Today’s Chief Financial Officer leadership looks significantly different than 5 years ago. While the core function of the job remains to serve as a financial steward of investor capital — the breadth of strategic responsibility has evolved. Today’s CFO must bring financial leadership and guidance, and drive alignment across business units to increase operational efficiency and generate revenue growth.
The CFO's long term vision is even more critical today as they weigh the impact of COVID-induced cost cutting to recession proof their business against the ability to invest, grow, and drive predictable revenue. That means operating plans, investments, and technologies must be agile and deliver value immediately.
“The job of the CFO is to provide clarity to the business, with financial context,” says Elisa de Martel, CFO at Carbon, a 3D printing company based in Redwood City. “I need to make sure we’re investing in the right places and that people are equipped with the resources they need to deliver on the projects that are strategic for the company.”
We sat down with De Martel, who has held finance leadership roles at Apple and the UK-based car maker Peugeot before becoming CFO of Carbon, to discuss everything from her 2020 strategy to her experience collaborating with Carbons sales team for success.
How has COVID impacted your strategic priorities?
De Martel: This year has been filled with even more uncertainty than usual, which is an uncomfortable word for any finance practitioner. COVID and the uncertain economy forced us to take a step back and pressure test our operating plan, and ensure we have the right tech foundation to succeed in the new normal. We needed to ask the tough questions: “What framework and tools are absolutely necessary to support our future success? What’s the expected ROI?”
It’s also been a good reminder for us to build speed and flexibility into the planning, resource-allocation, and forecasting processes. Every tool needs to bring an immediate ROI that will help us succeed through today and what’s to come in the future.
What makes a tool essential? What are you willing to cut and what aren’t you?
De Martel: In times of crisis, it’s critical to protect your cash at all costs. So, unless it delivers immediate ROI to the company, we aren’t going to do it.
The number of technology platform offerings today is overwhelming compared to what was available 10, 15 years ago. It used to be a matter of investing in technologies to keep the lights on. The bar is much higher today. Now, we expect tools we invest in to not only keep the lights on but also deliver insights on actions we could take to support our strategic growth initiatives.
It’s important to allocate dollars in the right places. Right now we are looking to balance cash protection with future growth. But once we’ve determined that the tool will be valuable, it's important to provide the resources needed to be successful or else we are really impacting our time to value. Right now, my focus is on making a few impactful investments but making sure they are the right ones so we see the full value.
Speaking of making an impact, what are the biggest challenges you face as a CFO?
De Martel: As a CFO, you often have to make decisions without having the full picture. Often, you don’t have access to perfect information, you have to use what you have to spot trends.
Whether you’re the CFO of a startup or a public company there are times when there’s no historical data to rely on, so you’re making decisions with missing data. This is true especially for revenue, which is one of the most critical indicators of company health. I’ve found that for both private and public companies, if you can surround your revenue goals with the right people, tools, and processes, you’ll have a competitive edge.
How do sales and finance work together to align on revenue metrics and goals? What are those metrics?
De Martel: Predictability and sales forecast accuracy are essential to build a sustainable business. Clari has allowed the sales and finance teams to align ourselves on the same data and sales metrics around Carbon’s revenue. We all have the same visibility into the numbers and that gives us all a lot more confidence that we are doing what we need to in order to hit our revenue goals.
Choosing the right sales metrics are key to estimating our future revenue. At Carbon, we have aligned on a new annual contract value (ACV) as well as our 3D printer installation number as the two key metrics. ACV gives us an outlook on future recurring revenue while installation is the trigger for revenue recognition. We also measure ACV and installation on a per rep basis in order to drive productivity.
What are some of the disconnects you’ve had with sales teams?
De Martel: Our biggest obstacle between the finance and sales teams was a lack of access and visibility to the deal and pipeline data. Prior to Clari, we had to rely on the sales team for updates, and it was very difficult for us to double check the sales forecast. A lot of the information we did have was anecdotal, because we didn’t have a scalable way to capture real-time deal activity. It was very stressful. As a result, we would only get visibility when all the deals came in the last week or two of the quarter.
How have you bridged some of those disconnects?
De Martel: Carbon’s CRO and I talk on a daily basis, but it really came down to building a unified approach through process and sales metrics. We’ve made significant progress in bringing financial context and guidance to the sales strategy. Clari allows us to marry real-time data with the sales teams’ expertise and gives us a holistic view of Carbon’s projected revenue. In addition to the visibility, it’s helped sales and finance to see the funnel at the beginning of the quarter through one lens, and build an action plan together to accelerate and pivot strategy where needed. When tools can drive organizational alignment it’s a big value driver. Clari has really provided a single source of truth for our teams to work from.
What is top of mind for you in the next 12 months as you navigate your organization through the uncertain market?
De Martel: My main goal is to make sure we have as much visibility as possible into our pipeline so that we can be flexible and properly staffed to either support a V-shape recovery or, on the pessimistic side, a longer-term downturn.
To learn more about Clari’s value in the CFO Tech Stack check out our guide to Clari for CFO’s.
Elisa De Martel, Chief Financial Officer, Carbon
Elisa de Martel, CFO, is responsible for Carbon’s overall financial activities and global finance organization, including accounting and controllership, financial planning and analysis (FP&A), reporting, tax, treasury and investor relations. Prior to joining Carbon, Elisa was with Apple Inc. for 11 years, where she served in a variety of financial roles and most recently, was the Director of Manufacturing Finance. Elisa earned a Master’s degree in Political Economy from the University of Essex, and a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the EDHEC Business School.