The sales team is typically the division within an organization that has the greatest travel and entertainment expense budgets. They travel the most and spend the most on entertainment for prospects, suppliers or current customers. However, and perhaps most importantly, the sales team also is the greatest contributor to top-line revenue. With these two factors in mind, it’s clear that the way a company both creates and enforces an expense policy and leverages expense spend data, has a greater impact on the sales organization than any other department. A poor or overly restrictive expense policy can alienate some of an organization’s most valuable staff, and an inflexible travel and entertainment budget can clip the wings of the best-performing (sales) team members by curtailing their travel and potentially impacting their ability to close business.

Therefore, human resources, along with sales, travel and finance leadership, need to work closely together to ensure that best performers remain engaged and drive revenue, while effectively controlling costs.

Here are three ways that businesses can achieve this:

1. Create expense policies which are frequent-traveler-friendly

Frequent travelers are those most impacted by expense policies, and therefore, are also most likely to be adversely affected by a policy that is unnecessarily restrictive or strict. As a result, HR teams should ensure that a travel expense policy balances cost control with employee experience, particularly as it relates to frequent travelers.

Mandating employees to stay in a certain hotel chain or travel on a specific airline only in economy class may look like it makes sense in the short term, but if it risks driving out the most valuable, highest revenue-generating employees, it may soon become counter-productive.

While travel policies certainly need to be equitable and fair, it’s worth considering working with frequent travelers to tailor a policy to provide a more flexible solution. One example of this could be adding more tolerance into air ticket cost over the lowest logical fare, if it enables travelers to accumulate air miles on their preferred carrier (which is viewed by 18 percent of American business travelers as the top perk of their travel, according to a recent survey commissioned of business travelers). Another example that frequent travelers can compromise employee satisfaction is forcing them to take an inconveniently timed flight, such as early morning or late in the evening.

While this more traveler-friendly policy could slightly increase costs and impact an organization’s negotiated rate with a carrier (which needs to hit a pre-agreed threshold over the course of the year to maintain the discount), in the long term, it could prove very beneficial financially to companies if it means retaining their top producers. After all, what is more demotivating than telling a top producing sales team member that despite their million-dollar deal, they still need to take a multi-leg flight to save $50?

Related: Creating and Enforcing Expense Policies: The Happy Medium for Cost Control and Employee Satisfaction

2. Give employees the tools to make expense submission and reimbursement easier

Another area that has traditionally been a major bone of contention for frequent travelers is submitting expenses at the end of each trip. The last thing that road warriors want to do at the end of a week away is to sit down with a pile of receipts and a blank Excel spreadsheet, and spend two hours trying to remember who they took out for each meal. It’s a pain if one only travels occasionally, let alone for a sales executive who is constantly on the road. This can soon become a major burden. 

Investing in modern and mobile expense management software, which can both streamline expense submission and speed up the reimbursement process, can take  much of the headache out of the expense filing process. For example, instead of hanging onto receipts, travelers can simply take a picture of it as soon as the purchase is made, email it into their expense system, and then let intelligent OCR extract and categorize the data.

When it comes time to submit expenses, it can be done in a couple of minutes by simply dragging receipt images into a report and then pressing “send.” For many frequent travelers, the biggest luxury is time, so giving them family time back instead of forcing them to spend hours on dull admin tasks will have a huge positive impact.

On the back end, deploying an automated expense management solution can speed up approval and reimbursement by automating many of the processes that previously required significant manual input. This is particularly important for sales teams that use their own credit cards for business travel, as they can incur interest and other changes if reimbursements take time to process.

Related: Do You Know the True Cost of Sales?

3. Leverage sales and expense data to make teams more effective

Sales activities generate significant volumes of data. A customer relationship management (CRM) solution contains significant amounts of information about every touch that your team has with prospects, suppliers and customers, as well as tracks wins and losses, and potential revenue added. Companies that have implemented an expense solution can also capture data on all of the sales team’s travel bookings, meals and other out-of-pocket expenses.

While these two systems may contain vast quantities of data that can help determine the effectiveness of sales team activities, without integrating them, the benefit of any insight they may be able to glean is minimal. While a sales leader can obtain a crude average cost of sale by comparing overall expenses and revenue generated, it’s nearly impossible to ascertain any more meaningful insight that can benefit the sales team. For example, what kind of sales activities have the greatest return on investment? Does taking clients out to meals have any proven impact on revenue generation? Is there an optimal number of in-person meetings with a prospect necessary to  generating a sale?

Linking expense and CRM solutions, and tying every expense spend to a specific customer, prospect or sales opportunity, enables organizations to obtain granular insight into how activities and expenses are allocated, and what the outcome of this spend is. If brought together in a single interface, sales and finance leaders can easily see what works and what doesn’t. This intelligence allows organizations to understand and invest more heavily in high-ROI activities, while reducing spend on less effective revenue generation activities.

For the sales team, strategically allocating more budget to activities that are more likely to generate revenue affords them a greater chance of being successful. The HR team will benefit by partnering with finance and sales leadership to provide traveler-friendly expense policies and tools that make sense for the organization while helping minimize unnecessary costs. Road warriors are some of an organization’s most valuable resources; it is important to ensure these assets are put in a position to succeed.

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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