professionals, and industry experts globally. We set the standard for sales c ertification and training by supporting people to create long term success in the rapidly evolving world of sales. Learn more at


Thomas A. Stewart Chief Knowledge Officer AchieveNEXT

Ed Wallace Managing Director, Human Capital Practice AchieveNEXT Christopher McCoy Vice President of Business Development NASP Special thanks to Matt Cockayne and Nithish Raja

After a year disrupted by pandemic and amid signs of an exceptionally strong economic rebound, the CFOs of emerging and middle market enterprises say growth is their number-one priority (Source: AchieveNEXT 2021 Sentiment Study). They are ready to examine all the avenues of growth: Innovation, new markets, share of wallet, new customer segments, and acquisitions. Ultimately however, when it comes to growth all roads pass through the sales department. To achieve the next level of performance, finance and sales leaders will need to partner more closely than ever to reach a shared understanding of what growth strategy to pursue, which sales capabilities matter most, and which activities to fund. To help CFOs and sales leaders align, AchieveNEXT and the National Association of Sales Professionals partnered to study how leaders from two functions see their partnership and priorities. A survey of more than 80 CFOs and sales leaders conducted in April 2021 looked at the interaction between the CFO and the CSO, their status in their enterprises, their relationship, and their priorities. Here are the key findings 1. The CFO and sales lead are usually organizational peers. Chief Financial Officers report to the CEO more than 90% of the time; a handful report to a Chief Operating Officer. Among sales leaders, 82% report directly to the top. In very few cases—2% in our sample—the head of sales reports to the CFO. The fact that they are organizational peers does not, of course, ensure that they have equal say in decisions affecting company priorities. In some middle market and emerging enterprises, our experience shows, the CFO is the chief executive’s right hand, while in others the finance leader plays a less strategic role, and sales and operations executives have more sway. 2. Substantial majorities of CFOs and sales leaders describe their relationship as collaborative and constructive. Nearly two-thirds of CFOs (64%) say they routinely go to their sales leader for collaboration and decision-making. A slightly smaller number of sales leaders—58%--say the same. In general, CFOs have a rosier view of their relationship with the head of sales than vice versa. A significant minority of the latter, 21%, say they do not have a strong relationship with the CFO, while just 9% of CFOs say their relationship with their sales counterpart is not strong.

3. Both leaders worry about the impact of COVID-19 on selling capabilities and forecasts. A majority of respondents—52%--express concern about their sales team’s ability to meet or exceed sales quotas during the next 12 months due to continued social distancing, reduced travel, and customer visit restrictions. This anxiety comes despite the fact that both foresee little or no change in the mix of inside sales, outside sales, and sales through channel partners. Sales leaders are more confident about meeting targets than CFOs, but only slightly: 50% of sales executives express concern, compared to 53% of CFOs. 4. Finance and sales leaders have different beliefs about which customers will provide sales growth and about where to invest to support the sales team. The most significant disagreements we found have to do with likely sources of sales growth—i.e., which customers to focus on—and the best investments to make to reach and engage those customers. Sources of revenue growth: Finance leaders believe the richest opportunity for revenue growth comes from increasing sales to existing customers—a share-of-wallet strategy. Thirty-six percent of them believe expansion with existing customer should be top priority, followed by entering new markets (21%) and new products and service offerings (15%). Sales leaders look for pots of gold elsewhere — 29% prioritize new markets, 26% existing customers, 16% enhancing efficiency or sales automation.

Which areas provide the richest opportunity for sales growth?



Expanding with existing customers

Expanding with existing customers


29% 26%


Entering new markets

Entering new markets

Enhancing Sales automation

New products or services


29% 16%




Investment in the sales function. Sales and finance leaders have strikingly different priorities for investment in the function. Asked how they would invest a hypothetically doubled sales budget, sales leaders emphasize human factors: expanding the sales force, increasing training for sales reps, and increasing incentive pay. Technology investments (analytics and CRM) lag well behind. CFOs would invest first in data analytics, second in adding reps, and third in training. Increasing incentive pay is the lever they would least like to pull.

If you could double your sales department budget, how would you allocate those funds?





Add new sales team members


Increase incentive pay structures



Upgrade CRM



Update data analytics

8 9

Increase training of current sales team


Investment in marketing. Sales and finance also diverge when asked how they would spend a hypothetically doubled marketing budget. Here finance leaders emphasize investments that would target prospects better: analytics and market research top their list, followed by investing in marketing talent. Sales leaders would put most emphasis on increasing the number of leads in their pipeline, investing first market research, second in social media, and third in talent. Sales leaders value investment in data analytics least.

If you could double your marketing budget, how would you allocate those funds?



Enhance market research





Increase paid marketing spend


Upgrade data analytics

12 13

Upgrade marketing technology




Upgrade marketing talent

Conclusion The best sales and finance leaders have a strong, supportive peer relationship. Ensuring that the relationship stays strong is the best way to address their natural disagreements about strategy and resource allocation. The data here suggest that sales leaders prioritize people and pay while CFOs place the highest value on process and analytics. In fact, of course, each complements the other. Each will be the right priority some of the time but not all the time. So honest goals, frank collaboration, and a belief in the bedrock value and commitment to their own relationship will help these leaders make the right calls for themselves and their enterprises.

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