Point of View

Bringing Deal Desk to Finance

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Stephanie Cooper serves as the Manager of Finance and Deal Desk at Lytx. Born and raised in Boston, she attended Westfield State University, majoring in Accounting and Criminal Justice. Upon graduation, she ventured to Washington, DC, immersing herself in government work and kick-starting her FP&A career. After several years in DC, Stephanie returned to Boston and joined the IT Finance team at TJX, where she spent six years providing comprehensive support for all things IT-related for the global organization, from distribution centers and stores to corporate offices.

As organizations seek to streamline processes and boost operational efficiency, many global organizations are implementing Deal Desk functions. We sat down with Stephanie Cooper, Manager of Finance and Deal Dest at Lytx, to discuss what a Deal Desk does, understand why aligning it with the finance function could be beneficial, and how to implement this setup effectively within organizations. 

What is a deal desk?

A Deal Desk is a team that helps manage complex and non-standard deals. It acts as a starting point for individual requests, ensuring that all relevant stakeholders are included in the decision-making process. This ranges from the legal team to the marketing team, as well as customer support and success functions. It's a dynamic function that provides feedback, approves, or sometimes denies requests on a case-by-case basis.

Why would a company want to align Deal Desk with the finance team?

One of my favorite reasons for having the Deal Desk team roll up through the finance organization is that it’s helped improve our forecasting accuracy by creating a steady stream of relevant information. 

Plus, aligning Deal Desk with the finance team can help improve the organization's analytical mindset. We provide analysis on a variety of topics that impact multiple areas of the business, and Deal Desk having access to the finance team has provided additional analytical minds to brainstorm with. It also gives finance additional information that they can use to return to their business partners to discuss opportunities to improve or scale.

What considerations should be made to launch a Deal Desk?

The organization needs to align on the value that a Deal Desk can bring. There should also be clear guidelines and trust between the leaders and the Deal Desk team. Understanding contracts is also a crucial skill, although it can be learned over time.

When should a company consider setting up a Deal Desk?

If there's an increase in special requests from customer-facing business partners, it might be time to consider setting up a Deal Desk. If about 5-10% of the deals are becoming problematic, that's probably the right time to stand up a Deal Desk.

Does the complexity of a company's product affect the need for a Deal Desk?

Yes, the more complex your product offering, the more likely you will have non-standard requests come through, warranting the need for a Deal Desk.

What should be a Deal Desk's focus or North Star?

The competitive landscape is ever-changing. A Deal Desk should be flexible and open-minded. While we need to understand and adhere to the company's baseline rules and expectations, we also recognize that there isn't a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges we encounter. Every request is unique, requiring a flexible and open-minded approach. It's also crucial for our team to understand our business's current focus — whether it's pricing or another aspect. By maintaining open communication with the company's leaders, our Deal Desk team can effectively address the varying cases that come our way.

How does a Deal Desk understand how customers buy a product? 

One aspect I genuinely appreciate about the Deal Desk is our unique position within the organization. We're like the nerve center where all lines of communication converge. This view provides us with a two-fold perspective.

First, we receive direct feedback from our customer-facing employees, which comes directly from our customers. This feedback is crucial as it reveals if customers are satisfied with our product or if they are facing issues, and their suggestions for improvement. We can then relay this insight to other departments to facilitate improvements.

Second, we get to observe the impact of our internal procedures on our customers. For instance, we evaluate whether our product ordering process is seamless or if there are any hurdles that customers regularly encounter. This constant monitoring helps us identify if certain issues are on the rise, allowing us to address them promptly. We relay this information to the respective department leaders for appropriate action.

How do sales, legal, and marketing play a part in the Deal Desk function?

Really, the role of a Deal Desk is like an octopus. We have tentacles everywhere. We act as the central hub where team members come to present their cases. Once we receive a proposal, we take it upon ourselves to understand it and figure out the right people to involve.

Think of our tentacles as the connections we make to different departments and specialists. We reach out and say, "Hey, we need your input and expertise on this matter." Our responsibility is to assemble all the relevant stakeholders to discuss and devise a plan for the particular request.

At the end of the day, the Deal Desk ensures all steps are correctly followed, and the case is properly closed. If any follow-ups with teams or individuals are required, we make sure that they happen too. 

How does a Deal Desk unblock or reduce friction with other departments?

It goes back to building and maintaining trust. Regular interaction and clear communication between Deal Desk and other departments helps everyone understand each other's thinking process and communication style, leading to smoother operations.

What technical knowledge is necessary to be part of a Deal Desk?

Basic understanding of finance and accounting is beneficial but not mandatory. The ability to think critically is vital. Good Excel skills are also beneficial as Deal Desk members need to provide responses based on facts and data.

What tools are used to manage the workflow in a Deal Desk?

A CPQ (configure, price, quote) tool like Salesforce, a CRM tool for additional assistance and background information, and other specific workflow management tools depending on the company's operations are typically used by a Deal Desk.

Any advice for businesses considering setting up a deal desk?

The team members are truly the most important part of a Deal Desk.  One must be understanding, empathetic, curious and have critical thinking skills, just to name a few.  The business must also see the positive impact a Deal Desk can bring and align with the new way of working.  Finally, the manager must set clear objectives and metrics to hold the team accountable, which in my opinion is one of the more difficult tasks to track.

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