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Over the past six years, Arena Solutions has grown from a venture-backed, single office SaaS company to a larger international company with multiple offices. The company’s business model is built around annual subscriptions, with some seasonality. But up until six years ago, everything was done on paper, says Mike Etheridge, VP of finance. The company was handicapped by manual processes, Etheridge says. Revenue planning, cash flow planning, and overall operational oversight was a beast to manage.
“It was a lot more work that was focused on data entry, versus actually managing or running the business at a higher level,” he explains.
Implementing automation across the sales and billing process was a game changer. And in the process, the benefits of automation enabled the company to help their customers stand strong in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Facing new challenges
As automation relieves account managers from time-consuming paperwork, they’re spending more time connecting with customers, having strategic discussions with them, and understanding where opportunities are to grow into accounts or to look at new services.
This has been essential in the current environment, allowing the company to implement a cross-functional team to engage with the customers that have been impacted by the COVID-19 outbreak.
As a group they’re able to engage with these customers, and work with them to make sure that they’re supporting them in an appropriate fashion in a mindful way, as their clients struggle with new challenges in the face of the pandemic. It has enabled them to understand the implications of the outbreak on their own company’s payment and renewal timing, and prepare them for the impact downstream, while still being flexible for the customers who need that support.
The company-changing impact of automation
Automation hasn’t just changed the way the company manages internal processes. It hasn’t just transformed how the company connects with customers, and continues to evolve in the industry. And it has helped employees at every level grow in their roles and has broken down silos.
“We’re not spending all our time on back office paperwork now,” he says. “All of the tools and process changes that we’ve put in place have helped to triangulate into a more agile business with more visibility and transparency.”
Company-wide, the automation project has touched every department in the company. Every budget owner is now familiar with and has agency over their numbers, Etheridge says. They know what’s going into their plans and assumptions, and what’s actually happening in real time. That ability is especially critical for the sales and marketing groups to make sure they’re always being mindful of customer acquisition costs, what the pipeline looks like, and how the upcoming renewal base is shaping up.
Automation has enabled the company to grow the number of contracts handled and processed with the same or similar level of staffing. It has cut the amount of time it takes from an order to getting a bill out by about 50%. DSO (days sales outstanding) is significantly improved because stakeholders have been able to create a better, more strategic and personal relationship with customers. And then that reduced DSO has helped improve positive cash flow. After engagement, review, and oversight from budget owners, all the books are closed and reported out to the board within 10 days of every month.
“It has freed up time on the back end, which allows us to spend time on more customer-focused or more strategic level projects,” Etheridge says.
Implementing a SaaS strategy
So for a SaaS company to be successful, automation is critical — but it’s not a plug-and-play strategy.
“The capabilities of these tools are important, but express buy-in on a plan to go live, and tactically carving out the right amount of time to get a project done properly, that’s critical,” Etheridge explains. “And then once you are live, then you can focus on getting the best out of the tools.”
A successful deployment requires engagement across multiple departments to outline key business requirements. New tools will interrupt old ways of processing orders and change business workflows. Planning and prioritizing around those business requirements helps reduce the disruptive impact on daily work.
“For us, it was six to nine months to get up and running, it involved a lot of people and departments, and it took a lot of dedicated time and mindshare to get us to that finish line,” he says. “There was a lot of rolling with the punches and a lot of things to rethink as we went through, but now we’re enjoying the tools and the benefit that we’re getting out of them.”
To learn more about what it takes to plan and launch an automation strategy, how to choose the right technology and business partners to implement your design, and how to keep scaling, don’t miss this VB Live event.
- Seven mistakes to avoid when building an agile B2B subscription billing model
- Five steps required to align the team on your subscription financial processes
- Three tips for choosing the technology stack that will help you grow
- Mike Etheridge, VP Finance, Arena Solutions
- David Appel, Head of Software & SaaS, Sage Intacct
- Stewart Rogers, Analyst At Large, VentureBeat