SaaS Brief

A Unicorn’s Path to Predictable Forecasting – The Expel Story

For many startups, becoming a unicorn is the dream! And we will all agree that living the dream oftentimes require a lot of work planning and laying the groundwork. In the famous words of Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail”. This is especially true for businesses that are proactive about setting themselves up for success by having the right tools and systems in place to make more informed decisions. The accuracy of this fact is further reinforced in an interview with Expel, the 2021 Sage Intacct, SaaS Industry Customer of the Year. Zach Blaine, CPA and Corporate Controller, reflects on Expel’s journey from unscalable disparate systems and Google sheets to the serenity and efficiency of the ideal FinOps tech stack that leverages Sage Intacct.

Expel has an amazing story to tell on making the leap from reactive to predictive – and using business intelligence to change their fate.  We have had success stories over the past year reinforcing the value of accurately budgeting and forecasting.” Zach said. “For example, earlier this year, our early leading indicators identified we may not achieve one of the financial goals we had set for ourselves. With this forward visibility and knowing the levers we could pull, we changed our destiny and demonstrated we can predictably hit our numbers.”

What’s fascinating about Expel’s path to scaling for growth and building predictability and consistency is their TRAAC to getting there. If you are part of our inner circle (as you should be), you already know what we mean by TRAAC, but if you aren’t, it’s the value you get from having the most complete FinOps tech stack with:

  1. Improved Timelines
  2. In-Depth Reporting
  3. Intuitive Automation
  4. Guaranteed Accuracy
  5. Better Controls.

Here’s a full picture of Expel’s TRAAC since they switched to Sage Intacct’s cloud accounting and financial management system:

Timeline

Timing is everything! And this was especially true at the time Expel decided to switch to Sage Intacct. “We were using a combination of Xero and Google Sheets and we were closing our books in about 3 weeks. The value of our reporting was relatively low because the information would grow stale by the time folks looked at it," noted Zach.

“Implementing a strong ERP like Sage Intacct and with a continuous close process, we were able to bring our monthly close down to 3 days providing an opportunity for our leadership team to see not only the bumps in the road ahead but also the opportunities coming," he added.

Making investments in the right systems and at the right time cannot be overemphasized because, if you don’t optimize your close process early, it becomes difficult to control the complexities as they come and next thing you know, you are focusing on catching up rather than providing information to grow the business.

Reporting

There is an old Chinese proverb that says, “dig the well before you are thirsty”. In essence, invest in the right systems that will scale with you as you grow and provide you with actionable insights to inform business decisions.

One of the biggest risks a company could face is a lack of visibility into their financial data. In fact, one bad decision based on incomplete or inaccurate data could significantly impact the future of a growing company. In our interview with Zach, he shared that at the beginning of Expel’s financial transformation journey, financial reporting was slow and part of the reason was a lot of their data lived outside of their ERP.

“We were manually gathering information from different systems across the organization and managing complex formulas in excel to track revenue, deferred revenue and even our ARR.” He further emphasized, Yikes! I hated to touch it in fear that I would make irreconcilable mistakes, let alone try to manipulate it to pull the type of data our leadership was asking for.”

A timely close is nothing without rich reporting. They come hand in hand and when done right, are bound to provide you with robust insights that help you make better and more informed decisions quicker. Since switching to Sage Intacct and integrating a number of different systems with Intacct, Expel has been able to mature and build robust reporting creating intuitive and investor-ready reports.

Automate

For many successful finance leaders, there comes a point where you need to marry up your automation with your reporting and timeline. Automation reduces the effort of manual, repetitive tasks that need to be performed frequently, thereby reducing the risk of human error, which invariably helps to increase productivity and efficiency.

Expel places a high importance on automation alongside their need for sophisticated reporting especially as they expand their go-to-market efforts across multiple customer segments, adding indirect sales motions and launching internationally. Zach noted, “As we have grown, the number and types of customer transactions have increased dramatically. We implemented automation allowing us to mature from managing a handful of contracts each quarter that made forecasting a challenge – one delayed sale could make the difference between exceeding or missing our target- to supporting higher volume omni-channel sales efforts, supporting predicable forecasting, while accessing a bigger part of the market. We knew we needed a system that could support this increased scale, and by automating our Order to Cash process we can have rich, timely reporting to inform business decisions.”

To make this possible, Expel purchased advanced CRM capabilities that when integrated with its CRM in his own words “made a world of a difference for us at Expel. Our ability to sync all the contracts over from the CRM with just a few clicks and be able to report on them within 3 days could only have been possible with this level of automation.

Expel believes the value of automation doesn’t stop there. He goes on to describe what they have done differently with automated subscription billing and creating the ability to support innovative pricing and  billing models.  “The automation allows us more flexibility than we had before supporting each of our product offerings and meeting the needs of each of our customer segments. We were able to expand and add flexibility into the way we could price and bill.”  He added, “the automation doesn’t end with billing and sending contracts over, it extends all the way through to revenue recognition and reporting. We are now able to queue up and record all our revenue and automate our KPI tracking as contracts come in to capture the full customer lifecycle”. 

All this planning allowed Expel to build things right.  As the different product lines come over from sales orders in the CRM, ASC606 revenue rules are automatically calculated at a push of the button, including changes from contract amendments.

Accuracy

As Expel gets bigger, expectations from our stakeholder and investors are also bigger and there's more people we need to share accurate information with because the decisions are a lot more complicated and interwoven across departments. Zach shared that Expel has confidence in the data being presented to understand and analyze issues or spot opportunities for growth because “we are leveraging Intacct and the processes, people and systems, we have put into place in and around it.”

Growing businesses understand that with each round of funding, investors typically expect more maturity as it relates to your budget and your forecast. Can you do what you say you're going to do? We're going to give you X amount of runway and then you're going to have to meet or exceed expectations.

Controls

For successful businesses, the key to managing risk effectively lies in developing and enforcing effective financial controls. Controls are critical in that they need to be tight enough to support and protect through more stringent audits as your business becomes more complex with greater risks of fraud and data inaccuracy.

Zach shared, “Expel has been focused on speeding up our close, allowing us more bandwidth to look ahead and support our operational needs for scale. Now, we have more time to focus on what controls are right for us, so we are ready to support our various strategic alternatives. With the Sage Intacct SaaS Contract module, we leverage the compliance checklist to document our review and demonstrate a key control to our auditors. The ability to enforce segregation of duties, capture our review through audit trails, and also allow visibility to our auditors through read-only, limited roles to reduce the lift of the audit are kind of the three big areas that I think that Sage Intacct is certainly making our life easier.”

In so many ways, the results speak for themselves. Since switching to the most complete FinOps tech stack with Sage Intacct, Expel has been able to achieve incredible results. With their TRAAC, they have automated subscription billing and revenue recognition, grown their transaction volume by > 100%, supported new pricing/billing models, raised strong rounds of funding, introduced predictability, and they are enhancing compliance. Even as this volume and complexity grew, they reduced their close days from 3 weeks to 3 days.

What results are you looking to achieve? Do you have disparate tools that do not integrate seamlessly? Are you struggling to recognize revenue and shorten the close? Overcome these inefficiencies by building your SaaS finance tech stack with Sage Intacct.

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