It’s that time of year. Your customers are receiving their holiday gifts of wine, food hampers, or, if they’ve really been a pain, summer sausage gift baskets. One conundrum that some account managers have is whether the size of the gift should reflect how much they spend with you this year, or if is it more reflective of how much you’re trying to get them to spend with you in the coming year.

At this same time, sales leadership and the finance team are also working out sales targets for the coming year, as well as the travel and entertainment budgets that your sales team will be allocated in order to hit those targets. A considerable challenge when it comes to planning your team’s T&E budgets, is that it’s often difficult to accurately determine how much each sales team should receive. Most attempts to approach this in an analytical manner rely on crude calculations based on each individual’s targets and the size of their territory, which can often lead to budgets being too large or small. As a result, some sales teams may find themselves prematurely out of budget and unable to make potentially revenue-generating visits to prospects and customers. At the same time, others may have unnecessarily large budgets, which may encourage waste or simply be left unspent.

Related: How to Ensure Travel and Expense Policies and Processes Support Your Sales Organization

One of the key reasons for this challenge is the difficulty in accurately analyzing and correlating sales team members’ spend and the results that they deliver. While it’s certainly possible to make approximate calculations based on overall sales and expense data, getting any more granular, actionable, data is very difficult. This is because the two data repositories – the CRM solution and the expense management software – aren’t integrated, and it’s therefore almost impossible to glean any meaningful insight without downloading and manually cross-referencing data points. For example, while you can see which individual has the highest or lowest average cost of sale, unless you can specifically track which expenses and expense types are allocated to which prospect or customer, and what the outcome was, there is no way to see which prospects/accounts or expense types were responsible for the most spend.

So, if one of your team spends a lot of their time and money taking their prospects and customers out for expensive steak dinners, do you know if these actually drive increased revenue? Or do they just allow your team to improve their appreciation of fine wines and dry-aged porterhouse?  Making sense of more nuanced data is even more difficult. What expense types deliver the most return on investment? Are there team-wide or individual trends for the value generated by certain expenses, such as meals? Is there, for example, an optimum number of times that your team members need to visit a prospect in order to close a deal? If it’s too low, you could be missing opportunities, and if it’s too high, you may get diminishing returns from the spend.

Related: Do You Know the True Cost of Sales?

In order to make meaningful assessments of what spend impacts revenues the most – and least – the first step is for companies to integrate their sales and expense solutions, so data can flow back and forth between them. This enables the sales team to allocate each expense item (a meal, flight, hotel room or gift, for example) to both a company and an account or sales opportunity. When entering an expense item, the individual can choose which company, individual, and opportunity to allocate it to. Bringing this data into an interactive visual dashboard makes it easy for managers to identify patterns and outliers. This spend information can then be analyzed against the revenue created by each opportunity, and sales leadership can then obtain granular insight into which activities generate revenue, and which don’t.

In a way, this takes us back to the holiday gifts at the beginning. By analyzing the relationship between a expense spend and the results that it can deliver, be it a case of wine or the cost of any account manager visiting a long-established customer, sales leaders can assess how beneficial it is, and then increase or decrease spend moving forward as necessary. This data can then be further extrapolated to make decisions about additional spend and activities. If managers can see that a certain client hasn’t had expenses allocated to them in several months – such as an in-person visit – they can flag this to sales or account managers, to ensure a trip is booked soon.

With respect to sales budget planning, this detailed insight can also be helping both during the initial process and on an ongoing basis. Should budgets need to be adjusted over the course of the year, poorly-informed decisions could lead to across-the-board cuts being made, potentially impacting the team’s ability to close sales. If the sales team’s travel and entertainment is seen as a cost that needs to be minimized, instead of an investment that needs to managed effectively to deliver the most value, it can have a serious impact on an organization’s ability to grow.

So, next time you’re deciding if your customer should go on your naughty or nice list when it comes to their holiday gift, maybe you should take a more analytical look at how much you spend – it could pay dividends in the long run.


Our choice of Chrome River EXPENSE was made in part due to the very user-friendly interface, easy configurability, and the clear commitment to impactful customer service – all aspects in which Chrome River was the clear winner. While Chrome River is not as large as some of the other vendors we considered, we found that to be a benefit and our due diligence showed that it could support us as well as any large players in the space, along with a personalized level of customer care. Sally Abella, Director of Corporate Travel Harman International
We are excited to be able to enforce much more stringent compliance to our expense guidelines and significantly enhance our expense reporting and analytics. By automating these processes, we will be able to free up AP time formerly spent on manual administrative tasks, and enhance the role by being much more strategic. Ben Zastrow Zelle

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