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Simplicient Controlling 5 – Why Is Sales Analysis so Difficult?

Systemic sales analysis requires many skills: financial extrapolation know-how, business sector knowledge etc. A controller without time series regression analysis is regarded nowadays by CFOs with a bit of an eye brow raised – even if the CFOs themselves are not very comfortable with the topic.
A recent sales analyst job description lists several eliminating requirements:
– advanced MS Excel knowledge;
– detailed ERP know-how;
– at least x years experience in sales controlling and, interestingly
– statistical / time series analysis knowledge.
Certainly there are many sales analysts out there that meet these criteria?
Do not hurry that direction. Let us take the above in more details: advanced MS Excel can mean many things, from pivot tables to VBA; ERPs are also varied and unequal in implementation quality; x years of experience can be spent doing low level data clean-ups; and anybody can read a statistics cheat sheet before an interview.
So these are not maybe the real differentiation factors.
Based on my decades-long controlling experience, the problems with the sales analytics quality lie in 2 factors:
* the systems (ERPs and Business Intelligence pieces of software alike) quality and
* the data quality.
My financial management experience shows that most financial analysts and controllers will usually perform a good-to-terrific job if the above are Ok. Controllers are normally 4-8 years higher education persons, with practical experience and exposure to challenging business scenarios. They also have a limited capacity to overcome the lacking in the a.m. factors:
1) Systems Quality
Many ERPs are in the market for decades, yet are modernizing very slowly. And most of them are notoriously difficult to tailor / reprogram. A new SAP report in an implementation can take anywhere between 10 and 50 hours of work. Multiply this with the lawyerly / doctorly hourly rates the SAP consultants ask for. Then add the internal headaches… Almost all ERPs are in the same stage – over-engineered and hard to tailor: Oracle, IScala… you name it.

SAP screen shot simplicient controlling

2) Data Quality
Any controller worth her salt will tell you stories about battles won by cleaning the sales data. From the ERPs themselves, where all should be shiningly aligned. The ugly truth is that in most cases, the sales data captured at source (via CRMs as, via internally developed invoicing systems or via ERPs as SAP, Oracle or IScala) is far from perfect. Users key in incomplete data. Hierarchies are not or mis-maintained. Data fields are not updated. Upgrades or system changes erase realms of data. And the ultimate users barely give any attention to details that might be critical (when was the last time you thought about replacement cycles?). Blame it on the organizational complexity or on the entropy – sales data is “dirty” and by the time the controller realizes that, it is too late. The reports’ deadlines are awfully short and the sales analysis systems are inadequate in handling such big amounts in such short (closing) cycles. Therefore, often the business reviews are incomplete or full of assumptions.
It will be a long time before all of the above will be solved and a sales analyst’s life will become a normal one. Until then, we welcome any ideas that might improve their lives – please comment!

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